Thoughts by New Jersey Presbyterians on the 221st General Assembly

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Voting, Side by Side

As I write this, we’re well into the 3 day slog from Wednesday afternoon through Saturday morning that will establish the work of this GA. I am feeling pretty optimistic about things. I headed into this stretch after watching a great presentation, a breakfast with the NJ delegation, and some time with friends.

We’ve now approved a new Authoritative Intepretation on marriage, which will mean pastors in my presbytery (and many others) will be able to officiate at marriages of same-sex couples. This sounds pretty sterile, but today my facebook and twitter feed lit up, mostly with excitement by friends and classmates. I have friends who have been waiting for this for twenty years. For my generation of PCUSA pastors, this announcement has generally been greeted with joy. The GA also approved a revision to the Book of Order that would change the definition of marriage, but this must still be approved by two-thirds of presbyteries. 

At the same time, half of those sitting in my row voted against the motion, and likely feel the sort of frustration that often comes after these votes. I’m trying to balance my general enthusiasm with (1) the frustration of those voting the other way, (2) the challenges this poses for commissioners as they return home, and (3) real anxieties about what this change will mean for congregations in the US and for friends abroad. 

Strangely, I also feel grateful. There have been a lot of votes like this before, and it may well be that the enthusiasm felt here will fade as presbyteries take up their work. At the same time, to me it feels like something has shifted. I feel like I’ve really seen something happen. I *hope* that the enthusiasm I feel here continues, and that this strengthens our sense of vision and mission. It’s still early, but for now that’s the feeling I’ll try to stay with.

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Sunday!

Last night we elected a new moderator, Heath Rada. With Larissa as vice-moderator, there was some special excitement from those of us on the east coast. As Wendy writes, we tried three forms of voting: computer-based, clicker, and then finally paper. I think the take-away for many is that we need more tech-saavy, but I was also struck by the resourcefulness and relative ease with which leadership adapted. Here’s hoping it’s the end of our tech worries…

Today’s plenary included a “Celebration of PCUSA Mission Personnel.” Our director, Hunter Farrell, highlighted a campaign to help with the education of a million children by 2020. We also celebrated more than 359 years of service from about a dozen veteran mission workers, and commissioned new mission workers. One of the special surpsies for me was the prayer for new mission workers, given by Presbyterian Church of Taiwan moderator Rev. Loh in Taiwanese. Check out PCUSA World Mission online.

As I write this, there’s a presentation on adding the Belhar confession to our Book of Confessions. Cliff Kirkpatrick spoke to the MADs and TSADs earlier on this. It’s not particularly controversial, but the presbyteries had failed to pass it by the super-majority it requires earlier and asked for more education and time to better understand the confession. Many years ago I was a preceptor/TA for Presbyterian Church History, and remember that there was a 200+ year stretch where Presbyterians largely stopped writing confessions. With Barmen and then later the independence of churches throughout the world after World War 2, Reformed churches began to make new confessions, statements, and public witnesses. My partner denomination, the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, had also written a confession that was a response to the martial law era in Taiwan, and I often struck when church members confess it. I’m excited about Belhar, and by the international flavor of this afternoon.

Missionary Advisory Delegate to GA: An Introduction

“Abounding in Hope” is a great idea, especially for those of us who are new to General Assembly, and I’m grateful to Wendy Bailey for putting it together. This is my first PCUSA General Assembly, and I’m serving as a MAD (Missionary Advisory Delegate).  I’m a 37-year old teaching elder serving in Taiwan with PCUSA. I teach a mix of courses (mission, religions, ecumenics, and a mix of practical theology) at Taiwan Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian seminary in Taipei. We’re in the middle of a four-year term and knew we’d be able to come home this summer, so I put my name in and PCUSA World Mission picked me as a MAD. I’ve been assigned to the peacemaking and international issues committee, which is just about perfect.

I’m an adopted child of New Jersey. My parents moved there when I was eighteen, and I did seminary and PhD and then taught in NJ for two years before coming to Taiwan. I’m a member of New Brunswick Presbytery since 2007. I’ve preached or taught in about a third of the churches in the presbytery and really value the community it has given me. Emily, my wife, is a ruling elder who was ordained at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Trenton. I was a parish associate there, and was youth director at Grace Presbyterian Taiwanese-American Church.

I’ve been prepping by learning the technology and as much of the language of GA as I can. I watched some of the GA two years ago online. I read the Presbyterian Outlook and a mix of blogs. I read recently that while regular attendees often feel stressed out and anxious about the meetings, most of the new participants (i.e. most of us) really enjoy GA and feel encouraged by it.

Here’s a list of ten things I’m excited about, in no particular order:
1. I visited Detroit Presbytery in 2012 for its annual mission challenge, and last time I saw three of its churches: The Taiwanese Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, Westminster, and Grosse Pointe Memorial. I grew up in Toledo, about an hour away, and started studying Chinese at University of Michigan in 1995. I’m excited about Detroit as the site for this year’s GA.

2. I’m getting to see representatives from several supporting churches. There’s a YAD from one church and the co-pastors of another church.

3. I get to connect to New Jersey folk, who I haven’t seen in a while and won’t have much time with this on this short summer trip to the US.

4. Three members of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan are coming as visitors to this General Assembly.

5. As the graduate of a Presbyterian college (Wooster) and seminary (Princeton) I’m looking forward to seeing classmates.

6. I’m going to visit some groups I’ve known before. I signed up for a lunch by the Presbyterian Historical Society and the National Asian Presbyterian Council.

7. I’ve missed preaching and liturgy that is familiar, in my own language, and reflects the theology I love.

8. This is a chance to connect to World Mission people. I’m rooming with another MAD and will see a friend who was in the same orientation in 2009 and who I keep up with via email. Those of us who serve in PCUSA world mission don’t get a lot of chances to connect across the miles, so this is very welcome.

9. I enjoy Presbyterian geekiness. I was parliamentarian of student government for a semester in college. I’m not great on my feet, but really admire the back-and-forth, discussion, and debate that marks the Presbyterian system. In the US I often thought that we overstated the wonders of our system, but living abroad I’ve really missed the clarity, order, and process of PCUSA councils.

10. I expect to be surprised. The list above is things I’m pretty sure I’ll see, but I also imagine there will be a lot that is unexpected.

I think it will be a good, albeit super intense week. Whenever we’re home, we always feel like there’s never enough time to connect to people, so I’m pretty excited about the chance to see so many people who cut across so many of the institutions I love. I’ll relate more later and hope to include short posts on the election of a moderator, the work of our committee, and hot topic issues for the GA as a whole.

 

Jonathan Seitz

For more bio, here’s our page at PCUSA

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