2020 General Assembly Report: Day Two
A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
Sunday, June 21, 2020
A resounding “Yes!”
At its second session on June 20, called less than 24 hours earlier, the 224 th General Assembly voted by a two-thirds majority on the first ballot to elect Elder Elona Street-Stewart and Rev. Gregory Bentley as Co-Moderators. The election followed more than an hour of commissioners’ questions to the three teams of candidates. In all my years of going to GA, I cannot recall such a strong first-ballot vote in a Moderator election.
Each of the three candidate teams spoke clearly and passionately of their vision for the church’s future. One of Bentley’s and Street-Stewart’s central emphases was calling the church to live more fully into the denomination-wide Matthew 25 initiative with its three core foci: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism, and eradicating systemic poverty.
Hailing from Minnesota, Street-Stewart is the first person of Native American heritage elected as Moderator by the PCUSA. She currently serves as Executive of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies . She points to the Native American values in which she was raised as offering significant challenges and hopes to the PCUSA today. Bentley is an African-American pastor with a distinguished history of broader church and community service, notably with the National Black Presbyterian Caucus and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference . Raised up through African-American grade schools sponsored by the Presbyterian Church, for the past decade he has been pastor of Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, AL.
Street-Stewart and Bentley chose as their symbol the Sankofa bird, a mythical African figure that flies forward while looking backward. They characterize their vision as one that moves our church forward without forgetting our heritage.
As our nation reels from recent killings of defenseless minorities by white people in power, and as it gathers in prayer and protest rallies seeking a new and better way forward, it may well be that this team has been raised up by the Spirit to guide our church “for such a time as this.”
As I reported in yesterday’s GA letter, GA’s first session on Friday ended after extended debate on GA Item 01-04 . This item stipulates which business is essential for this truncated Assembly to consider this year, and which business that ordinarily would have been on the docket should be referred to the next GA. The vote on Friday to close that conversation came after many were exhausted by debate that went well into the night hours. Soon afterward some commissioners petitioned the Stated Clerk that the matter be reconsidered, and their petition was found to be in order. So, before it takes up any new business on Friday, the Assembly will reopen the question of what must be addressed by General Assembly now, not later.
Deciding what is and what is not essential for the church’s life and mission in any given place and time is immensely challenging, yet critically necessary, if we are to be fully effective as Christ’s ambassadors in our world. This debate may seem technical, yet it gets to the heart of our challenge as a church. When is it time to wait, and when is it time to act? I expect this conversation to be rather vigorous. You can follow it live here when GA goes into its next business session at 1 p.m. Friday, June 26.