A Taste of GA—Commissioners’ Reflections – Deborah Mayhew
Deborah Mayhew (Ruling Elder, St. Mark Presbyterian Church)
I attended the 223rd GA in 2018 as an observer and witnessed the huge scope and energy of being “in the room where it happens.”1
So, I had some concerns about what the 224th GA would be able to accomplish, given the necessary limitations set on time and items of business that could be covered. I wondered how we commissioners could effectively contribute to and really feel part of being “remotely GA.” “
Thanks to the tireless work of the Committee of the Office of the General Assembly (COGA)–beginning with our training sessions in May and throughout the GA meetings– people throughout the denomination were able to participate in this history-making event. Enriching my GA experience were the opportunities to be a part of and contribute to the Poor People’s Campaign–a National Call for Moral Revival, https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/, led by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II;
and to contribute to the Youth Rising Coalition https://baltimorepresbytery.org/youth-rising in support of young entrepreneurs in Baltimore as part of the Hands and Feet Initiative. https://ga-pcusa.org/hands-and-feet-baltimore/
I heard the call throughout the meetings that now, more than ever, it is time for the PCUSA to put words into action, particularly focusing on anti-racism, anti-discrimination, and social and climate injustice. I think GA Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson summed it up well:
“It is time for the PCUSA to move from being an institution to being a movement.”
In spite of all of us being physically separated, I felt that spirit moving during our meetings and I am grateful to have been “in the Zoom where it happens.”
When we began preparing for this virtual 224th General Assembly, we were all focused on the COVID-19 Pandemic. By the end of May, our heads and hearts were reeling from the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and more deaths from police brutality and COVID-19.
I think the ability of the PCUSA to gather for the General Assembly–with over 780 people logging in to Zoom for the 3-1/2 days of meetings, and countless others watching the livestream–was critical to our denomination. It provided a much-needed place for us to gather, lament, share feelings and consider what we are charged to continue to do until the 2022 GA.
It was exciting to be part of the overwhelming election of the new BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) GA co-moderators, RE Elona Street-Stewart (the first Indigenous co-moderator) and TE Gregory Bentley. I look forward to supporting them as they lead us beyond “being an institution to being a movement.”
While I lament the circumstances that prevented us from gathering together in Baltimore, it was still a great honor to be part of something bigger than our corner of the PCUSA world, and to represent Los Ranchos Presbytery with TE Robin Clardy, TE Chineta Goodjoin, RE Chris Mears, and YAAD Miles Peterson.
I also enjoyed serving on the Leadership Committee, aka the Committee on Business Referral (COBR), which was comprised of moderators and vice moderators of the 13 GA committees whose business was deferred to the 225th General Assembly in 2022). We set the Consent Agenda and the items for discussion during plenary sessions and those to be deferred to 2022 (with the understanding that items could be removed for discussion in 2020).
Additionally, we collaborated on a Committee Recommendation, 00-30 “Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic,” to which I proposed an amendment to include the LGBTQIA+ community. A fellow COBR member drafted the substitute motion for 00-29 “On the Church in this Moment in History–Responding to the Sins of Racism,” which ultimately included collaboration from people in our Southern California synods, New York and New Mexico. Both of the items were passed with a large majority.
While my GA experience was overall a very positive one, there were instances of regrettable micro- and macro-aggressions and disrespectful behavior towards GA co-moderators and other commissioners that we witnessed during the plenary sessions. Perhaps this was because some people felt more emboldened in an online format. And while there is bound to be some dissention and disagreement in any GA, the frustration and anger voiced by people who felt they were neither being heard nor supported was distressing to me (for example, business items involving San Francisco Theological Seminary and the Disparities Facing Black Women and Girls Task Force Report).
It’s hard to know for sure, but I believe that the inability to gather in person for discussion and debate prior to and during the plenary meetings, the anxiety that people are feeling due to the uncertainties of our world today, and an urgency to complete the work before us were some of the contributing factors to the lack of grace demonstrated by some individuals.
- The divisions of today do not have to be the reality of tomorrow.” (Worship during GA Plenary #2.)
From Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, President of the Presbyterian Mission Agency
- Triennium remains a priority and of value to us,” and “Grants and scholarship funds are not being affected by the upcoming budget.”
- The PMA represents the mission of the church–it is love with skin on it.”
From GA Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson
- “Thank you for the commitment you have made to be part of this GA. It won’t be perfect, but we hold onto faith…as we move from Lament to Hope. God can take a mess and show us a miracle.”
- Climate justice is on the front burner.”
- “Growth is coming from second or third generation of People of Color…we need to count our 1001 and New Worshiping Communities as part of our whole, otherwise it is segregation all over again.”
- “I don’t remember Jesus having a church,” when responding to a concern about small churches that are struggling during this pandemic, and how it is important to contextualize their significant value to their communities.
From the 224th GA Co-Moderators
- “May the peace, poise and power of the Holy Spirit be with you.”–RE Elona Street-Stewart
- “Go out and shape up the world with Jesus.”–TE Gregory Bentley