Several hundred Presbyterians took to the streets on a hot and humid Tuesday afternoon in downtown St. Louis calling for social, racial and economic justice. Participants – including Co-Moderators Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, and the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, along with the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, General Assembly stated clerk – joined other advocacy groups for the one-mile walk from the America’s Center (St. Louis’ convention center) to the City Justice Center to participate in a “bail out.”
Our fellowship hall is decorated with a mix of photographs of the community over the years, and in one taken around 1945, an 8- or 9-year-old Peg is sitting at a Sunday School table with a twinkle in her eyes that suggests she was up to something. She had that same twinkle Friday afternoon as we chatted on the flight we shared from DC.
Behind the twinkle lay a sharp, deeply thoughtful and creative mind buoyed by a warm and compassionate heart. Peg was an educator, a vocational path she followed as a young adult when, in the late 1950s, her call to ministry was blocked by a church still far from ready to support women in ordained ministry.
The committee’s entire evening session was devoted to Item 14-05, “On Adopting the ‘Letter from Birmingham City Jail,’ written by the Rev. Dr. MLK Jr., as a Contemporary Statement of Faith (But not with Constitutional Standing).”
During the open meeting, the Rev. Dean Seal, overture advocate from the Presbytery of Twin Cities, said that the 50th anniversary of the assassination of MLK Jr. is “a timely opportunity to affirm him,” and noted that the letter has “efficacy for motivating young people to learn about the Civil Rights Movement,” a point affirmed by several other speakers.
General Assembly Committee 5 answered two overtures Monday by calling for the creation of an administrative commission to “address disorder in the Synod of the Covenant,” and work toward reconciliation and healing.
The action came in the evening after the committee had created a group to draft a response to an overture from the Presbytery of Cincinnati calling for the General Assembly to create an administrative commission (item 05-03), and an overture from the synod to reject the Cincinnati overture (item 05-06).
During the public part of the meeting, Laurel Underwood, an observer at GA and a pastor, said her family had served in Korea for four generations. “We know what happens to the politically unwanted in North Korea,” she said.
The 223rd General Assembly’s Middle East Committee has signed off on most of the overtures and commissioner resolutions presented during its two days of meetings. The overtures covered issues around Israel/Palestine, the U.S. government’s decision to disengage with Iran and the Syrian conflict.
While the committee meetings themselves were respectful and calm, the ongoing debate over the Israeli occupation of Palestine created some concern outside committee sessions. One speaker was confronted by another individual after the group broke for lunch on Monday. Once the committee reconvened, Moderator Charon Barconey addressed the panel.
“We’re going to be nice Presbyterian radicals,” the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins said. “The same savior who saved us is the one who overturned tables.”
The Reverend John Yor, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS), who is serving as an ecumenical representative to the 223rd General Assembly, has been sharing stories of hope from his war-torn country.
The South Sudan Council of Churches — on whose executive committee Yor serves — has been an effective advocate for peace at the High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF), convened by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Responding to two overtures raising concerns about the administration of the Jarvie Commonweal Fund, Committee 13 of the 223rd General Assembly (2018) issued a call for reconciliation.
“Bushes are burning all over this world,” pointed out the Rev. Traci Blackmon. Yet few of us turn aside, like Moses, to “focus on what God was and is doing” where we are.
While others may have passed by without noticing a burning bush in the desert, “normalizing the event in their minds,” Moses turned aside from his preoccupations to hear God’s call.