My Hope in Our Calling (Out) – a reflection on GA222

I’m sitting on a plane, overlooking the beautiful northwest of this nation as I head to Phoenix and then on to Kansas City as I return home from the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  While my work there is finished, the work of the assembly is just getting started. As reformed people, we believe and are called to live out the belief that God’s will is discerned better together, with many voices and many perspectives, than on our own, either as individuals or as sessions and presbyteries.  Commissioners from every presbytery in the US along with advisory delegates from theological institutions, ecumenical partners, and the young adults of the PC(USA) are gathering to discern God’s will for our denomination.

I have had a wonderful experience in Portland this past week, visiting with old friends, making new ones, and getting to visit Oregon for the first time.  My friend (and fellow commissioner to the 221st General Assembly – Committee 11!!) Greg Bolt said what I and many other people feel when he shared on the assembly floor in Detroit that GA is part family reunion.  It is that in spades.

And like any family reunion, there are the positives and the negatives.  Sadly, as I sit on this plane I am overcome with the negative experiences I witnessed or heard about during my time in Portland.  Perhaps it is because of the prevalence of social media so that I could hear more stories and witness more interactions.  The PC(USA) is in what could graciously be called anxious times and anyone with experience in family systems knows that when the anxiety rises, the system begins to fight back, to resist change. People, and systems themselves begin to act out.

Twitter was erupting with tales of how young adults were being sidelined, mistreated, and devalued in the Oregon Convention Center. A post was made on the public Facebook page entitled Happy to Be A Presbyterian that he individual would be happier if YAAD’s didn’t provide a disservice to the General Assembly.  YAAD’s, who have voice but no vote. The argument around that statement is still going strong on the page itself.

Part of me believes that we’re also simply clueless.  A young woman was told she couldn’t be “oriental” because she didn’t have “slanted eyes”.  People were walking up to random tall, African American women congratulating them for being elected co-moderator. Never mind that the co-moderators wear stoles and crosses that clearly identify them as the moderators.

Yet, cluelessness on our part does not make these interactions in any way okay.  They are signs and symbols of the unexamined privilege the majority of our denomination wields, often without realizing it.  We are past the time of allowing that to slide.

I am excited about the future of our denomination, its work and its mission, and I will not allow my excitement to be dampened!!    However, I have felt called to respond and report what I have seen.   To quote The Dude – I do mind.  This aggression will not stand, man.

This is an excerpt of the email I sent to our Stated Clerk and Associate Stated Clerk earlier today.  I know they are busy with business, but I could not stay silent.

Friends –

I was proud to be able to attend the 222nd General Assembly in Portland as an observer and member of a special committee reporting to a standing committee.  I greatly enjoy the times I am able to participate in the gatherings of fellow Presbyterians as we journey together into the future God is calling us to inhabit. 

I will admit to starting the assembly with high energy and hopes for the difficult work being done.  However, once committee business started, it seemed that with each moment I became more and more heartsick.

I witnessed an interaction with the entire committee and a particular YAAD that disturbed me greatly.  During committee business on Monday afternoon, multiple times the moderator interrupted and silenced YAAD voices.  One particular YAAD was bothered and spoke to me after the meeting as we had connected on twitter earlier that day.  I encouraged her to speak to her YAAD support staff and at their urging she spoke to the moderator directly on Tuesday morning.  He told her that he did not mean to offend her, but he was tired of hearing her voice so he couldn’t imagine how the committee felt. 

This interaction disturbed the YAAD to the point she spoke to me again and after consultation with colleagues I encouraged her to share her experience with the Stated Clerk’s Office.

As this was happening, other similar events were recounted in other committee rooms in the Oregon Convention Center.  In that same committee alone, a TSAD was spoken to rudely by an overture advocate after she (and the committee) did not vote the way he wanted.  The similarity and number of such events concerned me deeply, however I cannot speak to them as I did not witness them directly. 

As a young clergy woman, I cannot stay silent in the face of such blatantly inappropriate behavior.  Whether our divide is race, age, or gender, we can do better and WE MUST do better in how we converse and engage one another.  It has to start here. 

I know that you are still buried deep in the work of the plenary of this General Assembly. You have my prayers for the work head and grateful thanks for the work that is gone before.

Blessings on you all.

I spent a large portion of Tuesday resourcing and supporting a young woman who loves the Presbyterian Church and is excited to serve it.  I was happy to do so, as so many people (clergy women in particular) have supported & resourced me.  I’ve struggled with how we change the systems that try and hold the non-majority “in their place”.  How can I best serve?

I’ve decided we need a new approach.  It is quite fitting as I write this sitting in an airplane – My new approach is If You See Something, Say Something.  

If you witness micro-aggressions in groups of people, say something.  If you witness the subtle racism, sexism, and ageism that pervades our lives – say something.  If you witness the devaluating of LGBTQX experiences – say something. Don’t just stand by and let it pass because its easier, or less scary.  Say Something.

We will never learn and never change if we cannot hold one another accountable in love and graciousness. We cannot break systemic issues that are so deeply ingrained we don’t notice them unless we call each other to a better way.  We cannot be whole until  When we see something – WE SAY SOMETHING.

It is beyond time.  I’m choosing to use what ever power, knowledge, and privilege I have to help. Gladly.

I am committed to saying something. Will you join me?

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3 Responses to My Hope in Our Calling (Out) – a reflection on GA222

  1. Susan Trigger says:

    Thank you so much for naming the issue and calling us out. I am convinced that it is in our behavior that we most mirror the culture. Our efforts to stand against the culture through moral stances that proclaim exclusion and hatred are not what discipleship means. If anything we become self-righteous busy bodies who look down their noses at those we disagree with, just as you described. If we can’t do better when we are together as “family” how will the world ever see Christ in us? Name it and claim it, then be transformed by the love of Christ.

    • maryngale says:

      Amen sister. After hearing Elona Street-Stewart speak this afternoon to the plenary, I wish I could link her testimony for its powerful, convicting, loving stance.

  2. Carol Rahn says:

    Mary, thank you – and amen!

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