The Presbytery of Philadelphia GA223 Commissioners Blog

General Assembly Reflections: “Belhar Is Now Us” by Greg Klimovitz

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There are particular historical moments when you want to say, “I was there.” Last night was one such moment.

Alan Boesak celebrates the passage of Belhar. Photo: Michael Whitman

Alan Boesak celebrates the passage of Belhar. Photo: Michael Whitman

As the 222nd General Assembly approved an amendment to include the Belhar Confession in the Book of Confessions- we were there. When Reverend Godfrey Bretha of the Uniting Reformed Church of South Africa, from whence the confession came, tearfully addressed the Assembly- we were there. When Dr. Allan Boesak, who co-authored the confession in the midst of South African apartheid, spoke to Presbyterians in Portland- we were there. As faithful commissioners, observers, delegates, ecumenical partners, and observers from all over the nation and world joined hands and sang, “we shall overcome”- we were there.

The Belhar Confession is the first confession from the global south to be included in the Book of Confessions and unites us with the global church in a new and profound way. “The reach of Belhar is far wider than its original context,” Godfrey Bretha reminded the Assembly.

This reach now includes us. Belhar is now us. The same Spirit that moved our sisters and brothers to break the chains of apartheid now dares us to do the same in the midst of pervasive racism in our cities and nation. The same call to unity and love for one another now sends us to be agents of reconciliation in our congregations and communities. Belhar’s charge to be peacemakers and justice seekers now frames our work in the midst of violence fueled by hate.

The incorporation of Belhar into our Book of Confessions was a courageous move that has taken many years; I am beyond grateful to have been in the room when it happened. Our greatest tribute to and celebration of our sisters and brother who wrote the beautiful and prophetic confession is to now go and live it. “I can’t tell you what’s in my heart tonight,” remarked Dr. Boesak, “but I know this, because of Jesus, we shall overcome.”

Please click here to download a PDF of the Belhar Confession  to share with your congregations: TheBelharConfession

Please click below to view a video from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

General Assembly Reflections by Deborah Merritt

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DebmerritToday was the last day I worked with the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee.  I was blessed to be seated at the table with five other dedicated and Lord-loving Christians as we sought to discern God’s will for our committee work.

We studied on the Confession of Belhar, a 21st Century South African confession from which we can learn a lot and which I think will excite Philadelphia Presbyterians.

So far, I’ve encountered six Princeton Seminary Classmates, Nathan Byrd, a former FPC Germantown intern from 1995-1996 (when I was still a member there), and my former pastor, Bill Levering.  I’ve also made new friends and marveled at our simultaneous unity and diversity.  In talking with other commissioners, I’ve discovered mutual friends and experiences that just go to show how connected we are.  It’s been a very happy time for me.

With love to all my Philadelphia sisters and brothers,
Deborah Douie Merritt

General Assembly Reflections from Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace

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Recovering Hope

Like all living organisms, every General Assembly has its own unique DNA – its own personality, if you will. This one is no different. There is a quiet spirit in the halls and gatherings – causing seasoned attendees to wonder if we as a church will be able to move forward without the deep theological rift that defined our conversations for almost four decades. Framed by this Assembly’s theme, “the hope of our calling” (Ephesians 1:18), the quiet question lingers in the minds of some – how we will define ourselves as we are faced with organizational concerns, fiscal sustainability, and the changing face of our denomination? Will we respond to the opportunities before us – opportunities to do church differently, to focus on discipleship and mission? It can seem like untenable expectations in the midst of untenable challenges. But here’s the thing – we claim to be a people of hope. I was reminded that the hope we carry through Christ is embodied in the faithfulness of men and women who have served and continue to serve as leaders of our churches and denomination.

Sunday I had the privilege of attending a dinner with all the former Moderators of the PCUSA. As part of this dinner, each moderator updates those present with what they have been up to recently. There were seven such moderators present (not counting the first elected co-moderators at this Assembly – Denise Anderson and Jan Edmitson). Those present served between the years of 1991 (our very own Herb Valentine) through 2016 (Heath Rada). I was humbled by a faithfulness that continues to be part of their witness. Each and everyone of them is defined by a passion for justice, reconciliation, ecumenism, interfaith dialogue, literacy, immigration. They continue to serve as witnesses for the issues important to them – even as they enjoy their families or grandchildren. They continue to believe that the voice of the church matters – and that we – the church – are called to be agents of transformation. I was reminded that evening that we stand on the shoulders of men and women who continue to give their life for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I came face-to-face with a profound hope in that room – a hope that encourages me to believe against all the darkness around us. God has and will continue to be faithful – that is our hope. It is we who must join God on the journey.

Pictured – Back Row: TE Bruce Reyes-Chow (218th GA 2008); RE Heath Rada (221st GA 2014); TE Neal Presa (220th GA 2008); TE John Buchanan (208th GA 1996); TE John Fife (204th GA 1992), TE Herbert Valentine (203rd GA 1991); Front Row: TE Denise Anderson (222nd GA 2016 -Co-Moderator); TE Susan Andrews (215th GA 2003); TE Jan Edmiston (222nd GA 2016 -Co-Moderator)

Reflections on General Assembly by Maria DiChiara

Pictured on the right: Our YAAD, Maria DiChiara serving on the Social Justice Committee of the General Assembly

Greetings!

MariaDiChiaraAfter safely landing in Portland, I made it to the hotel and met many fellow Young Adult Advisory Delegates (YAADs). We talked all night and suffered the consequences the next morning. Meeting the other YAADs is something I am so glad I had a chance to do.

While here we are doing so much work with minimal time to socialize, and making friendships is so important.  I have been sharing meals, laughs, and adventures with such a great group of young people.  Often the younger members feel as if they get lost amidst the broader and older church population, but I realize now our presence and voice matters.

One of the highlights for me this week was when a group of YAADs decided to go in Christ’s name and spread His love at Portland’s Pride Parade. The experience was simply amazing.  Many of those in the parade or those watching expressed their love and enjoyment that the PC(USA) was represented there. We believe supporting the Pride Parade was extremely important because the attack at the Pulse in Orlando had just happened the prior week.  The outpouring of love, not only for Orlando, but the LGBTQ community around the world was astonishing. I have never seen so many people standing in support together (other than the Super Bowl).

Over the last few days I have spent many hours in the same chair, which it is becoming part of me. Being part of the Social Justice Committee, we have discussed and approved apologizing to the Native Americans for wrong doings in the past, mobilizing the church to help those suffering from HIV/AIDS, and supporting reform for racial and financial issues in the church and our community. We run late as we try to be faithful to who God has called us to be in light of so many of the problems facing our world.

As a YAAD, I have never felt more important; having a voice and a vote on all of the issues of today is an empowering feeling. I cannot wait for what the rest of the week holds for me.  
Much love, Maria DiChiara 

Reflections on General Assembly by Julia Hill

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Monday was the first day of committee meetings. Sitting in a room with sixty commissioners from all over the country proved to be very interesting. We had sixteen overtures to either approve, disapprove with comment, or approve as amended, which led to much discussion on several issues. The passion for certain issues was evident with the lengthy dialogue.

Each presented overture also had a member of the Overture Advocate committee to explain the changes recommended by the Presbytery from which the overture was coming. Also making recommendations were staff members from the General Assembly representing the Advisory Committee on the Constitution. (ACC).

After concluding our afternoon session, I decided to attend the National Black Presbyterian Caucus dinner held at the Doubletree Hotel. The newly elected Co-Moderators of the General Assembly, along with well over one-hundred persons, were in attendance. The keynote speaker was the former Dean of Johnson Smith Seminary, Rev. Dr. David Lawrence Wallace. The spirt of the Lord was definitely in the room, as Dr. Lawrence spoke on the theme, “We Must Listen.”

The day ended with a return to committee business, and prayers for an early evening.  We prayed for discernment of the remaining overtures that will be discussed.

Pictured in the Photo above: Back Row, Rev. James Reese, Elder Julia Hill, Rev. Alonzo Johnson. Front Row: Elder Wanda Tanner-McNeill, Elder Warren McNeill, Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace

Reflections on General Assembly by Beth Bauer

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O Spirit of cascading waterfalls down the Columbia River Gorge, we have received waters of unending grace. We praise you, the three-in-one God. Without you we will not make it through the week. You are “The Hope in our Calling”, in the cascading waters of baptism. Alleluia!

GA222_BBauer_atFallsHaving spent Friday touring some of the amazingly beautiful waterfalls in the Cascade Mountains, these words from the Call to Worship to commence our time together at GA really resonated with me. The word “cascading” is not one we hear or use much in our own liturgy or prayers, and I am struck by its rich imagery.

It is impossible not to feel the Holy Spirit cascading over all of us here in Portland. In the people we meet, the conversations we have, the work we are doing, and the worship we experience, there is a profound sense of God’s active and moving presence, calling us to be renewed with hope.

Saturday morning began with “Riverside Conversations”, a time to gather in small groups and discuss who we are as a church. My group had a very engaging and meaningful conversation about the challenges facing the church and how we might move beyond them. At the end we were each asked to share one word as a response to our conversation. The words our group individually and collectively lifted up were “hopeful” and “love.”

Last night we elected Co-Moderators of the General Assembly. This was especially interesting to our delegation, as our own Adan Mareina was one of the candidates. Although Adan and David Parker, who stood with him, were not elected, we joyfully celebrated that this Assembly had made history by electing two women to this position for the first time ever.

We have been inspired, trained and informed in our first plenary sessions. Now it is time begin our challenging committee work. May love, grace, hope, and the peace of Christ cascade over all of our deliberations.

Reflections on General Assembly By Elder Mike Henry

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222nd GA “The Hope in Our Calling”
Ephesians 1:18

“so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints…”

unnamedIt’s very hard to walk around here, seeing hundreds and hundreds of new faces, without noticing that each one is smiling at you! GA is a very friendly place, filled with people of good faith – with smiling eyes. Eyes showing that hearts have been opened, eyes that are ‘hearing’ God’s calling, eyes that have hope.
Could we also turn this verse around a bit – to say that we can hope for God’s grace and peace by calling out to others? The hope we have in calling out? Our first plenary session opened this afternoon by remembering and praying for all the innocents lost to violence, especially those in Orlando, San Bernadino, Charleston and too many other places. Our hope is also in our calling out, by God’s grace, for an end to this madness – for it is up to us to call out, and to act.

The opening worship service included a 150-voice choir and 24 bell ringers. It was glorious – everything I had been looking forward to. Now the work begins. My assigned committee is ‘Middle East Issues’. It will be a full week but it has begun in the best possible way. I have hope.

A Letter from Ruth, reporting from GA221 on June 20, 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters on the Journey, 

 

As I write this brief reflection to you, one image comes to mind – the image of wind. I imagine the rush of the wind experienced at Pentecost in the second chapter of the Book of Acts – as faithful disciples were empowered by the Holy Spirit to be the church in a way that was relevant to the world in which they lived.  I also imagine the great windstorm in Mark 4:35-41 as the wind blew upon the waters causing the disciples to experience fear, as their ship was rocked by the waves. 

 

There is no question that today as the 221st General Assembly gathered in Detroit, the winds were experienced. For many, it was that Pentecost moment – when the wind birthed the hope of something new.  For others, it was like the moment at sea when the waves seemed to be threatening the existence of what has been.  

 

Like many in the hall, I was struck by the silence of the assembly after the vote on both the Authoritative Interpretation and the redefinition of marriage. There was no applause, rather the loud silence of an assembly that understood they had done something significant and historic. 

 

By now, many of you have heard or seen in writing the decision and recommendation of this Assembly.  The Authoritative Interpretation will take effect on June 21st at the close of the Assembly, allowing discretion and freedom of conscience to pastors/teaching elders to officiate at same gender marriages in states where same gender marriage is legal.  

 

The recommended redefinition of marriage defines marriages as between “two persons, traditionally a man and a woman.” This recommendation will now go to the presbyteries for their consideration and vote.  It will take a majority of the 172 presbyteries for this recommended amendment to become part of our constitution. The outcome of this vote will take about one year. 

 

Additional language has been included stating that “Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.”

 

It is likely that these decisions and recommendations will be at the center of conversations in the weeks and months ahead.  Know I have already scheduled initial gatherings with pastors serving our congregations – in an effort to listen to, and understand, where we are as a larger community of faith.  

 

As the Assembly continues to consider other significant questions in the next day and a half, I ask that we continue to lift up one another in prayer.  I ask that we reaffirm our awareness that we – in our sameness and differences – are bound together in Christ. 

 

It is my deep conviction that it is indeed together – that we have been called to serve the Church of Jesus Christ at this time – in this place.  May we do so, trusting that the Lord our God is with us always.

 

See you soon in Philadelphia.

 

Blessings and peace,

 

Ruth

 

 

 

 

Passion Overload by Tayluer Streat, GA221 YAAD

Tayluer (R) with other commissioners

TAYLUER STREAT (YAAD) – PASSION OVERLOAD

The future was so clear just a week ago. It’s funny how everything can change by one encounter. I came to General Assembly knowing that I would love to go to the Naval Academy and become a military officer. At least that’s what I thought; but now my thoughts have been clouded. All the opinions, advice, and experiences that have been shared with me in the past six days are making me think differently. People in my church have always said I would be a great pastor. As a young adult, of course I never even entertained the thought before.

In my experiences at General Assembly, a door may have been opened; waiting for me to take a chance and explore. I never knew the Presbyterian Church was such a dominant figure in the world. I see it in a new light now. I have learned so much more in the past few days than my entire life in the church. Today I was able to meet three chaplains in the military who are ministers in churches. I always thought it was either military life or religious life. Now knowing I don’t have to choose between my faith and what I desire to become, my heart rests assured.

As a YAAD (Young Adult Advisory Delegate), I have met so many people whose passion in their hearts is so strong. Meeting people who have the same beliefs and goals in life is refreshing and encouraging. All of the YAADs have this desire to be part of the world and church to make them the best they can be. So far the Commissioners have seen the excitement in the youth that generates enthusiasm in the committee meetings. The YAADs have all connected on a deeper level that has strengthened our faith in so many ways. My roommate is from Idaho. I never thought I would have anything in common with her except for our age. To my surprise, I love my roommate, Michelle Goff. We stay up late and talk about every aspect of life. It is truly amazing how your faith can be a way to meet courageous and phenomenal people. Applying to be a YAAD was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. It has deepened my faith and showed me the passion I have for my beliefs.  

Surprising Connections by Brenton Thompson, GA221

BRENTON THOMPSON – SURPRISING CONNECTIONS

The past has a surprising way of catching up with you. GA is such a place of connection for Presbyterians and many paths continue to cross every time we gather. While in Committee 10 – Civil Unions & Marriage, my past came rushing back. There, advising the committee was Julie MacLemore Wells. To most people she’s just a member of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, but to me she was the woman who presented me for baptism, on behalf of the session at Southminster Presbyterian Church of Missouri City, TX.

I was nine-years-old when I was baptized. I still remember that experience, and there she was speaking before the committee. During a break I went up to her and told her who I was, and we nearly broke into tears. Here I am, now a Teaching Elder and here is Julie, the Elder who participated in one of my cherished faith experiences, together again.

Our church is a connectional church; though Julie’s and my paths have not crossed in over twenty years, yet again, through the work of the church we reconnect. The relationships we make are not temporary but are ongoing and constantly crossing. We make connections and it’s the Spirit that gives those connections legs. As I continue throughout the week, I will hold and cherish the hug I shared with Julie reaffirming the interconnectedness we find with each other in Jesus Christ.