Thoughts by New Jersey Presbyterians on the 221st General Assembly

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If you’re the kind of person who wants to follow the actions of the General Assembly, the best way is to watch the live stream and follow along on PC-biz.

If you prefer to hear the pundits, however, you need to follow the conversation on twitter. Follow the official sources like the Presbyterian Outlook (@presoutlook), the Office of the General Assembly (@presbyGA) for the news. And follow the hashtag #GA221 for the commentary. My favorite tweets of the day:

@mayog: When they have to tell the Commissioners to turn on their electronics, who is surprised that there is no child care? #GA221

@salliedmin: #ga221 EPs are planning a filibuster if we get voice.

@LandonWhitsitt: I’ve got a free gift to the first person who clearly refers to Heath Rada as “#ModeRada” on the floor of #ga221.

@miheekimkort: Holy crap I’m way happy and excited that @LarissaLKA is moderating the meeting right now. It’s so fun. #ga221 #comm6

@cmikoski25: Sara B Moseley was the first woman moderator of the PCUS- you go girl! #rolemodel #GA221

@SheRevSEA: If you want to know what your EP/GP or other thinks, ask them. #GA221

@mnewgale: anyone notice that David Gambrell looks a bit like Jon Snow? #GA221 #GoT #watcheronthewalls

BTW, you can follow me @baileyws


Breakfast with the Commissioners

Tradition has it that presbyteries get together sometime on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.  This is the time between committee meetings and the plenary.  The docket is being finalized, reports are being written, other strategies are being set.  The presbyteries of Monmouth and New Brunswick got together this morning for a late breakfast.  There were twelve of us:

  • Charissa Mikoski (REC)
  • David Wall (REC)
  • Jim Pruner (TEC)
  • Liz Zupp (YAAD)
  • Jonathan Seitz (MAD)
  • Paul LaMontagne (Stated Clerk)
  • Carl Wilton (Stated Clerk)
  • Jim McGuire (REC)
  • Bev Marsh (REC)
  • Barbara Hicks (TEC)
  • Doug Chase (TEC)
  • and me

It’s good to get together, share stories of our most embarrassing moments of GA … like when I got the turnstile for the People Mover stuck between my legs the other night … share our frustrations … like how late the committee on Mid Councils went yesterday … and ask questions about each other’s committee work.

We had commissioners on the Middle East committee, General Assembly Procedures, Immigration Issues, Theological Education, Mid Councils, Board of Pensions and PILP, Immigration and Environmental Issues, Social Justice Issues, Mission Coordination and Peacemaking and International Issues.  We were able to share the main issues in each committee and what to expect as each makes its report over the next few days.  

I liked having a relaxed breakfast together … even though some were off immediately after to attend special luncheons.  Princeton’s luncheon is today.  We laughed together … and commiserated together.  The commissioners, though, for the most part are always very positive about their experience so far.  The way our GA is organized, and prepared for almost any possibility; the commitment of our staff and their dedication to work all hours to make this week run smoothly; the process we have for hearing the voice of the minority and to pray together … our church is a good church.  We may make decisions that make some at home wonder what happens here … but the Spirit of God is what happens here … we have dedicated commissioners to do their best to hear, to respond, to question, to follow procedures, to be patient with the process, and to meet with committees all night if they have to.  

Biennial Reunion of the PCUSA

My first assembly was in Cincinnati in 1995. I was a commissioner of the presbytery of Detroit. I was overwhelmed by the amount of paper, the organization, the scope of our church, and the aisles of mail slots. At the time, I was ordained for nearly eight years, I was in my second call, and I wasn’t sure the denomination was going to survive more than a decade.

Now, nearly twenty years later we’re still having issues with the voting and we’re still discussing many of the same issues. And now it is no longer the young visionary who is wondering if the denomination will survive another decade.

Since that first meeting, I have served in the presbyteries of of New
Covenant, New Brunswick and Monmouth. I have worked with colleagues in the Synod of the Covenant, Synod of the Sun and the Synod of the Northeast. I have witnessed pastoral colleagues come and go from all parts of the country. I have attended an additional five GA meetings (Fort Worth, Birmingham, San Jose, Pittsburgh, and, now Detroit). I had heard of others referring to GA as a great Presbyterian reunion, but I still felt like a newbie or outsider. This year I am experiencing reunion in the best sense of the word. I know it’s because I’m returning to Detroit, but it’s also because of the collegial relationships I have developed over the past 28 years of ministry.

This morning the reunion was much more personal and a time for reconciliation. You may not know that my first call was difficult to say the least. This morning, though, I decided to return to the Allen Park Presbyterian Church, the church in which I was ordained in 1987. It is the congregation that shared my infertility, a difficult pregnancy, and the birth of my daughter. It is the congregation to which Kate was baptized in February 1990.

The difficulties I experienced in that congregation were mostly in the staff relationship, specifically with the head of staff. Soon after I left for my second call to St. Paul in Livonia (1991) the pastor spiraled into a chasm of mental illness and he took his life unexpectedly. I credit the presbytery … my colleagues and friends … for helping me through that situation. I also give thanks for the families there that adopted me and Dwayne as brother and sister, daughter and son.

This morning I witnessed a congregation that was as gracious as it had been when the women of the church visited me every day for the thirteen weeks I was bedridden during my pregnancy. I saw the work and unity of the congregation involved in the youth mission trip running in conjunction with the general assembly. I witnessed the excellence in music we had always experienced there. I heard great preaching by guest preacher, Rev. Gregory Allen-Pickett of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

I was welcomed with kindness and partnership by the pastors, Rev. Douglas Blaikie and Rev. Michelle James. And I was met with shrieks of joy as people recognized me. I never realized that a mere 3 1/2 years of ministry (six months of which I was on medical disability) would be remembered by so many. As I hugged the members, I felt the love. I heard the spoken and unspoken confessions and recognition of a difficult start to my ministry.

What I didn’t realize was that my mere presence was a challenge to the congregation, not just the head of staff, but the members. I was their first. I was told this over and over this morning. I was their first woman pastor. What I was totally un-expecting was the wave of young women who have entered ordained ministry from that congregation. I was the first of a string of women pastors on staff … And the young girls of the 1990s had role models of women in ministry. Today I heard of a half dozen or more of young women who were raised in that congregation and who were now ordained or seeking ordination.

God is good. This work of the PCUSA is not just about the business of the assembly. In fact, I would argue, the official business may be only a good reason for the real gift of the gathering of Presbyterians from all across our nation and around the world. It is to connect and reconnect. To reconcile, to forgive, to celebrate, to grieve, to praise God, and to be renewed.


Retro Voting Assembly Elects Rada

Every assembly, it seems, there are technical glitches with the technology.  This year it was with the voting.  The numbers weren’t adding up, and it just wasn’t reliable.  When the moderator asked the advisory delegates to vote on the three moderatorial candidates, the computer showed that the YAADS et al had voted for the candidates of the 220th assembly … no more electronic voting for this assembly tonight.  Instead it was a show of “hands” … well, actually, red cards and then 1001 posters for advisory votes and an old-fashioned paper ballot for the commissioners’ votes.  At least one of my colleagues suggested that they may have had an inkling that this would happen because we, the presbytery leaders, had received a late email last week asking for volunteers to count ballots if the need arose.

After the typical opening statements and 45 minutes of questions, the candidates left the platform.  All three candidates had done a good solid job in presentation.  According to my perusal of the twitter verse, it appeared as if all candidates had been well received and Kelly Allen was rising to the top.  The advisory delegate “advice” however told a very different story.  There was a swell of support appearing for Heath Rada.  This trend was born out in the paper ballot election.  He not only won the election, but he won on the first vote with 52% of the vote.  If it had been a more even dispersal, the vote would be repeated until there was a candidate with over 50%.

You can read more about Heath here.  I want to introduce you to our new vice moderator, Larissa Kwong Abazia.  Larissa, as some of you may remember, had done some work in Monmouth Presbytery last summer.  She was the director of the Sandy Youth Mission Trip for the presbytery as she was serving in an interim youth/christian education position at Manasquan during Rob Morrison’s interim.  Larissa is an intelligent, creative thinker.  She has a strong faith and is innovative.  She is delightful to engage in conversation about the church or just life.  She is currently serving a church in Queens.  But I am hoping she will be able to visit us in Monmouth and New Brunswick sometime during her time as vice-moderator.


Tell Me About Jesus

Here’s something to try while we’re in Detroit and when we’re at home .. doing church work or just getting our groceries …

Poiesis Theou

It was a hectic morning. I’d overslept, our sixteen-month-old daughter had awakened early, and our small family was grasping for order amid the chaos of what promised to be another busy day. Trying to occupy her attention, I said,  “Why don’t we read a book?” She pointed at the bookcase, said “Book!” and proceeded to grab a copy of the Jesus Storybook BibleI opened the pages and started reading aloud. Most of the language was still far above her head, but it went straight to my heart. With a sigh of relief I thought, It’s refreshing to simply be told a story about Jesus.

Then I had a flashback. Ten years ago, I was working in a cafe in Boulder, CO. One weeknight during my closing shift, I was sweeping the floor and preparing to clean the sparsely filled cafe when I overheard a conversation between three customers. They were college-age women…

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10 Tips for Dealing with the Media

As we prepare for General Assembly, it is not unreasonable to expect that commissioners or pastors or presbytery leaders will be called upon to interpret the actions of the Assembly or explain what’s going on.  We will do our best to keep everyone informed of the many happenings of the assembly here on this blog … but I thought it might be a good time to share some tips I’ve put together for dealing with reporters and the media.

There are many times in which leaders in congregations and pastors will be called by the media for comment or information. Whether it’s a crisis or disaster in your congregation or community, an opinion on local politics or social issue, or a decision of the national or regional church, there are tips to make the interview more effective.

1. Know the Right Person

Depending on the issue, you may or may not be the best person to speak to the reporter. If your congregation is dealing with a crisis or emergency it is a good idea to identify one person who can answer questions and interview with the media. If you are not that person, it is appropriate to say something like, “I understand you have a lot of questions, the best person to speak to is …” and then give them the name and contact information for that person.

2. Prepare

If you are the right person to speak, but you are not prepared to talk to the reporter when they call, it’s appropriate to say something like, “I will be happy to talk to you, this is not the best time, I will call you back.” You will also want to ask the scope of the story and ask yourself if there’s anything else you need to know from them in order to prepare. Find out, too, when the deadline is, so that you can reply in a timely manner. Then gather your thoughts, facts and information before calling back.

3. Call Back Quickly

Reporters are all working on very quick deadlines. Be sure you get back to them as soon as you can. If you miss their deadline, or they move on to someone else, the story will be told without you. If you get back to them right away, even to explain what is keeping you from giving the interview right away, you will be establishing a good rapport with the reporter which will help you in this story and the longer term relationship.

4. Talking Points

Prepare the message you want to get across and make a list of talking points. Remember that although the reporter is gathering a story, you are the one who is telling it. Tell it the way you want it reported.

5. Keep it Simple

Think of the words you want to use to explain the issue or situation, but keep your points simple and concise. Remember that electronic media are looking for sound bites … seconds, not minutes, and newspaper reporters and bloggers are looking for quotes. Give them to them. Make their job easy. Most reporters are writing for a large and diverse audience, so this is not the time to use “church-ease” “presbyterian-speak” or show off your post graduate vocabulary

6. Listen Carefully

Be sure that you understand the question that you’re being asked and be sure to answer that question. The question may help to suggest ways to focus or phrase your response.

7. Tell the Truth

This sounds like it shouldn’t need to be said, but if there’s bad news or a bad situation, it’s ok to acknowledge that. Be direct and authentic about the situation and how you feel about it

8. Be Ready to Explain

Most reporters, even those focusing on religion, have no idea how churches operate, let alone the Presbyterian Church. Be prepared to explain even the most basic ideas to them, respecting their competency in the process.

9. Don’t Argue

Again, this shouldn’t need to be articulated, but it may be that the natural response is to say something snarky or argue with the reporter. Don’t do this. Always remain respectful.

10. Be Proactive

If there is a story brewing that you know you will be called on, don’t hesitate to make the first step by creating a press release or calling your local reporter. This gives you the ability to shape the story. You can even suggest headlines that better capture the mood and ideas that you think are important about the story. The more work you do for the reporter the more likely the story will run as you would like.


GA Goes Mobile

This year the there are mobile apps that will help commissioners and visitors navigate their way around the General Assembly from their phones and tablets.


Guidebook is an event app in which you can download the schedule for GA, find your way around the exhibit hall, connect through social media with others who are attending, and lots of other vital information about our national gathering and managing the details of your visit.  Gone are the days of navigating through a catalog of information and schedules.  Everything can be at your fingertips (or thumb tips) on your phone and, even more importantly, can be as up to date as possible.

20140603-142912-52152232.jpgPC-biz also has a mobile app available for the iPhone and iPad. An android version will be available very soon.  This app does everything the web version does including session sync.  This is a must have for those who will be following General Assembly from their homes or watching the live stream on their phones or tablets.

Go here for more information.


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