Following is the second update from Calvary’s Student Pastor Ben Fitzgerald-Fye, who writes to us while serving as a Student Assistant at the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) being held in St. Louis, Missouri this week (June 16 – 23, 2018).
I imagine it would be easy to look at the structure of the PCUSA and think that rules are made and changes occur without any real consideration of the church back home. Perhaps we don’t really think of our denomination beyond the walls of our personal churches and perhaps we don’t think that rules, changes, and ideas happen at something as large as the General Assembly with any meaningful understanding of how things affect our own personal churches. Well friends, as I sit in the committee room and the plenary sessions, I am increasingly convinced that nothing could be further from the truth. As a Student Assistant, I have a very clear view of the process that makes us Presbyterian and it is remarkable, thoughtful, prayerful, and very human. The people gathered here are the voices of the church, the big church and the little church, and they are all dedicated advocates for our collective future. Each time a motion is made or an overture considered, hands are raised to voice the concerns of the many churches we call our home churches. Financial implications and congregational concerns are at the forefront of every discussion and every word debated in a committee. Of course, there are times when the outcome isn’t what some hope and that is the nature of a compromising system of debate. That being said, I have heard strong and dedicated voices standing up to systems and to entities in a way that aims to protect and defend the home church and the core equality of our Presbyterian polity.
As a Student Assistant, I do not have a voice or vote in the deliberations around proposed amendments and it can feel a bit disconcerting sometimes to feel strongly about something and not have input. That being said, each time an issue is raised, I am heartened by the many voices of those who seek nothing more than the preservation and the strengthening of our polity and our Presbyterian dedication to fairness and shared power. Even the people I may personally disagree with conduct themselves with a grace and a willingness to cooperate that would make anyone proud of their denomination. We could teach our national leaders a thing or two about parliamentary procedure and open, respectful debate.
The committee I serve, Polity and Ordered Ministry, is tasked with considering some items of business that seeks to make changes to the Book of Order. These are constitutional changes that have polity, financial, and wide-reaching implications. It is a real honor to watch this committee do its work and to hear the diverse voices speaking on behalf of church and congregational interests. The committee is led by a group of compassionate women with a firm grasp of both the detail and the spirit of our polity. The over 50 commissioners serving on the committee are made up of men and women of diverse races, identities, regions, and ages. The Young Adult Advisory Delegates have been some of the strongest and most eloquent voices on the committee with a notable passion for justice, fairness, and inclusion.
Some of the actions taken by the Polity and Ordered Ministry committee have not been things I personally support, and I am sure you will here more about that, but I am still in awe of the process that allows debate and disagreement to occur with respect for minority opinions.
Tomorrow, all of the work of the committees begins to be considered by the large, 800 or so commissioners, plenary meetings where work is finalized and sent to presbyteries for approval as needed. I will be sure to report on that process as it unfolds.
Peace be with you!