You may remember a classic book titled “The Way Things Work.” In that book were simple diagrams that attempted to explain how a toaster, a toilet, a vacuum cleaner and other mysteries of the universe functioned. For someone like me who is not mechanically inclined, it was a fascinating exploration of the inner workings of the machines we use every day.
I was reminded of this book as I served as a commissioner from Northwest Coast Presbytery to the biennial meeting of the PCUSA General Assembly (GA) last month in Portland, Oregon. While the trip down the road was not that far, it was miles away from my usual experience of the church. Our delegation of 5 combined with delegations from all 171 presbyteries to do the business of the church in committee meetings of 60 persons and plenary sessions of over 600. As well-versed as I am in parliamentary procedure, it was still a struggle at times to remember where we were in the process, especially as we moved and amended substitute motions. At one point our moderator asked our stated clerk, “Where are we?” and Grayde Parsons answered, “Madam Moderator, we are still in Portland.” I think we need a page in “The Way Things Work” to describe the process of GA decision-making. GA offered amazingly beautiful worship services, moments of genuine celebration and times when I was extremely proud to be a Presbyterian.
It was a joy to connect with Presbyterians from across the US and our ecumenical partners & missionaries from around the globe. One of my fellow CREDO participants was commissioned for missionary service in the Philippines. Another colleague from my Seattle Presbytery days was honored as she retires from the mission field. Both of these celebrations were reminders that our missionaries serve the whole church. And don’t get me started talking about the exhibit hall. I came home with a whole sack of books and another sack filled with materials from the various vendors.
But the biggest impression from this GA was one that also struck me at my first GA many years ago when I was a Youth Advisory Delegate (now they are called Young Adult Advisory Delegates). Simply put, the church is messy. Just like the people who attend worship, serve in leadership, and are called as elders, deacons, and pastors – the church is imperfect and always in need of reform. And yet, in the midst of this messiness, the church is faithful to her calling: teaching, preaching, feeding the hungry, and caring for those in need. God does not need us to first be made perfect in order to use us to do good and important work.
Overall the message of this GA was one of hope. We were the final approval for including the Belhar confession from South Africa in our Book of Confessions – and that was a joyous hopeful celebration as we affirmed our solidarity with all who have been or are currently oppressed. It is clear to me that the PCUSA is faithfully moving forward in mission and ministry – and it’s exciting to be part of a church on the move.
Please feel free to ask me questions about this year’s GA. I’m more than happy to try to explain the way things work, and to share my enthusiasm for being a part of a church that is in the midst of so much vital and important ministry across our nation and around the world.
With thanks in Christ,