The Presbytery of Philadelphia gave bold witness to the Holy Spirit’s presence among us at the May 17th stated meeting hosted by the Media Presbyterian Church. Even prior to the 3:00 pm call to order and opening prayer by Moderator Bill Teague (Teaching Elder, Langhorne), the two pre-Presbytery events focused on hope-filled possibilities for our congregations and the denomination as a whole.
In one gathering, the Presbytery Foundation, represented by Ellie Johns-Kelley (Teaching Elder, Lake Erie Presbytery) and Paul Grier (Ruling Elder, Foothills Presbytery), shared resources and strategies from their agency to strengthen small and/or struggling congregations. The other gathering provided an opportunity for presbyters and others to have discussion with prospective candidate for Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Teaching Elder Adan Mairena.
When the stated meeting began, we were welcomed to Media by Interim Pastor William Hess and Associate Pastor Nikki Passante. Moderator Teague then extended welcome to our corresponding members, new teaching elders, and first-time ruling elder commissioners.
Next, with Vice-Moderator Janel Dixon (Teaching Elder, Cedar Park) at the gavel, Stated Clerk Kevin Porter (Teaching Elder, Germantown, First) and Journal Clerk Ken McKeown (Ruling Elder, Olney, First) presented modifications to the Presbytery bylaws recommended by the Leadership Collegium. The revised bylaws were approved by the required 2/3 majority.
On behalf of the Commission on Financial Management, Teaching Elder Randy Barge (Olney, First) led the Presbytery in celebrating those congregations that excelled in basic mission giving to the Presbytery in 2015. Rev. Barge ended his report by expressing the Commission’s gratitude to Amy Ayers for her longtime staff support of their work on the occasion of her departure from the Presbytery.
When Teaching Elder Wonjae Choi (Grace, Jenkintown) presented the report of the Committee on Personnel, she continued the theme of appreciation for Amy Ayers’ 14 ½ years of service to our Presbytery with the gift of an olive wood nativity set which Amy received (along with a standing ovation) with her husband Ken by her side. Rev. Choi also welcomed and introduced the Presbytery to Deb Koziol (Deacon, Ambler, First), the new Office Manager assuming most of Amy’s responsibilities.
After approving the slate of nominees presented by Committee on Nominations, Moderator Jesse Garner (Teaching Elder, Philadelphia, First), the Presbytery gave its attention to Moderator Teague as he reported on behalf of the Leadership Collegium. With kudos to Presbytery staff, Rev. Teague unveiled the new logo to be used for our 2017 celebration of 300 years in ministry as an organized presbytery, and the glossy magazine-format narrative interpreting our current ministry and mission as a Presbytery.
Noting the Presbytery was next to consider something never before done in the history of General Assembly, i.e. accepting nominations for Co-Moderators, Rev. Teague introduced the Leadership Collegium’s recommendation that the Presbytery endorse the candidacy of Rev. Adan Mairena to stand as Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly. Rev. Mairena then shared with the body his journey as it pertains to his sense of calling to the office of Co-Moderator. After the discussion that followed, including statements of enthusiastic support from representatives of the Yeadon Church and West Kensington Ministry, the Presbytery unanimously gave its vote of endorsement, followed by prayer led by Moderator Teague.
Next, Executive Presbyter Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace invoked images of Pentecost in her report as she described the state of the Church. Noting she believes this is a “windy season in the Church,” she encouraged the body saying, “I believe it is a Pentecost season; one that is disruptive, one that is calling us out, that is causing us to look at how we ‘do church’ today in a way that is relevant.”
In that spirit, Rev. Santana-Grace gave an overview of the many ways the Presbytery has engaged the call of the Spirit in new ways – including new partnerships with the Association of Black Seminarians at Princeton Seminary, and Princeton’s fledgling new church development and congregational revitalization initiative.
Rev. Santana-Grace then introduced a fishbowl discussion in which she, along with Kevin Porter, Jesse Garner, Wonjae Choi, and former moderator Rev. Ethelyn Taylor (Oxford) shared personal experiences and reflections as they relate to the topic of Race, Bias, and Privilege – the theme which has been an over-arching conversation to which the Presbytery has been committed this year. After the fishbowl discussion, all in attendance were encouraged to share in small groups their responses to what they heard.
Teaching Elder Ken Ross’s report (East Falls) on behalf of the newly named Commission on Preparation for Ministry and Membership (formerly Commission on Preparation and Credentials) bore witness that the Pentecost spirit is evident beyond changing the names of our committees and commissions. Rev. Ross introduced Ruling Elder Rob Eyre (Grace, Jenkintown), a long-time candidate under care of the Presbytery, to present his statement of faith in order that he might be examined for ordination to the call of Evangelist in the Upper Darby community through the Calvary Riverview congregation.
Mr. Eyre’s statement elicited applause from the body, and after the Presbytery voted to sustain his examination, the Presbytery’s prayers of thanksgiving transitioned us into fellowship around dinner tables as we were treated to the delicious home-cooking and hospitality of the Media congregation. The meeting concluded with worship after dinner, with the Reverend Dr. Thomas F. Taylor, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Presbyterian Foundation, preaching on the topic “Why Unity Works” based on Acts 2.
Once again, the Presbytery’s response to the Pentecost message of a diverse people being sent out to proclaim the gospel in unity was incarnational as we commissioned our General Assembly commissioners and Young Adult Advisory Delegate, our Youth Triennium participants and leaders, and the Princeton seminarians and congregations beginning their journey together in this year’s Incubator.
With the pronouncement of the benediction, the meeting was adjourned and the 221 registered attendees (103 teaching elders, 88 ruling elders, and 30 visitors) became the Church dispersed once again. The offering will be designated for the care of the inquirers and candidates under care of the Presbytery. The next stated meeting of the Presbytery of Philadelphia is scheduled for July 30 (time and location TBD).
Rev. Kevin Porter, Stated Clerk, Presbytery of Philadelphia