2020 General Assembly Report: Day Four

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
General Minister
Sunday, June 28, 2020
The final day of the 224th General Assembly, June 27, began with the election and installation of the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II for a second four-year term as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. No other candidates applied, still Dr. Nelson offered a stirring statement of his hope for the church and his sense of call to this office. He stated his conviction that the church will never be the same again after the COVID pandemic, and that is a good thing! After a season of questions to the Nominating Committee and to Dr. Nelson personally, he was elected unanimously by the Assembly.
There was little controversy on the final day of the Assembly. Two attempts to add new business related to the welfare of African American women and the unborn failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority for accepting new business, leaving some commissioners deeply disappointed. But, on the whole, business was conducted peaceably and expeditiously. Kudos to Co-Moderators Gregory Bentley and Elona Street-Stewart for leading the Assembly so well!
The Office of the General Assembly (the primary recipient of national per capita funds) recommended that per capita not be raised for 2021 and 2022, part of an effort on the part of central offices to reduce their budgets in light of the uncertain economic climate related to the pandemic. However, the Assembly approved two task forces, the costs of which added .03 to GA per capita. Bottom line, GA per capita rises from 8.95 in 2019 and 2020 to 8.98 for 2021 and 2022.
As the Assembly neared its end, it observed a silence of 8 minutes 46 seconds, corresponding to the time George Floyd’s neck was pinned to the ground by Officer Derek Chauvin as he lay dying. It was a powerful witness of solidarity with African Americans whose lives have been bruised and crushed for too long by systemic racism in our nation.
While it wasn’t perfect, the online Assembly format worked amazingly well, with no more technical glitches than are encountered in “normal” in-person assemblies. I missed the bonds of fellowship that are formed and strengthened when the Assembly meets in person. I missed the worship that infuses the Assembly when it gathers together in person. I missed the opportunity to connect with our presbytery’s commissioners that we enjoy when we are gathered together in one place. There is much about the GA experience that gets lost when it meets online. Yet, I am amazed at how well this Assembly did its work of deliberation and discernment. It felt surprisingly normal in its process of hearing voices from differing perspectives, then determining by vote in good order which way to proceed. Parliamentary process worked just as well online as it does in person. On the whole, I found that this Assembly worked more like Assemblies ordinarily do than I had expected.
I am grateful to God for the commissioners/delegates that participated in this Assembly on our presbytery’s behalf. Please join me in thanking God for their service to our church, and thereby to the kingdom of God:
·        Rev. Scott Hill (Aspinwall Presbyterian Church)
·        Rev. Tammy Wiens (National Council of Churches)
·        Rev. David Wood (Deer Creek United and Pleasant Unity United Presbyterian Churches)
·        Elder John Ferguson (Crafton United Presbyterian Church)
·        Elder Dawn Harvin (Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church)
·        Elder Eddie Willson (East Liberty Presbyterian Church)
·        Rev. Charissa Howe (Presbytery Moderator)
·        Elder Mark Roth (Presbytery Senior Vice-Moderator)
·        Young Adult Advisory Delegate Samuel Smallwood (East Union Presbyterian Church)
I want to acknowledge the great gift given to the church by the Rev. Carol Divens Roth, who with her husband Commissioner Mark Roth crafted the resolution of response to the COVID pandemic that GA adopted.
I want also to thank our Stated Clerk Carla Campbell for her excellent preparation and guidance of our commissioners for this task. Carla was elected two years ago to serve on the nationalAdvisory Committee on the Constitution, a body that tests all proposed resolutions and overtures to the Assembly for their constitutional muster, and advises the Assembly accordingly. At this year’s GA, Carla was elected Vice Chair of this august body, congratulations to her!
Early in the history of our Reformed Church movement, now nearly 500 years old, our forebears declared that the mind of Christ is most faithfully discerned when the Body of Christ gathers to hear together what the Spirit is saying to the church. Differences of opinion are to be expected. Yet when the whole Body listens together for the word of the Lord, we are more likely to hear a reliable word from the Lord through the gifts and wisdom of the Spirit than when we listen alone. This holds true for all councils – sessions, presbyteries, synods, and general assemblies. Thanks be to God for the way the Spirit works among us and through us when we gather prayerfully to seek the mind of Christ!
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