The Presbytery of Philadelphia GA223 Commissioners Blog

A Good Time to Be Presbyterian: GA Reflections by Elder Jim Ballengee

While I have been caught up in the election of new Co-Moderators and other events, perhaps the most inspirational moment for me will end up being an inspiring talk by Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis. She is an ordained Presbyterian Minister and Co-Chair of the Poor People’s campaign going on right now around the country. Just before she spoke Saturday she had been arrested in Washington, DC for protesting in what has become the largest moment of civil disobedience and direct action since the Civil Rights movement.

She challenged us as follows: “What sermon on the Mount did you hear? Because justice for the poor, justice for the immigrant, justice for everybody is at the heart of our Gospel.” Justice is at the heart of our Bible and charity and hypocrisy won’t end poverty, but will keep it with us. Unjust times need a revolution of values and a moral revival. Our denomination has joined the Poor People’s campaign and Theoharis closed by stating, “I have never in my life been so proud to be a Presbyterian.”

I concur!

Elder Jim Ballengee (Arch Street Presbyterian Church)

A Church Centered on Justice, Kindness, and Humility: GA Reflections by Elder Zandra Maffett

Côte Brilliante Presbyterian Church, Sunday Morning Worship

“Folks we’re on our way to St. Louis,” said the pilot as our airplane began to taxi down the runway at Philadelphia  airport on Friday morning.
It was then it hit me.  After weeks of preparation – a deluge of mail, a daunting list of resolutions, and overtures  to be read for my assigned committee, “Church Polity & Ordered Ministry,” commissioning at the July meeting of Presbytery, a video conference call with committee members— it was the pilot’s words that made it real — I’m on my way  to “GA” a.k.a the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA.
During these first couple of days of a long week, I am profoundly aware that we will be examining and voting on broad issues that include fossil fuel, per capita, parental leave for pastor’s and staff, denominational restructuring, racial and social justice, and changes to the Book of Order. There will be tough questions and tough conversations. There are moments of feeling overwhelmed, but more moments of being mindful to listen to the will of God, as I am instructed to give serious consideration and prayerful discernment to these issues.

While I await my first committee meeting, there are three plenary business meetings to attend with more later in the week. I am meeting new people and getting reacquainted with old friends. Yes, we are a connected church. There is a spirit of joy, a genuineness to be together, an anticipation of an experience, that is a much welcomed diversion from news cycles that focus on division and brokenness.

The singing of the first hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” at the General Assembly’s  opening worship service overwhelmed me with emotion as I looked around the convention center room at the beautifulvariety and diversity of people of God singing in unity. And that emotion continued to pour over me as I listened to an amazing, thought-provoking sermon on justice preached by the 222nd GA co-moderators.

As I witness the inclusiveness of this Assembly, the framing of a Church centered on justice and kindness and humility, I look forward to the Committee discussions, as difficult as they might be, knowing I’m surrounded by others also praying about the issues and challenges facing our denomination.



Elder Zandra Maffett (Valley Forge)

General Assembly as a Shared Journey: GA Reflections by Rev. Dr. Janel Dixon

After much turbulence on the ground and in the air, we finally arrived in St. Louis by the grace of God! While riding in the taxi to the hotel, my eyes beheld the St. Louis  Arch and immediately I breathed a deep sigh of relief that turned into jubilant rejoicing: We are finally here for GA!

Rev. Dr. Janel Dixon (left) and Elder Contina Lundy (right)

Thanks to a canceled flight, we missed opening worship; but I used the remainder of the days experiences as my worship platform to give God thanksgiving and praise for such an awesome opportunity to serve God and the Church. The highlights of the day that shall serve as spiritual food for my week’s journey included sitting in my designated seat with my presbytery commissioner colleagues and, realizing that this daunting task is not undertaken alone but shared with those I cherish as companions on the journey. Reconnecting already with old friends, meeting new friends, and hearing how God is at work in places and spaces around the world.

Finally, the commissioning service that profoundly reminded me of why I am here: “I heard the voice of the Lord (through the community of faith) saying, whom shall we send and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here I am Lord, send me!”
Rev. Dr. Janel Dixon (Cedar Park Presbyterian Church)

New GA Ministry: Hands & Feet

Making Our Way to GA223

June 8, 2018

Dear Brothers and Sisters on the Journey,

In just one week, your elected commissioners and Young Adult Advisory Delegate (YAAD), other leaders facilitating General Assembly conversations, along with your Stated Clerk, your Associate Presbyter and your Executive Presbyter will find themselves at the 223rd General Assembly in St. Louis, Missouri, meeting from June 16-23, 2018. As we begin to make final preparations for this trip, we are confident we will all be richly blessed by gathering with thousands of Presbyterians from around the nation, along with guests from other churches in the world.

This year’s theme, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” based on Matthew 6:33, is a reminder of our call to faithfully work to bring about “Gospel incarnation” into the brokenness of the world. Despite the brokenness around us, we are a people who believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be agents of transformation, providing glimpses of God’s kingdom so that justice, love, and mercy can be experienced by all. Our eight commissioners and one Young Adult Advisory Delegate (YAAD) along with a Theological Student Advisory Delegate (TSAD) also from our presbytery, will be part of that transformative hope as they gather in their committees to learn, listen, discern, recommend, and vote on issues of concern to people of faith within our denomination from around our nation.

We ask for your prayers for each of our commissioners – that their hearts might be open to God’s powerful Spirit; that they might model how to listen and engage brothers and sisters with whom they might disagree; that they might make new friends; and above all, that they will be a people of prayer and discernment as they seek to interpret faithfully the complexity of issues before them and the Assembly. Please lift them up by name: Elder Jim Ballengee, Elder Ron Cronise, Rev. Dr. Janel Dixon, Rev. Chris Holland, Rev. Byungil Kim, Elder Contina Lundy, Elder Zandra Moffett, Rev. Casey Thompson, and our YAAD, Madeline Taylor along with Brian Ballard (TSAD). Also pray for all who will be diligently working on committees and in different capacities. Read more about our delegation and follow daily reflections through our commissioner’s blog here:

As is tradition, the Assembly will be blessed by rich worship and biblical reflection. There will be celebration of new worshipping communities and creative ministry innovation. This is also a critical moment when 538 commissioners and 183 advisory delegates will gather from east and west, north and south to discuss the broad range of theological and social concerns that challenge our Christian witness. You can find out much more about each of the specific overtures and issues by going on the PCUSA website dedicated to the 223rd General Assembly and our own webpage: However, in an effort to introduce you to the breadth of the conversations scheduled for St. Louis, we are listing many of the topics below. A final reminder that any recommended changes to the Book of Order will need to go to the presbyteries for their consideration following the Assembly. Our presbytery will consider voting on them in November. All other General Assembly decisions serve as guidelines for the direction and work of our denomination over the next two years.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all. Blessings and peace,




Our General Assembly Commissioners Already at Work, Preparing for St. Louis

Our commissioners and delegates to the 223rd General Assembly are eager to make their way to St. Louis!

We invite you to lift in prayer our delegates as they do their work on behalf of our Presbytery, and our executive staff in attendance:

  • Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace
  • Rev. Christopher Holland,  Elder Contina Lundy, and Elder Ron Cronise
  • Madeline Taylor, Rev. L. Casey Thompson, Elder Zandra Maffett, Elder Jim Ballengee, Brian Ballard, Rev. Dr. T. Janel Dixon, and Rev. Byungil Kim
  • Rev. Greg Klimovitz, and Rev. Kevin Porter

Be sure to continue to check this blog for daily reflection during the gathering of the 223rd General Assembly.

The Presbyterian Outlook Helpful for 223rd General Assembly Commissioners by Patricia Valentine

Even with the best preparation, GA is a marathon, not a sprint! May you enjoy every step. Click on the image below to read the article by Patricia Valentine:


Post General Assembly Reflections from Executive Staff who attended GA222

Dear Companions on the Journey,

The3MuskateriansbBy the time you receive this communication, your Presbytery Commissioners, leadership staff, and other “presby-enthusiasts” have safely made our way back from the 222nd General Assembly in Portland, Oregon. For one week, your commissioners worked diligently – discussing overtures, listening to differing perspectives, prayerfully discerning as they considered recommended overtures coming from every corner of our nation. The final statements and actions reflect this Assembly’s heart and understanding of what it means to be bearers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ at this time and place. From celebrating ministry initiatives, worshipping communities, and mission partnerships, the tone of this assembly was one of moving forward – spiritually and structurally.

Throughout their work, the week was framed within the context of worship, the Word proclaimed and the Lord’s table.  There is something powerful about worshipping with people from around the nation and world – the sounds of the prayers, confessions and singing become amplified by the Holy Spirit that converts a mundane convention center to a place of worship and mountain top experience.

This Assembly will be remembered for being a “quiet” assembly. As the Rev. Cindy Jarvis noted in our final GA blog from Portland, there was a “sheer silence” in this gathering. It was a silence or stillness that led to profound and historic decisions as the Assembly overwhelmingly took actions such as embracing a new confession, electing the first African-American to the highest ecclesiastical office in our denomination, and electing two clergywomen as co-moderators. God was clearly in the stillness of this quiet Assembly, reminding us we do not always need to experience the power of God in great and violent-like winds. God was in our humble tears as we stepped into this new dawn.

Friends, the actions of this Assembly set the stage for our next season of service and ministry in the name of Jesus the Christ.  We have attached a summary sheet of most of the actions taken this past week; a few of which will need to be ratified by a majority of the 171 presbyteries in the coming year.  We encourage you to read specifics of the Assembly via
What a privilege to be part of this moment in the life of our denomination.  May we now find ways to live into “the hope of our calling” – which is grounded in Christ Jesus.

Blessings and peace,




Summary of Actions from the 222nd General Assembly
Major Decisions and/or Recommendations to Presbyteries for Consideration (prepared by the Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace on June 25, 2016 with information gathered from both personal witness and “General Assembly News”). Please click here for a downloadable Bulletin Insert for you to share with your congregations: PresbyPHL_Recap_on_GA222 Actions_BI

Reflections from General Assembly by Rev. Cindy Jarvis

Cjarvis copy

“Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind, an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake, a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire, the sound of sheer silence.”

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has spent the last four decades buffeted by a great wind, a wind so strong that it seemed to split the high places of God’s dwelling on earth and to break our sure foundation in pieces. God was not in the wind. Those same foundations have been shaken such that many have fallen through the crevasses never to be seen again. God was not in the shaking. Since the last Assembly, it is as though a fire has consumed whole congregations, leaving only embers as evidence of the witnesses who once laid a cornerstone in fact and in faith. God was not in the fire.

Now there is, at this Assembly, the sound of sheer silence. On one hand, there was the stunning silence that signaled our unanimity as we added the Confession of Belhar to our Book of Confessions; the ordered silence as we were instructed by Moderator Edmiston to wiggle our fingers instead of clapping when we were moved to affirm an action of the whole; the surprising silence when a supposedly contentious motion was passed with little debate and less opposition.

But there is an underside to this silence. It is the silence of a people who are weary of fighting with each other, but not quite ready to trust or love one another. It is the silence of missing voices that have chosen to leave rather than continue to live in opposition. It is the silence of an Assembly praying with sighs too deep for words, longing to hear a Word not our own, even Jesus Christ, who is speaking us into the future we cannot yet imagine. Contrary to a cursory reading of these familiar words in I Kings 19, God is not in the sound of sheer silence.

Rather Elijah emerges from the cave on the mountain of the Lord after the sound of sheer silence. Here, it seems to me, the silence is in the text itself—those pauses that the rabbis believe God places in Scripture to make us lean in with expectation and hope or with fear and trembling because the living God is coming toward us in the fissures of the text. This is the silence I have experienced in Portland—on The Way Forward Committee that I was privileged to help moderate, in the Assembly Hall as we were uncharacteristically careful to make room for one another in the actions taken, on the way from there to here as we wordlessly embraced lost friends. Together we are listening at the entrance of the cave for a word from the Lord.

The word of the Lord that finally addresses Elijah is in the form of a question: “What are you doing here?” Elijah hears the question as God’s judgment, prompting him to give an account of his actions. But God is not interested in the past. Rather God says a word to Elijah that has the effect of sending Elijah into the future. There God will use Elijah to do a new thing: to pass the prophetic mantle from Elijah to Elisha. In the election of our co-moderators Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, in the election of our new stated clerk J. Herbert Nelson, and in the actions of this Assembly, I pray we will hear God sending the Presbyterian Church (USA) into the future where God is doing a new thing. Thank you for electing me to be a part of this Assembly. It has been an exhilarating and exhausting privilege!

General Assembly Reflections by Sandy Hull


SHull1We had a profoundly moving moment last night. The General Assembly approved the addition of the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions. The Belhar Confesssion was developed by our Reformed sisters and brothers in South Africa and approved there thirty years ago, in 1986, as a courageous declaration that became a key statement in the movement to topple apartheid, stating clearly that the gospel demands that we work for the unity of all people regardless of race and oppose anything in church or society that would divide people along racial lines. The GA’s vote last night was the culmination of the multi-year process required to make changes to our Book of Confessions.

After the vote, we were addressed by Rev. Motlalentwa Godfrey Betha of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa. He began by saying, “It is quarter to six in the morning in South Africa. I believe that there are those who did not sleep, waiting for this moment.” We were suddenly aware that the world was watching and that our adoption of the Belhar Confession makes a momentous statement that we stand with fellow Christians worldwide in pursuit of racial justice.

The next speaker was none other than Dr. Allan Boesak, one of the heroes of the anti-apartheid movement and co-authors of the confession, who had come to Portland just to be present for this moment. He expressed deep gratitude for the GA’s action, spoke of battles won yet of much still to accomplish, concluding with the triumphant exclamation: “Because of Jesus, we shall overcome!”