As moderator of Salem Presbytery, I recently had the honor of serving as a commissioner to the General Assembly (our recently-adopted manual makes this part of the moderator’s service). This year’s GA was less drama-filled than some in recent years, but a number of events merited notice, such as the election of a team of two women, Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston as co-moderators, the election of J. Herbert Nelson as stated clerk - the first African-American to hold the office - and the addition of the Belhar Confession to The Book of Confessions. Besides these we enjoyed moving moments of worship, and we met people from all over the country - around the world, in fact - and from many walks of life.
I served on the Immigration and Environmental Issues Committee, which dealt with the question of divestment from fossil fuels. Many Presbyterians believe faithfulness in our stewardship of creation requires this step. Our presbytery concurred in an overture to this effect. At the same time there were commissioners from Texas, for example, who expressed concern that many members of their congregations would feel personally blamed if the Assembly took such measures. More than one of these presbyteries is already reeling because of steep membership losses in recent years. Another member of the committee was herself the spouse of a coal miner. The committee did recommend divestment, though the Assembly adopted the committee's minority report, which I signed, calling for limited divestment and targeted reinvestment in alternatives to fossil fuels.
When the Assembly resumed plenary sessions, hearing and acting on committee reports, the pace was grueling, with business on the longest day lasting from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. Interesting as so much of the business was, it grew to be too much.
When I returned to Statesville and to our church office, I felt as if I had stepped from one world into another. I faced immediate pastoral concerns, something of a backlog from my time away, and we were dealing with details and inconveniences of major renovation of parts of our physical plant. What was the connection between these concerns and the life of the larger church, with its highlighting change, increasing diversity, A Thousand and One Worshiping Communities, a new way forward - under the impact of losses in membership and resources - and Vision 2020? Indeed, during the Assembly itself I had sometimes wondered about the connection between these matters and congregational life in places where we still feel challenges in recruiting volunteer leaders - elders, teachers, youth advisors, and mission volunteers - as well as paying bills and keeping the doors open. I will say outgoing moderator Heath Rada stressed the importance of our church’s congregations, the need to support them and provide resources for them, the locus of mission on the ground.
Our stated Session meeting early that very week helped me think further about these things: one of our elders, Sloan Goforth, unprompted, had planned a devotion on the Belhar Confession. David Parker, an elder from our congregation who, endorsed by Salem Presbytery, had stood as a candidate for co-moderator of the Assembly, shared something of his experience. We found deeper interest in our experience than I might have anticipated. I realized many commissioners in one way or another must have been experiencing the same thing, trying to share the experience and to bridge whatever distance there is between the highest and lowest councils of our church. We plan to continue sharing the experience as an adult track of our Vacation Bible School next week.
What's worth sharing?
- Steve Scott, Pastor, First Presbyterian, Statesville, NC