The 222nd General Assembly officially got underway Saturday in Portland, Oregon. Nowadays, Assemblies seem to get off to "rolling starts" before the first strike of the gavel, however. Committee Four ("The Way Forward") met on Friday to begin its business, and Saturday morning "Riverside Conversations" have become a staple at recent conventions, allowing commissioners and advisory delegates a chance to preview issues before the Assembly.
|The Assembly opens with worship. Photo: Robert Lowry|
That conviviality was in full display during the highlight of the first day's events, the election of the moderator. For the first time in memory - perhaps in history - there were only two nominations from which to choose, meaning a single ballot election was a certainty. Also, for the first time, co-moderator nominations were permitted. The choice was between two sets of co-moderator nominees: Teaching Elders T. Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston (of National Capital and Chicago presbyteries, respectively) and the tandem of Ruling Elder David Parker of Salem Presbytery and Teaching Elder Adan Mairena of Philadelphia Presbytery. If the contest was driven by competing agendas, it was not evident. All candidates were pleasant - even joking - during the 30-minute Q&A period. Perhaps most enjoyable were responses to a question about resiliency following a ministry failure. All four candidates seemed to want to outdo each other with stories of who failed worst. The popular winner was Jan Edmiston's admission of the time she failed to show up at a wedding, assuming the date was a week later. Earlier, Adan Mairena had spoken of his failed attempt to fit in to Philadelphia street ministry wearing the semi-formal attire he had regularly sported at tony Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. "So, do you work for the D.A.'s office or something?" was the response he got from kids on the street.
|Co-moderators Jan Edmiston (left) and|
Denise Anderson (right) enter the hall
after their election. (Mike Cole photo)
While the quick read of regular attenders was that both teams were effective in their responses, the vote was nevertheless a landslide in favor of Anderson and Edmiston, who carried the YAAD vote by a whopping 126-22 margin and the commissioners with over 76%, 432-136. They are not only the first co-moderators in the history of the Assembly, but also the first all-female moderatorial slate to win (including moderators and vice-moderators in previous elections).
A lighthearted spirit also prevailed leading up to the election when outgoing moderator Heath Rada inadvertently referred to retiring Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons as "Grady Powell." Parsons, whose official duties end with this assembly, replied, "for the next six days, at least, I'm still Gradye Parsons." It became a running gag throughout the evening.
The Assembly began in the morning with worship, which is always a highlight. All went smoothly until the praise band hired (I understand) to lead singing during Communion seemed to lose all sense of time and place as they continued well past time in an already over-long service.
|Tweet by Greg Bolt|
The afternoon business session is a lot of orientation, interspersed with ecumenical greetings and other presentations. An extended memorial liturgy remembering the victims of the Orlando nightclub massacre one week ago, and the anniversary of the Charleston church shootings was especially moving, and included prayers from a Portland-area AME pastor and a Muslim imam.
Sunday begins with worship in local churches, an afternoon of reports, and the moderator's reception before committees get underway in the evening. Of greatest interest will be the report of the Stated Clerk Nominating Committee, which will place in nomination J. Herbert Nelson, director of the PCUSA Washington Office, who if elected would be the first African-American stated clerk of the church. A second nomination, of David Baker, Stated Clerk of Tampa Bay Presbytery, will challenge the Committee's selection. The vote of the Assembly will not take place until Friday morning.
For those wanting to follow Assembly developments, a live stream of business sessions and worship is available through a link at www.pcusa.org and the most popular twitter hashtag is #ga222.