Moving Forward: The Work of the Big Church, by Rev. Sharon Carter, Stated Clerk, Presbytery of Cincinnati

As I am writing this blog post, I have been watching the first day of committee work that is the beginning of the General Assembly gathering of the PC (USA). This may not seem to be the most exciting viewing when compared to, say, the University of Tennessee’s win last night of the College World Series—which was very exciting indeed!

As I am watching, I am filled with a love for our people, our great Big Tent of people who come together to do the work of the church on a denominational level. And here’s why:

As you may know, Presbyteries send commissioners to the General Assembly meeting—2 Ruling Elders and 2 Teaching Elders—and for 2 ½ to 3 days they attend one of 12 committee meetings which make decisions about business that has come to GA for consideration. The committees receive the overtures and policy changes, hear the pros and cons of each piece of business, and then decide whether or not to send the overtures and policy matters on to be considered by the entire assembly.

Many of the commissioners have never served in this way before, and though they have served on sessions across the country, these committee meetings are more formal and “in order” than the usual session meeting. Commissioners have training in church polity and Robert’s Rules as well as hundreds of pages of material to become familiar with for their committee and the other business they will be expected to vote on in the lager gatherings (plenary sessions.)

There are people of all stripes on the committees and the General Assembly gathering as well (though, like our local churches, the gathering skews older.) There is the Roberts Rules nerd, the polity wonk, the shy commissioner who doesn’t like to speak, the experienced hand who has it all down, the person who has a strong opinion and the person who doesn’t—all of the people we might see in a typical meeting of session or presbytery.

The magic that happens is that these people take their work very seriously. Interactions are generally civil and polite, and my heart sings when I see the newbie commissioners making their way around motions and seconds and using the technology to vote. Their dedication is evident in their attention during the meetings, the questions that they craft and ask, and most of all their willingness to listen to what others have to say.

Commissioners are not directed by their presbyteries how to vote, but are guided by God, Christ and Spirit through their conscience to vote as they understand God calls. This is true throughout the gatherings, from committee work to plenary work and is one of the things that makes our polity unique.

There are a lot of things that we can complain about in terms of the larger church, but watching the commissioners work together to do the business of the church is a wonderful thing. And even if we seem a little slow and stodgy sometimes, the work that happens at GA is what moves the denomination forward, as we all must move forward.

I encourage you to check out the Presbyterian Outlook and the PCUSA website for reports from GA about what business took place and pray for those whose ideas were accepted and approved and for those whose ideas were turned down. And pray that, by the grace of God, we will all continue to move forward together.