The Presbytery of Philadelphia GA223 Commissioners Blog

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.

An Ever-Present Help by Isaac Baah

An Ever-Present Help by Isaac Baah

This is my first time attending General Assembly and I have been very impressed with everything so far. Although the conference has not yet come to an end, it has been a life-changing experience already for me. My experience started a week before I took off for Detroit. My wife and I traveled for a funeral and on our way back home, my wife had a massive stroke from a blood clot in the brain that affected one side of her body, her speech, and her memory. As a Ruling Elder who has been encouraging people in situations like this, this was a time that I needed to encourage myself in this dying situation which confronted me.

I remembered what the apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Based on this scripture, I prayed a short prayer that, if my wife recovers from the stroke attack by the following Friday, I will attend General Assembly which I have been anxiously looking forward to. Lo and behold our God was faithful – for my wife has completely recovered from the stroke which has not only boosted my faith in God but importantly revealed the unseen healing hand of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at HUP.

The above is to testify to the greatness of our God.

At General Assembly, I had the privilege of serving as a Commissioner on the Committee on “Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations”. The two days of deliberations has really opened my understanding on things that I did not pay attention to previously. I had the opportunity to listen to several Seminary Presidents, representatives from other denominations, Imams and other committee members on issues on our ecumenical and interfaith relations with other religions and denominations.

One of the overtures that stood out in our discussions was Item 07-01 “On Distinguishing between Biblical Terms for Israel and Those Applied to the Modern Political State of Israel in Christian Liturgy”

The following is the position of the committee: “Though the committee voted not to approve 07-01, we take the matter of language and the tension around the use of the term Israel specifically very seriously. We hope the discussion and education about the use of language continues.” I was confused after I listened to ten people who spoke for and ten people who spoke against this overture. At the end of deliberations, we voted to disapprove Item 07-01 with the above comment.

Committee discussions were done in the atmosphere of respect. At the end, we realized that there is still hope for the church although we may disagree on some issues.

I have been parochial in the way I deal with other denominations and faiths, but my perceptions have changed after serving on this committee. I am now in a better position to engage others to respect people of other faiths and religions. This will help to deepen their faith and foster peace among people of different faiths and religions.

I am very happy to be a Commissioner to the 221st GA and may God bless the PC(USA).

Great Beginnings by Wally Fletcher, GA221

WALLY FLETCHER – GREAT BEGINNINGS

What a great beginning! Occasions like this remind me why I am Presbyterian.

Two highlights stand out from our opening day. The first was attending the Riverside Conversation on the recommendations on engagement and divestment from the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee made at the direction of our last GA. I was very impressed with the quality of the presentation and conversation around this very difficult issue. I was proud to learn of what our Presbyterian Foundation is doing to promote justice and economic development in Palestine. Having been part of a group from our Presbytery to travel to Palestine last November, I had a context for understanding the hard choices before us that I would not have had before.

The second highlight, of course, was the Opening Worship. It was as wonderful as I expected but made more so by the debut of our new Presbyterian Hymnal, “Glory to God”. Our church should be very proud of our Presbyterian Publishing Corp., the Office of Theology and Worship, and the Presbyterian Association of Musicians for their inspired and inspiring work. Each commissioner received a special edition copy of this new hymnal as a gift. It is one that I will cherish.

Now as I prepare for the committee meetings that begin tomorrow, I have to remind myself that committee assignments are made randomly. I am on the Social Justice Committee, which is addressing a number of important issues close to my heart. One is the scourge of gun violence. I think of the 74 school shootings that have occurred since Sandy Hook. I think of the less publicized “random shootings” of children playing on porches and front yards in Philadelphia and Chester, PA. I think of the gun culture in Texas, where I grew up and where concealed guns are now permitted to be carried in churches unless churches post signs forbidding it. I think of my troubled younger brother who was still in his 30’s when he put a handgun to his head and pulled the trigger. I think of my mother who found him dead in the trailer he lived in behind her house and too many other mothers who have cradled bloodied children in their arms. In spite of the randomness, I am grateful to be here on their behalf.

At Table by Linda Rutkosky, GA221

LINDA RUTKOSKY – AT TABLE

On this glorious Sunday, over 40 churches in Detroit and the surrounding area graciously welcomed GA Commissioners to worship alongside them. I hopped in a van and ventured with other Commissioners to First Presbyterian Church in Farmington, MI. This church is celebrating their 60th year anniversary today and immediately upon arrival one could feel a joyful, contagious celebratory spirit! The Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, gave an eloquent sermon laced with intellect and humor regarding our paying attention to “signs”. The church has a big beautiful organ. I witnessed a baby walking down the aisle trying to give others her shoes. The kids bounded forward for

“Children’s Time.” The choir sang beautifully. It was all so very familiar reminding me of the home I had left a short time ago.
At our plenary meeting this afternoon, we prayed for and celebrated the commissioning of new missionaries. I sat spellbound listening to the 90-year-old young Rev. Dr. James Reese. As an ordained Presbyterian minister for 65 years, he has been coming to every General Assembly since 1974. He said, “I have been at the table all these years and have been frustrated, ignored, and marginalized, but I never left the table… We are richer with us. We are poorer without us.”

Our committee meetings begin this evening and will continue through Tuesday. We work long days… staying at the table. It was nearly midnight when our plenary meeting ended last night. There are issues that ignite extreme passion and debate. This opportunity to be informed, have open dialogue and ultimately vote regarding these issues makes us unique when compared with other denominations. We are always reforming… as individuals, Presbyterians and Christians. To be here in Detroit participating in this process is simply amazing.
You’ve got to go, be there, be present, think and act to grow God’s kingdom. There are a myriad of people from different places with different life experiences here. Yet, we all have a shared bond and thread. I have met the most interesting, dynamic and faithful people. The energy is electrifying!

Heading to Detroit! By Sarah Colwill, Commissioner, GA221

SARAH COLWILL – HEADING TO DETROIT

“Abounding in Hope”…we begin our GA journey with this theme coursing through our veins, as we read up on overtures and recommendations, as we receive hand-written letters from advocacy groups and church-related organizations. The magnitude of the task at hand becomes apparent, as the opening of the Assembly draws nearer and the realization that we may make some major historical decisions for the church becomes a reality.

But personally, this theme, “Abounding in Hope” devolves into a fleeting prayer to the traveling gods that I may somehow, some way, actually leave the Philadelphia airport. The six hours I have spent in the airport so far has given me a snapshot into the lives of many. Different homes, different jobs, different families, different destinations, different origins, but all one commonality: None of us wants to be here. I met a couple who decided to elope yesterday, on their way to Vegas. I met a life-time Atlantian, a recent college grad about to spend the summer on a fishing boat in Alaska, a Lansing native trying to play up the good neighborhoods of Detroit. We are all in transition, headed somewhere, not wanting to be here, fellow sojourners taking our bets as to whether or not we would really get the chance to leave.

As Presbyterians from around the country, and around the globe, congregate in Detroit, we remain in transition, even when we check into our crisp hotel rooms and find our way to our plenary seats. Some of us are changing jobs, some of us are becoming empty nesters, some of us are about to be parents for the first time, some of us are wondering if the best of our years are behind us, some of us are discerning a call to seminary. Still, God calls us together even in the midst of life’s transitions, to breathe a good, clean, holy breath into our lungs, to remind us that there is a call to be the Church even when we are not ourselves experiencing stability. Wish me luck! I’m still at Gate C27.