Highlights from the 222nd General Assembly in Portland
By Reverend Chuck Swann
Predictions are that the 222nd General Assembly had so many historic moments that it will be remembered as one of the most significant in the life of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
First African American elected Stated Clerk
J. Herbert Nelson was overwhelmingly elected to the denomination’s top ecclesiastical post and installed immediately. He succeeds Gradye Parsons, who is retiring after eight years as stated clerk. Nelson told the assembly, “This is a powerful day, a powerful day in my life and for many people of color who did not envision the possibility of this ever happening.”
Two women elected co-moderators of the Assembly
History was made in at least two ways when the assembly elected its first co-moderators and its first all-women moderatorial ticket: Rev. Denise Anderson, a pastor from National Capital Presbytery and Rev. Jan Edmiston, associate executive presbyter for the Presbytery of Chicago. They are the first co-moderators, elected after the 221st Assembly approved a standing rules change to allow this arrangement.
Belhar added to Book of Confessions
Fifty years after it was birthed in South Africa in the battle against apartheid, the Confession of Belhar has been included in the Book of Confessions of the PC(USA). After a four-year-long process of study, and votes by the 221st Assembly, and then the 171 presbyteries, the 222nd Assembly voted 540 to 33 to make Belhar this denomination’s 12th recognized confession.
New Directory for Worship
A slimmer, less restrictive Directory for Worship was overwhelmingly approved. It will now go to the 171 presbyteries and must be ratified by a majority of them to be adopted by the next general assembly. The directory is part of the Book of Order.
Regret expressed for harm to LGBTQ/Q members
Declining a proposal to apologize for and admit to harming the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning community, commissioners instead opted to express deep regret for ways that those minorities of “God’s beloved children” have been led to feel that they stand outside the grace of God and are unwelcome in the denomination.
At the same time, the resolution expressed deep sorrow about all in the PC(USA) who have left the fellowship of the church, and expressed appreciation to those who have maintained relationships despite profound disagreement.
“Teaching Elder” out, “Minister of Word and Sacrament” back in
Commissioners voted 320-218 to send to the presbyteries a proposed amendment to the Book of Order that would restore the previous nomenclature for ordered ministry. If approved by a majority of the 171 presbyteries, teaching elders would once again become ministers of the Word and Sacrament; ruling elders would be elders and commissioned ruling elders would be commissioned pastors.
Decision to reduce number of synods reversed
A decision by the 221st Assembly that would have reduced the number of synods was rescinded by a 451-158 vote. Instead, this assembly directed synods and presbyteries to work together on a new configuration of synod boundaries that would reduce their number to between 10 and 121.
Commitment to peacemaking reaffirmed
After a six-year churchwide discernment process, the assembly approved a lengthy report underscoring the centrality of peacemaking to Christian faith and promising to “practice boldly the things that make for peace.” The report calls for all Presbyterians to respond to and prevent violence on the local, national and international levels through prayer, direct action and advocacy.
Commission on PC(USA) structural issues created
Several overtures that would have changed the structure and operations of the larger church were rejected and commissioners instead created a vision team and a separate administrative commission to address those matters. A 12-member Way Forward Commission will have sweeping powers “to study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the general assembly agencies” of the church. Commissioners also created a 15-member 2020 Vision Team to “develop a guiding statement for the denomination and make a plan for its implementation.”
Move to divest from fossil fuel companies defeated
The PC(USA) will continue its investment in fossil-fuel companies after turning back an overture to begin divestment immediately. Instead, it will continue the process of selective divestment that begins with full corporate engagement. The denomination’s associate for mission responsibility through investment told commissioners that divestment could reduce the PC(USA)’s ability to persuade energy companies to act in environmentally responsible ways.
Two-state solution for Israel-Palestine reaffirmed
The assembly approved a lengthy report that says the PC(USA) “should advance those efforts that best accord with its values…including but not limited to, that of two sovereign states—Israel and Palestine.” Approval of the report came with a comment affirming the PC(USA)’s preference for a two-state solution and a desire to stay in conversation with partners in Israel who are working for peace.
—excerpted from Assembly in Brief, Office of the General Assembly, by Chuck Swann