Two decades ago, the General Assembly ran ten days, not the present eight. The pace was more leisurely, with evening entertainment and Sundays free. The Robert Shaw Chorale performed in 1983, the Utah Symphony in 1990; the Dave Brubeck Quintet in 1997. Now, with financial pressures to pack more business into less time, Sundays have become increasingly business days -- but they are relatively light business days.
Day two of the 222nd General Assembly started with the annual breakfast hosted by the Presbyterian Foundation. The featured speaker was Philip Jenkins, professor of church history and sociology of religion. Jenkins spoke about changes in the global religious context, and their implications for mission. (For example, the relative numbers of Africans to Europeans has changed from 1:3 a century ago to 3:1 today.)
|Worshipers at First Presbyterian, Portland|
But by mid-afternoon, we were back in the Assembly hall for business. The most significant business was the report of the Stated Clerk Nominating Committee. The Stated Clerk is the highest elected office in the church. The Stated Clerk is not only the chief ecclesiastical officer, but also is the public face of the church, especially in interfaith and ecumenical contexts. For the past 8 years, the position has been held by the Rev. Gradye Parsons, who announced 20 months ago that he would not seek a third four-year term.
|J. Herbert Nelson|
The Stated Clerk Nominating Committee is a diverse group of persons elected by an Assembly to make a stated clerk nomination to the Assembly. The process takes a full year. It begins with conversations with the church about the role and function of the stated clerk, develops a position and person description, solicits applicants, reviews and interviews candidates, and makes a single recommendation to the Assembly.
This year, that candidate is the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, who for the past five years or so has directed the Washington Office of the General Assembly, where he works cooperatively with other faiths and denominations in lobbying Congress on behalf of positions endorsed by the Assembly. J. Herbert is a humble leader, a powerful preacher, and is the first African-American to receive the official nomination for the position.
The Assembly also heard some agency reports (including the PMA video featuring yours truly), and received interfaith greetings from local representatives of the Mormon church, the Jewish community, and the Muslim community. The Assembly's reaction to the latter two suggests the items that concern Middle East issues will be passionately debated.
The Assembly recessed for the Moderators' reception, dinner, and initial committee meetings in the evening.
So far, the civil tone I noted yesterday has prevailed. I have been informed that the anticipated protests concerning divestment from fossil fuels will be smaller in scope and less disruptive than expected, or than the Episcopal Church encountered earlier this year during their national gathering.
Tomorrow, committees will hold open hearings on matters before them, then get down to deliberations and recommendations to the full Assembly.