Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Youth Paddle That Wasn’t

What do about a dozen adult volunteer paddlers do when the youth they were expecting to introduce to kayaking do not show up? They go kayaking, of course. They go kayaking longer and farther than they would have if they had been introducing the youth to kayaking.
Thirteen kayaks and fourteen paddlers departed from the Sebago Canoe Club dock around 10:15 AM. last Monday. The group included the trip leader Tony, as well as Barbara, Benny, Gary, three Johns, Kevin, Laurie, Mary, Nina, Rebecca, Vicki and Vivian.
After a brief paddle toward the mouth of Paerdegat Basin, we rafted up just shy of the Belt Parkway Bridge. When everyone was ready, we paddled under the bridge and into Jamaica Bay, intending to raft up again near buoy 13. Even before we reached that marker, however, one of our group members turned around and headed back to the clubhouse after deciding they did not feel up for the longer and farther paddle.
After the rest of us assembled near buoy 13 (Photo right), we paddled as a tight group across the channel to buoy 12, and then turned west, along the northern shore of Canarsie Pol. About halfway along the northern shoreline of the island, two more paddlers, paddling a tandem, turned back toward the dock, as one of them had an appointment later in the afternoon and was afraid he would not make it back in time if he paddled much farther.
Now down to eleven paddlers in eleven boats, we continued paddling around the northwestern tip of the isle, and being sure to stay a safe distance away from an Osprey nest, we rounded the tip and put in on a sandy and fairly clean beach.
Once we had all extracted ourselves from our boat’s cockpits, we stretched our legs, drank from our water bottles, and shared snacks. Tony offered up sugar-coated donettes. Laurie shared figs, and Mary invited all to partake of some of her trail mix. Restricting ourselves to the beach because of the wildlife management area above the high tide line, our Commadore still managed to collect some trash from this generally clean stretch of sand – three plastic water bottles tied together with polypropylene rope, one bottle still un-opened. Thanks to him we would be leaving this beach even cleaner than we found it.
One of the unique aspects of this particular beach was the invasive species that appeared to be sprouting right out of the sand (photo left). Three colorful Mums, ready for picking, fascinated those of us who did not see Kevin pick up the loose flowers (most likely left over from one of the religious ceremonies that sometimes take place on the shores of Jamaica Bay) from the sand and stick them stem first back in the sand.
After an opportunity to rest, stretch, refuel and rehydrate, we slid back into our boats and headed home. Before crossing the channel, we once again rafted up before heading in our usual tight group across the channel toward the southern shore of Brooklyn, just east of the Belt Parkway Bridge over Paerdegat Basin. Once across the channel we spread out over the water and paddled toward the western end of the bridge. As we cleared land the full force of a strong breeze, blowing straight down Paerdegat Basin and under the bridge, hit us in our faces and slowed our return paddle to the dock. After a steady paddle, however, eleven paddlers in eleven boats returned to the Sebago dock, three paddlers in two boats having returned earlier.

Vicki and I paddled Wilderness Systems Sealutions. The Sealution is not my favorite club boat I would rather paddle it than some others. My favorite club boat is the Necky Chatham, but other paddlers claimed both club Chathams before we arrived for the paddle. Vicki and I both experienced some weather cocking with the Sealutions that could only be corrected by adapted paddling strokes, as the Sealution does not have a skeg. The Chatam does have a skeg, which is why I prefer it.

Back at the club house, with all gear and boats having been rinsed with fresh water and stowed, most of us gathered around the outside picnic tables in the shade, joined by some club landlubbers, and enjoyed friendship and conversation in true Sebago style – over grilled veggie burgers, kielbasa, vegetables and assorted beverages, with watermelon for desert. Overall, it was a good day and a good paddle, even though the youth for whom we had gathered never showed up.

According to my GPS, we paddled 5.9 miles. The water temperature at the dock when we launched was a tepid 79!  The air temperatire ws in the 90's.

Photos from the day tcan be viewed on my Picasa page.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rockaway Water Front Alliance Beach Clean Up and Water Quality Analysis Youth Paddle

I recently had the opportunity, along with three other volunteers from the Sebago Canoe Club, to provide kayaking support to a group of urban youth and their adult leader, Elizabeth. Part of a three day a week, six week summer program associated with the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, the youth were planning to kayak from a marina on 59th Street in the Rockaway’s, at the base of Summerville Basin, out into Jamaica Bay and south to a beach few blocks away at the northern tip of 65th street, where they would pick up trash and measure water quality.

A third to a half of the youth had never kayaked before, but after a short land based lesson about how to paddle and properly fit and wear a PFD, the teenagers took to water like new born fish. With Elizabeth and the eleven kids paddling six tandem sit-on-tops and my wife and I paddling our single sit-on-tops and Tony and Jake paddling traditional kayaks, we paddled out into Summerville Basin. With an adult to youth ratio of nearly one to two, we paddled further out into Jamaica Bay and the short one and half miles to the beach in record time, so quickly that some who were driving had not yet arrived by the time we reached the beach.
After a little more paddling and water play as we wated for the rest of the group to arrive, we beached our kayaks, donned gloves, grabbed garbage bags, and started picking up trash. I will simply never understand how some people can so mistreat their living environment. We collected the usual collection of bottles and cans, aluminum foil, several pairs of shoes, empty fast food bags, Styrofoam fast food containers, and an odd assortment of other trash. In a matter of minutes I filled two large garbage bags with debris.
After cleaning up the beach, Rebecca, an educator associated with the New York City Soil and Water Conservation District as well as the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, unpacked a plastic container of lab equipment and assigned the youth monitoring tasks (photo top right). After collecting water samples the kids measured turbidity, PH, salinity, and water temperature, recording their findings in order to help build a data base. Watching Rebecca and the teenagers at work reminded me of my High School Chemistry class and my participation in a Chemical Engineering Explorer’s Post. In ten or twenty years, one of these urban teenagers measuring water quality in Jamaica Bay might be their generations Rachel Carson Jasques Cousteau.
An hour or so after we landed on the beach we climbed back onto and into our kayaks and paddled back to the Marina (photo bottom left). Along the way, my senses and powers of observation having been heightened, I saw in the shallow water numerous crabs, mating horseshoe crabs, and along the marsh grass of Summerville Basin a few herons.
After beaching at the marina, without being asked, some of the youth helped us carry our personal boats to our car and even helped to lift them up on the roof racks. As we were leaving they thanked us, said good bye, shook our hands, and even gave some of us a hug. I think they appreciated us being there.
Having left my waterproof camera at home, I was still able to capture a few shots using my phone and I have posted thirty-two of them on my Picasa page.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sebago’s July 17, 2010 All Club Invitational

It was publicized as “A DAY OF FUN, FOOD AND EDUCATION” with the potential to be “the largest gathering of human powered boats on Jamaica Bay”. It was fun. There was plenty of food. And while no papers were researched and written or quizzes and exams taken, it was educational. What did I learn? That a small volunteer club on the can make a big, positive impact.

In the words of Phil Giller, one of its main organizers, the Sebago Canoe Club’s (First Annual?) “all club Invitational was a great success. We are working on final numbers but we had OVER 100 guests on the water and 60 members signed in, so my unofficial count is that we had over 150 people on the water at 1 time.” Considering that more kayakers went out after some returned, I estimate that the total number of people on the water was even higher.
For awhile, the Sebago dock was perhaps busier than runways at nearby JFK Int’l Airport, but the traffic was ably controlled by the Dock Master (or is that Mistress). With kayaks, sailboats and row boats of all shapes and sizes sometimes departing and arriving at the same time, there was not a single mishap. The dock and walkway were at times congested with no room on the dock for any boats until some were removed, but traffic kept flowing. The main grounds of the Sebago Canoe Club, around the club house and especially between the club house and the dock, was also crowded with folding kayaks being assembled, kayaks being outfitted, and guests milling about as they returned from a trip, were waiting for a trip, or simply enjoying food and beverages provided by the club or donated by local businesses.
While I spent most of my time documenting the Invitational by taking pictures, I also helped clear the docks by carrying kayaks off the dock and up to the lawn or wash racks. And although I had not planned to paddle, I ended up helping to co-lead the last trip of the day, an unscheduled and impromptu paddle over to the salt marsh near the entrance to Mill Creek, and back.
There were seven kayaks and eight people on that last trip of the day. At least a few of them had never been in Jamaica bay before. One of them was a young boy who, along with his dad, climbed out of their tandem sit-on-top to lay in the small channel as the water, as warm as bathwater, rippled over their bodies as it made its way out of the marsh and back into the bay as the tide was going out. Seeing the smiles on the little bys face and hearing his giggles was reward enough for having co-led the trip.
While many of the sights and sounds of the day were memorable, I may never forget seeing a large rowed boat, the “Bird”, Jolly Roger flying aft, approaching the dock (photo bottom right). Having rowed over from nearby (well, sort of) Floyd Bennet Field, the Buccaneers, sans any rum or Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, boarded our dock and helped themselves to grog and grub. The handmade vessel was so unique that many were walking down to the dock just to look at.
The All Club Invitational was the largest event and gathering of people and human powered boats around the club and on Paerdegat Basin I have witnessed in my nearly three years of being associated with the Sebago Canoe Club. Something tells me that fact will not remain true in another year or two.

Many of the pictures I took throughout the day can be seen on my Picassa page.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sebago's July 16, 2010 Youth Paddle

Today’s youth paddle at the Sebago Canoe club was a kaleidoscope of multicolored kayaks and canoes, some sit-on-tops and some traditional, mostly singles but a couple tandems and even one triple, as volunteer members of the club hosted 15 young boys and girls from the Brooklyn Sports Club. With more volunteers than guests, that adult to youth ratio was better than one to one.
The weather was perfect. The water was calm. The youth and their adult leaders started arriving at 10:00 AM sharp and were quickly welcomed, outfitted with paddles, PFD’s, and boats. From the Sebago dock they put into Paerdegat Basin and eventually paddled their way under the Belt Parkway Bridge into Jamaica Bay.
After returning, rinsing off and storing boats and gear, hamburgers and hot dogs were grilled, bocce was played, and shade by the water with a breeze off the water was enjoyed.
After the youth departed, around 1:30 PM, the Sebago volunteers enjoyed their own food and beverages, finishing and cleaning up just as a thunder storm passed over.
Photos from the day, probably more than you would ever want to see, are available via this link to my Picasa sight.

Tomorrow is expected to be a big day at the Brooklyn waterfront club as it hosts its first All Cub Invitational.

Monday, July 12, 2010

219th GA: Analysis of Votes

Cynthia Bolbach was elected Moderator of the 219th General Assembly on the fourth ballot when she garnered 51% of the vote (not the 53% as reported by the PNS), accumulating 315 of 635 votes. If the election of the moderator can at all predict the mood or theological leanings of an Assembly, what road it will follow, and whether it might turn left or right, then the election of Bolbach, generally perceived to be progressive, could have been seen as a hopeful sign for progressives and the passage of an Amendment to change G-6.0106b.

Add to Bolbach’s fourth ballot margin the votes cast for the other two candidates generally perceived to be progressive, Maggie Lauterer (49 votes or 8%) and Eric Nielsen (37 votes or 6%), and one could argue that the 219th GA was comprised of 65% (411 out of 635 votes) progressives and 35% (224 out of 635) conservatives, perhaps a sure sign that an amendment to G-6.0106b would be sent to the presbyteries. But not all commissioners voted during the election for moderator. Only 635 votes out of a maximum total of 712 votes were cast and about 80 commissioner seats were empty during the election of the moderator.

More commissioners voted in favor of amending G-6.0106b, 373 out of 700 voting, or 53%, than voted for Bolbach, but fewer than voted for all three progressive candidates combined. There were 65 more commissioners counted as voting on the amend G-6.0106b vote than were counted on the fourth moderator vote, but the vote was still 12 short of the maximum total.

This year’s vote to amend G-6.0106b (373-323-2) was nearly identical to the vote two years ago to amend G-6.0106b, (380-325, apparently more commissioners were voting two years ago then this year), suggesting that there has been very little change of opinion or in the theological leanings of commissioners to the General Assembly over the past two years.

Once I have accumulated the data I am looking for, I will offer further analysis of the G-6.0106b vote and its chance of passage in the presbyteries, so stay tuned.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

219th GA: Post Assembly Reflections

After packing up the PVJ Booth in GA Exhibit Hall Thursday evening, we got our first full night’s sleep in three nights. When we woke up Thursday morning, we started packing our own belongings and checked out of our room by 10:30 AM. With luggage in tow, a three block walk took us to the Government Plaza station on the light rail line. From there we rode the train to the Minneapolis airport were we boarded our AirTran flight for New York City’s LaGuardia Airport. (photo right)

While waiting in the Minneapolis airport and during a layover in Milwaukie, we watched the GA plenary via live streaming on my wife’s smart phone. Once we arrived home we watched on the screen of my laptop. We might have physically left Minneapolis but we had not spiritually left the Assembly, and the work of the Assembly went on, not scheduled to adjourn until Saturday morning.

I registered for the GA as both an Exhibitor (Presbyterian Voices for Justice) as well as an Observer. Although I opted not to register as Press, I went to the GA intending to blog about my experiences, and blog I did, 26 posts to date. I found that the more activities, events, and special meals I attended, the less time I had to blog. And the more I blogged, the less time I had to meander through the Exhibit Hall and visit with friends and colleagues. The key, for me, was finding a happy medium. If nothing else, attending the GA as an Exhibitor/Observer while trying to blog about the experience increased my respect for reporters and other journalists at the General Assembly and the work they do. Writing is hard work and takes time, if done well. Kudos to the Presbyterian News Service. Some in the secular press could use a brief introduction to Presbyterian polity and termimnology.

Since I am not a professional reporter or journalist I did not feel bound by the professional ethic of maintaining objectivity. It was not my intent to offer a fair, balanced, and objective viewpoint. I care about what happened at the General Assembly. I went to the GA with invested loyalties and interests as well as with passions and commitments and I wanted some of those passions and commitments to shine through in my posts.

Many others set out to blog about the GA, some who were there and some who were not. I encourage readers of Summit to Shore to peruse a few other blogs for a wider view. My friend and College in Ministry over at Raxweblog offers theologically informed reflections of his week at GA that go deeper and offer more analysis than my own, but he does not have pictures. For a view of GA through the eyes of a Young Adult Advisory Delegate (YAAD), take a look at Liz goes to GA. For a view through the eyes of a first time Elder Commissioner, visit Leaning Downstreams. John Vest was a Minsiter Commissioner to the GA and offers reflections his blog.  Minister Observer David Ensign offers his reflections at Faithful Agitation. Another friend and college who was not at GA but followed it closely and commented from afar blogs at Shuck and Jive.  And finally, THE GA JUNKIE offers substantial analysis, some of it statistical with graphs (but no pictures).

Friday, July 9, 2010

219th GA: Breaking Down and Packing Up the Exhibit Hall Booths

The Exhibit Hall at the General Assembly was scheduled to close Wednesday evening at 7:00 PM, but traffic was so light in the Exhibit Hall early Wednesday evening that many Exhibitors started breaking down and packing up their booths prior to the 7:00 PM Closing Time, the Presbyterian Voices for Justice Booth among them. By the time I arrived at the Exhibit Hall just a few minutes before 7:00 PM to help dismantle and pack booth materials, most of the work had already been done by Vicki, Mitch and Sue with a little help from Doug (photo right). There was very little for me to help with when I arrived.

Because there was as staggered arrival of Exhibitors as the General Assembly was about to begin, setting up the booths in the Exhibit Hall seemed to require more time than taking them down at the end. At the end, in a matter of just a couple of hours the Exhibit Hall was transformed from a collection of booths offering all sort of information and material, even selling books, gifts and crafts, to a hodgepodge of packed boxes and crates as well as piles of garbage.

We finished dismantling and packing up by 7:30 PM and were on our way out of the Exhibit Hall for the last time. Someone else from PVJ would come back in the morning to retrieve the three plastic packing crates that we left behind. I hope they were, in fact, picked up.

219th GA: The Princeton Theological Seminary Luncheon

There were thirteen luncheons sponsored by Theological Institutions during Wednesday’s lunch break at the Presbyterian Church General Assembly on Thursday. I am a graduate of two of those Theological Institutions, so I had a decision to make. Which luncheon would I attend? I earned my Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and my Master of Divinity (M.Div.) from Princeton Theological Seminary. I chose the Princeton luncheon, held in the Minneapolis Ballroom D of the Hilton.

The Princeton Seminary Luncheon was by far the largest of any of the meals I attended while at the 219th General Assembly. I estimate that 300 to 400 guests were in attendance, not surprising since more Presbyterian Ministers are graduates of Princeton Seminary than any other seminary. Not all in attendance were Ministers however, as some Princeton graduates have served their communities and the church without seeking ordination.

Each guest was gifted with a Princeton Seminary seal label pin and a 2GB flash drive with two short videos about the seminary preloaded. Those in attendance were welcomed by William Robert Sharman III, director of alumni/ae relations. After a few announcements Seminary President Iain R. Torrance (photo right), the Seminary’s sixth president, introduced various Seminary Staff, spoke about current and future programs, welcomed questions, and introduced two short videos. As I tried to listen to the President’s remarks in spite of his soft voice and a malfunctioning sound system during the first part of his remarks, I was particularly interested in his mentioning Phyllis Tickle latest book and his reference to “a rummage sale of ideas”. Of the many new programs and initiatives he highlighted, the most visible and ambitious are plans to build a new library, one that would be the second largest theological library in the world.

219th GA: Committee on Ministry (COM) Conversations

Those attending the 219th General Assembly in Minneapolis in capacities other than as a Commissioner or Advisory Delegate, such as an Exhibitor or Observer, were given numerous opportunities to attend various educational events. Two such events, both scheduled for the Wednesday morning of the Assembly, were Committee on Ministry (COM) Conversations and Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM)/Exam Conversations. Since for the past two years I have been and continue to be a member of the Committee on Ministry of New York City Presbytery and for the six previous years staffed the Committee on Ministry of West Virginia Presbytery, I opted to attend the COM Conversation (photo right).

The format was similar to one I experienced two months earlier at an Office of Vocations event following a Board of Pensions Regional Governing Body Consultation in Tampa. This time, however, there were many more people in attendance and the topic was not as focused.

After brief introductions by Marcia Myers, Director, Office of Vocations, those in attendance were invited to respond to questions that had been written on index cards by participants. The questions ranged from issues related to policies, practices and “this is how we do it, how do you do it.” Overall the time I spent in listening to and participating in the conversation was well spent and gave me the opportunity to step of the insular confines of New York City Presbytery to hear from colleagues across the country. In other words, I am glad I attended.

I applaud the Office of Vocations for piggybacking educational events and opportunities for sharing with colleagues at gatherings such as Board of Pensions Regional Governing Body Consultations and the General Assembly. It is an efficient use of time, staff, and financial resources.

219th GA: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation Complimentary Breakfast

The morning after the Witherspoon Society Dance, for the second time in two days I attended an early morning, 7:00 AM breakfast while operating with only about four hours sleep the night before. The breakfast was a complementary one sponsored by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) and held in the Hyatt’s Nicollet Ballroom.

As at most GA breakfasts, staff of the sponsoring entity were introduced, recognized and thanked. A power point presentation featuring some of the titles published over the past year highlighted the work of PPC. Don Griggs (photo right), speaking from notes on his kindle, spoke about Biblical Literacy in a Digital Age. Don has long been recognized as a leader in Christian Education who has been capable of employing emerging technologies to teach the faith and spread the Gospel. His presentation seemed designed to motivate those in attendance to do the same. He at least motivated me to post to Facebook while he was still speaking and to later post a tweet to twitter.

In addition to being glad I was able to hear Don’s presentation, I was also glad to have sitting next to me on my right a longtime friend and colleague in ministry, Glenn, and to have sitting next to me on my left a fellow blogger, Liz, whom I was just getting to know. Making me really glad I attended the breakfast was my being the winner, at my table, of a copy of Halos and Avatars, a recent PPC publication.

219th GA: Midle East Peacemaking Issues Committee Reports to Plenary

Because I observed most of the deliberations and actions of Committee 14: Middle East Peacemaking Issues, I watched with interest, via live streaming over the internet, as the committee reported in this morning’s plenary. I tuned in a little late and so was not able to watch the whole report but was relieved during what I did watch that the Committee’s recommendations were being endorsed by GA Commissioners.

Prior to the Committee report, a letter from representatives of many, if not all, sides of the debate endorsing the Committee’s recommendations was released to the public. Here is a link to the letter, which was posted on the Presbyterian Outlook website.

219th GA: Dancing the Night away at the Witherspoon Society Dance

I am biased, but I think the Witherspoon Society dance is, without a doubt, the most fun event at the General Assembly. This GA’s dance was held last Tuesday from 9:00 PM to 1:00 AM Wednesday in the Hyatt’s Nicollet Ballroom. By the time I arrived, around 10:00 PM, the room was already buzzing with several people on the dance floor.

This year’s DJ was one of the better ones over the past few years, playing three to four songs from the same genre, such a rock, before switching to another genre, such as hip-hop. As usual these days, the DJ not only played dance tunes but provided a light show which illuminated the dance floor with various lighting effects, adding to the celebrative mood (photo right).

With a cash bar that offered soft drinks as well as beer and wine, and perhaps mixed drinks (but I really don’t know), there were many opportunities for liquid refreshment at the dance. Our beveridge of choice for the evening was red wine. Those of legal drinking age had their hand or other body parts stamped so the bar tenders could identify them and those under legal drinking age were required to sign a covenant, stating that they would not drink alcohol. Free munchies, including pretzels and dip, nuts, potato chips and popcorn were also available and widely consumed.

The room exploded into applause when General Assembly Moderator Cynthia Bolbach entered the venue. Even though I got down on my knees and pleaded with her to give me the honor of the first Moderatorial dance, I was rebuffed. I later learned that while our Moderator has many attributes, dancing might not be one of them.

The last several years it has seemed that those responsible for the Young Adult Advisory Delegates (YAADs) have scheduled activities for them which conflict with the timing of the dance. For instance, this year YAADs were given the opportunity to be bused to the nearby Mall of America, yet a few opted to skip the mall and come to the dance, and a few younger people who were not YAADS also attended the dance.

I think attending the Witherspoon Dance would have been a better GA experience for YAADS than going to the Mall of America. The Witherspoon Dance is a fully inclusive celebration of life and an opportunity to either relax and unwind or dance away pent up energy after days of sitting in meetings, scheduled for the evening after committee work has concluded and before the plenary work begins. Busing YAADS to the Mall of America only helps perpetuate a culture of decadent consumerism that is often at odds with the gospel.

I heard there was a rumor circulating before the dance that the Witherspoon Dance was “the Gay Dance”. Because of the open and inclusive justice stance of the former Witherspoon Society, now Presbyterian Voices for Justice, LGBTs have always felt safe attending to the dance and dancing with one another. The largest percentage of people at the dance, however, was probably not LGBTs, and there were at least a few heterosexual married couples in the room as well as on the dance floor.

For the record, my wife and I, as we at several Witherspoon Dances, were two of the last people on the dance floor, staying till the very last dance.  And for the record, as the evening drew to a close and only three men and sevral women were still on the dance floor, two of the men were members of New York City Presbytery and the third was a member of Hudson River Presbytery, proof positive that New Yorkers rock.

219th GA: Home Safe and Sound after a Day of Travel

My wife and I left Minneapolis and the General Assembly Thursday morning. With help from Mitch and Sue, Vicki packed up the Presbyterian Voices for Justice Booth in the GA Exhibit Hall Thursday evening and we relaxed the rest of the evening while watching the GA Plenary via live streaming over the internet from the casual comfort of our motel room.

After the first good night’s sleep in three nights, we woke up yesterday morning, packed up our own belongings, walked with our luggage in tow to the light rail station at the Government Center stop, and rode to the Minneapolis airport.  With the Minneapolis skyline in the background (photo right), we only waited a few minutes a few minutes before we were able to board our AirTran flight.

After two uneventful flights, the first from Minneapolis to Milwaukee and the Second from Milwaukee to New York City, we landed safely at LaGuardia Airport. We took a taxi to where we were boarding our dog Myrrhlyn so that we could pick him up before they closed and he would not have to spend another night in the kennel. While my wife stayed at the kennel with canine and luggage, I took the subway home, picked up the car, and came to pick up her and the dog. We spent the rest of the evening watching the GA via live streaming while eating take out Chinese.

Although I might be back home and no longer at GA, I have a back log of reflections I want to write and post, so stay tuned to Summit to Shore for more reporting about GA and reflections afterward.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

219th GA: Thirty Years of Peacemaking

Early Tuesday evening I attended the “30th Anniversary Dessert - Presbyterian Peacemaking Program” in the Hyatt’s Nicollet Ballroom BC. 2010 marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of Peacemaking: The Believers Calling, and I wanted to attend this event because I was a Youth Advisory Delegate to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly in Detroit, the Assembly which adopted Peacemaking: The Believers Calling.

As a result of my experience with and exposure to the adoption of Peacemaking: The Believer’s Calling in 1980, peacemaking has been near and dear to my heart ever since. I was active in the peacemaking fellowship at Princeton Seminary while I was a student. I chaired the Peacemaking Committee of Shenandoah Presbytery for a few years and was a member of the Synod of Mid-Atlantic’s Peacemaking Partnership. I attended the Peacemaking Conference when it was held at Hoffstra University and, along with a group from Shenandoah Presbytery, attended a multiday United Nations Seminar in New York City (years before I moved there).

Over the last thirty years I have witnessed the Office of Peacemaking blossom and grow, transform and morph, first under the leadership of Richard Kilmer, then Sara Lisherness, and now Mark Koenig (photo right).

Without a printed program I am hesitant to list all the people who were introduced and spoke at the 30th Anniversary Dessert because I did not have the time to confirm the correct spelling of their names. The evening’s keynoter, Dr. Alvine Laure Siaka, spoke about the importance of HIV testing and noted that each and every one of us is either infected with or affected by HIV!

The event offered me the opportunity to catch up with William S.J (Presbyterians will know who I mean), who has at times worked with programs related to the Office of Peacemaking and with whom I have worked with on several projects over the years. Catching up with folks like him is one of the greatest benefits of attending the General Assembly.

219th GA: Presbyterians for Earth Care Annual Luncheon

Approximately a hundred “green people” gathered at the Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC) Annual Luncheon in the Nicollet Ballroom D at the Minneapolis Hyatt Tuesday of the General Assembly. Jenny Holmes, the PEC Moderator, welcomed guests and invited leaders of friendly and like minded groups to introduce themselves.

Manly Olson, accompanied on guitar by his son Mark, led the group in the singing of “In A Round World”, with text by Manley (1996) set to the tune of Bunessan. Leslie Reindl then offered a Table Blessing

As guests were finishing their meal, Jenny Holmes presented two William Gibson Award, the first to Bob Stivers, “a pioneer in Christian environmental ethics”, and the second to the Reverend Kristina Peterson, the pastor of Blue Bayou Presbyterian and a community based researcher and organizer on disaster preparedness and sustainable communities. I have attended a few conferences where Stivers presented and have read one or more of his books, so I know Stiver’s work but do not personally know him. On the other hand, I have known Kristina for years as we once both lived and ministered in West Virginia where we were both active in the environmental movement and worked together on a few environmental campaigns. We sat next to each other at the breakfast, which gave us an opportunity to catch up with one another.

The Executive Presbyter of Twin Cities Presbytery presented the North Como Presbyterian Church with the Restoring Creation Award “in recognition of its years of ever-expanding programs and activities that not only transformed the life of the church, but also the ways in which its members lived their lives outside of church.” North Como sounds like a great church that takes environmental stewardship seriously. I wonder if there are any more like it that might be looking for a pastor.

Following the presentation of the above awards, participants were invited to read in unison the Eco Stewards Affirmation of Faith, after which for GA Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase (photo right) offered a keynote Reflection on Leviticus 26:3-6. He challenged people of faith to find a faith community to call home, to dig in their heels, and to stay there for the long haul, noting that the church is the only institution with roots in almost every community. He urged guests to break taboos as they break bread and to defy conventional wisdom about what is possible because conventional wisdom is dead wrong! He also asked those present to resist succumbing to the fear of scarcity. Rick knows what he is talking about because he has and does practice what he preaches.

I needed to get back to the Committee I was monitoring and was not able to stay for the rest of the luncheon, which, according to the program, included an Invitation, an update of Overtures and Resolutions related to Environmental Stewardship, and a PEC Business Meeting which was to include a Financial Report, a Report on the Election, and Announcements.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

219th GA: Middle East Peacemaking Issues, Committee 14, Completes its Work

Working throughout Tuesday morning and afternoon, (photo right) the General Assembly Committee on Middle East Peacemaking Issues surprised many observers, and perhaps themselves, by unanimously approving the Report of the Middle East Study Committee “Breaking Down the Walls” after having massaged, wordsmithed, and otherwise edited the report to make it more palatable to those who raised objections. With the Committee having unanimously approved their action, there will be no minority report and the likelihood of any attempt in Plenary to kill or change the report in any major way is nil.

Having observed this committee as it conducted most of its business, I observed the committee begin to gel early Tuesday morning and witnessed what appeared to be a sincere desire to bring to the plenary a balanced report that would likely not totally please anyone or totally alienate anyone.

When the committee acted unanimously I found myself thinking that if this committee, which seemed so divided and contentious Sunday and early Monday could reach a unanimous decision, perhaps there is hope the Israelis and Palestinians can someday do the same.

Once the major bulk of committee work was completed the final few items needing attention were acted on without undo haste or unnecessary delay and the committee adjourned for the last time around 4:30 PM, meaning there would be no need for a late night evening session or even an evening session.

During the Committee’s deliberations the Committee Moderator turned the chair over to the Moderator at least twice. I do not know if the Moderator simply wanted a break or wanted the Vice-Moderator to have a chance to Moderate, but the transitions back and forth between the two were seamless, a compliment to both.

219th GA: Voices of Sophia Breakfast sponsored by Presbyterian Voices for Justice

A hundred to a hundred and twenty daughters and sons of Sophia gathered in the Lake Superior Ballroom of the Minneapolis Hyatt for the Voices of Sophia (VOS) Breakfast, sponsored by Presbyterian Voices for Justice (PVJ). VOS was created in 1995 in response to the excitement generated by the first ReImagining Conference, to affirm the full participation of women in the life of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Colleen Bowers, Co-Moderator of PVJ, welcomed guests to Sophia’s Feast and immediately introduced one very special guest, General Assembly Moderator Cindy Bolbach (photo top right). She also asked those who were charter members of VOS to raise their hands. Several dozen hands went into the air.
PVJ Coordinating Team member, the Reverend Sylvia Carlson, Blessed the Feast, addressing her prayer to the “Justice Loving God”.

During the Feast, the Reverend Eily Marlow, who was still in High School when the first ReImagining Conference was held in Minneapolis in 1993, remembered one of the moving forces behind Re-Imagining, the Reverend Sally Hill. She also invited guests to remember other feminist women of faith and leaders in the formation of VOS in St. Louis in 1995, including Virginia Davidson, Jane Parker Huber, and the Reverend Mary Jane Patterson, sheroes of the faith no longer with us in the flesh.
As Sophia’s daughters and sons were finishing their feast, Carlson invited guests to bless Moderator Bolbach by singing three times the Sophia Blessing, and then introduced the morning’s speaker, the Reverend Dr. Christine (Chris) Smith (photo bottom right), who also received a triune Sophia Blessing. Smith’s topic was Reclaiming Church: De-Centering Privilege as an Act of Global Citizenship. Am out Lesbian in the United Church of Christ, Smith is a Professor of Preaching at United Theological Seminary.

Smith’s presentation, which challenged participants to consider the implications of de-constructing privilege and overcoming the great human divide, was highly personal and conversational. Rather than telling participants what to think she invited them to engage in personal and theological reflection on what it means to be human, occasionally pausing to invite feasters to ask questions or make comments in response to her presentation.

Following Christine Smith’s presentation, the Reverend Mike Smith (no relation to Christine) reprised his More Light Presbyterian fundraising pitch, but this time urging guests to financially support VOS. After guests read Wisdom’s Blessing responsively, Members of That All May Freely Serve, led by Lisa Largess, led guests in song as they began to depart.

219th GA: Exhibitor Booths in the Exhibit Hall

There are numerous exhibitor “booths” in the General Assembly Exhibit Hall. The booths belong to various entities and or organizations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), not-for-profit organizations of Presbyterians, and companies and business which cater to churches. The not-for-profit organizations run the full range of the theological spectrum, from the progressive to the conservative.
I am registered as an Exhibitor for Presbyterians Voices for Justice. Our booth (photo right), which is actually a double booth, is located, this year, near the main entrance of the Exhibit Hall. Our location is only fair because two years ago, at the GA in San Jose, our booth was located in the back of the exhibit hall. Because the exhibit hall in San Jose was much smaller than this year’s hall, we were also limited two years ago to a single booth even though we were willing to pay for a double booth.
Across the aisle from us is one of our “friendlies”, that is a not-for-profit organization that embraces a similar commitment to justice, even if their commitment is more focused and less inclusive than PVJ’s broad focus. That group across the aisle is the Covenant Network of Presbyterians. The Covenant Network (Cov-Net) was formed in (year) by several tall steeple preachers in response to the constitution being amended to prohibit the ordination and installation of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered persons. I regularly contribute to Cov-Net and participate in its programs but do not consider myself a member of the Cov-Net because the Cov-Net is not really a “Membership” organization. Cov-Net appears to me to be highly organized and generally well polished, although sometimes a little regimented and tending to take a safer and less controversial approach than other groups. Their most recognizable staff are Pam Byers (photographed in the booth, right) and Tricia Dykers-Koeneg.
On the other side of the curtain which is the back wall of Cov-Net’s booth is the booth of More Light Presbyterians (MLP)(photo right). In the words of my young friend Charlie, these are “the rainbow people”, the people who at GA distribute rainbow colored scarves for commissioners and others to wear as a witness to their commitment to a fully inclusive church. MLP has been engaged in the struggle for the full inclusion of LGBTs in the life of the church, including removing impediments to their ordination, and advocating for their right to marry people of the same sex, longer than any other group in the Presbyterian Church. MLP has often taken a more controversial and “in your face” approach than Cov-Net. MLP also knows how to have fun in worship and to be prophetic without apology or compromise. Among them are some of the most loving, compassionate, and pastoral people I know. Like Cov-Net, I regularly contribute to MLP and participate in its programs. Their Executive Director is Michael Adee.
Across the aisle from MLP is the booth (photo right) of That All May Freely Serve (TAMFS), another pro LGBT organization that in my mind spun off from MLP and is perhaps more focused on the ordination issue rather than the acceptance and rights of all LGBT Presbyterians. Their booth is designed to look like the booth in a diner, which symbolizes that they desire the church to be “open” all the time, like a diner, and that God invites all people to the table of the Lord. Their Executive Director is Lisa Largess.
At the other end of the exhibit hall are the booths of other groups I share an affinity with. One of these groups is the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF) (photo right), the peacemaking peaceniks of the Presbyterian Church who more faithfully follow Peacemaking: The Believers Calling than most of us and who seek to live lives of radical peacemaking. They number around 3,000, which by some standards might seem small, but their spirit is great and their witness without parallel. Their Executive Director is former General Assembly Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase.
Next to the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship booth is the booth of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund (photo right), a not-for-profit organization which advocates for passage of the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill, which, when enacted “would restore the rights of citizens whose conscience does not permit physical or financial participation in all war, Federal taxes of designated conscientious objectors would be placed in a non-military trust fund, enabling these citizens to be free from spiritual bondage, increasing federal revenue, and restoring the balance of government between collective security and non-interference in an individual’s free exercise of belief.” The newly elected Chairman of the Campaign, whom I just recently met, is Rick Woodard. Their Executive Director is Bethany Criss.
Not far down the aisle from the booth of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax and the booth of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is the booth of Presbyterians for Earth Care (photo right), “the green people”. This organization used to be known as Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, of which I was a charter member. Many of its founding members were, at the time of its founding, as I was, also members of the Witherspoon Society. Of all the advocacy groups in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), this is the only group that advocates for nothing else other than environmental stewardship. It shares its booth with Warren Wilson College, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) related college that is, without a doubt, the greenest Presbyterian College in the country.
There are many more exhibitors with booths in the Exhibit Hall, even some other “friendlies” , but these are some of the ones I, with a commitment to social justice, the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the life of the church, peacemaking, and environmental stewardship, am most drawn to.

219th GA: Update on the Committee on Middle East Peacemaking Issues

During Monday afternoon’s session the Committee dealt with several issues and generally adopted what came before it with little if any amendment, although there were several attempts to amend. To this observer it seemed that committee members are being given the opportunity to have their say but that generally the majority of Committee members were unswayed by counter arguments.

The evening’s session (photo right) began with prayer, followed by John Huffman, a member of the Middle East Study Committee, talking about his own personal journey and urging the Assembly Committee on Middle East Peacemaking Issues to approve the Study Committee’s report “Breaking Down the Walls”. Huffman was followed by several Overture Advocates speaking to particular overtures. After an evening of sitting and listening, the Committee 14 adjourned for the evening, closing with worship, at around 8:50 PM

As I have observed this committee, its debate and the presentations and testimony given to it, it has become apparent that the issues the Assembly committee is dealing with it cut across the usual liberal and conservative divide. I have witnessed those usually identified as Liberal and those usually identified as Conservative argue the same positions as other conservatives and liberals have argued the opposite position.

Monday, July 5, 2010

219th GA: The Covenant Network of Presbyterians Luncheon

About 300 people gathered in Ballroom D of the Minneapolis Hilton for the Covenant Network (Cov-Net) Luncheon. Luncheon guests were greeted by the Reverend David Van Dyke, Cov-Net Co-Moderator, who also recognized and thanked out going Co-Moderator the Reverend Deborah Block and introduced in coming Co-Moderator the Reverend Mary Lynn Tobin. Tobin then offered an Invocation followed by the luncheon crowd heartily singing Harry Emerson Fosdick’s progressive hymn, God of Grace and God of Glory, one of my favorite hymns.
As soon as we concluded singing we were invited to welcome General Assembly Moderator Cindy Bolbach. Bolbach has a long history in the struggle for justice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered persons in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), having been one of the original National Capitol Presbytery Stonecatchers, who organized as a response to G-6.0106b. She was given a standing ovation as she approached the dais.
Following the Moderator’s brief remarks, Pam Byers introduced many others in attendance, including Sharon Groves, who addressed the work of the Human Rights Campaign Clergy Call For Justice and Equality, May 22-24, 2011 in Washington, DC.
Deborah Block introduced the keynote speaker, Gustav Niebuhr, the grandson of H. Richard Niebuhr and the author of Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America. I had heard Gustav earlier in the morning when he testified before the Middle East Peacemaking Issues Committee during open testimony. Hearing him speak again during the Cov-Net luncheon was somewhat of a treat. I read some of his grandfather’s work and some of his great uncle’s work when in college and seminary.
After Niebuhr’s speech, Dave Colby and Tricia Dykers Koenig shared Cov-Net’s hopes for this General Assembly. Afterward, Tricia was recognized for her first ten years of work with the Covenant Network. Let us hope and pray that we will not need to recognize her second ten years with Cov-Net because the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will be a fully inclusive church within the next ten years and no longer in need of the witness of the Covenant Network.
Tricia being properly honored, Tim Hart-Anderson made the usual pitch for financial support that one hears at such meal gatherings. He noted that Cov-Net has an annual budget of about $300,000, a third of which coming from congregations and two thirds coming from individuals.
Deborah Block dismissed the luncheon crowd with a Benediction.
When I sit down at one of these General Assembly Luncheons or dinners I never know who else might end sitting at the same table. Most tables sit eight. With one empty chair at my table, I ate lunch with six others. I knew one table mate well, the Reverend Trina Zelle, Minister Commissioner from Grand Canyon Presbytery and a former Co-Moderator of the Witherspoon Society (now Presbyterian Voices for Justice).
I knew by reputation Julie Lehman, an exhibitor with Presbyterians for Earth Care and Warren Wilson College. After the benediction, Julie introduced herself and we talked about the good work of Presbyterians for Earth Care, formerly Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, and also the good work of Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. I was a charter member of Presbyterians for Restoring Creation and was trained as a Restoring Creation Enable in a week’s training at Ghost Ranch just before the Albuquerque General Assembly, so I am keenly interested in the work of Presbyterians for earth Care and appreciated meeting Julie.
I also knew by reputation Leslie Scanlon, a reporter for The Presbyterian Outlook. Scanlon’s presence in the seat to my left caused a bit of anxiety as I thought “Here I am, a mere amateur blogger with little if any journalistic training or experience, sharing his reflections of the General Assembly, sitting next to a professional reporter whose primary beat is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and whose secondary beat is the Church at large.

219th GA: Committee #14, Middle East Peacemaking Issues Hears Testimony

With 19 Assembly Committees, no one can follow the work of them all. I am following the work of Committee 14, the Middle East Peacemaking Issues Committee. The committee is handling one of the more contentious and emotion laden issues before the Assembly, the Report of the Middle East Study Committee, as well as related overtures and Commissioner Resolutions. Unlike other controversial issues such as Marriage of same sex couples and Ordination of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Presbyterians, Middle East Peacemaking is more multi-faceted, complex, and nuanced issue.
The committee heard from representatives of the Middle East Study Committee and the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee Sunday afternoon. Monday morning the Committee heard testimony in an open hearing. Over 140 persons signed up to testify in open hearings, far too many than time would allow, so the Committee Leadership, as authorized by the committee, chose to select people to testify through a lottery system (photo top right).

At past Assemblies other committees have used a lottery to select people to testify but in a much more efficient way. A lottery was used well before the actual hearings to select those who would speak and then the names of those selected were listed in order of appearance so that they could be in the room, be prepared, and lined up to speak two, three or even four deep so that no time would be wasted waiting for people to come to the microphone, a fair and efficient process.

Even though I am only an observer I was frustrated by the process of selection employed by the leadership of Committee 14. The committee leadership used a lottery during the hearing process, picking names at random and then calling the person’s name to come to the microphone and testify (photo bottom right). Some whose names were called were not in the room and much time was wasted while it was determined that they were indeed not present. Because no one knew who the next speaker would be until the next name was called there was also significant lag time between speakers, lag time which could have been avoided if speakers had been lined up two or three deep. A more thoughtful and efficient process could have easily doubled the number of speakers who were able to address the committee. Overall it was a somewhat confusing and time consuming process that could have easily been avoided.
After a short break the committee reconvened to hear a presentation from Middle East Study Committee Chair Ron Shive, a presentation that focused on the Study Committee’s Recommendations, all 39 of them. After his presentation the committee divided up into small groups to process their time together.

219th GA: The Committees Meet

The nineteen General Assembly Committees, such as Committee #8, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations (photos right), started meeting Yesterday (Sunday, July 4) afternoon but most of their work was preliminary and organizational. The hard work of reviewing reports, considering overtures and commissioner resolutions, and debating the issues really begins today.

Part of the committee process involves holding open hearings, offering an opportunity for interested individuals to speak for a minute or two about the particular issues they are concerned about. After hearing testimony, the committee will begin debating the issues and formulating a report, which will then be presented to the Assembly in plenary.

Most Committees will work through today and into tomorrow. Some committees might finish their work early tomorrow (Tuesday), some will continue working throughout the day, and a few could end up working even longer.
As committees finish their work their reports will be prepared for electronic distribution to all Commissioners who will act on those reports in plenary. Reports might be received in whole, rejected with the adoption of a minority report, or amended. The process of receiving committee reports begins Wednesday afternoon.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

219th GA: Presbyterian Voices for Justice Awards Luncheon

Over a hundred people attended the Presbyterian Voices for Justice Awards Luncheon held Sunday in the Hyatt Regency Hotel Nicollet Ballroom A. Guests we welcomed by the Reverend William Dummer, Presbyterian Voices for Justice (PVJ) Co-Moderator, who immediately recognized Vice Moderator Elect the Reverend Landon Whitsitt. Whitsitt brought greetings on behalf the General Assembly and its Moderator the Reverend Cindy Bolbach.

The Reverend Catherine Snyder, PVJ Coordinating Team Member, offered the Invocation.

As guests were eating, PVJ Secretary Mitchell Trigger and PVJ Treasurer Darcy Hawk (in drag as Sophie Witherspoon) humorously pressed the need for financially supporting the mission of Presbyterian Voices for Justice through memberships and gifts.

PVJ CT member Sylvia Thorson-Smith introduced the speaker, the Reverend Mary Elva Smith. Smith was the Director of Women’s Ministries in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) from2001-2006 and is currently serving as Acting General Presbyter for the Sierra Mission Partnership. Smith’s meditative speech invited guests to prayerfully and meditatively reflect on where they have come from and where they are going on the justice journey and to examine what it means to be a Presbyterian Voice for Justice. During her presentation she invited those present to read in unison the Mission Statement of PVJ, to think about the Great Ends of the Church, to examine the role and size of Presbyteries, Synods and our national Offices, and what it means to be a Presbyterian in the 21st century. She also challenged those present to be nurtured by the Spirit and nurture the spirit of PVJ.

After Smith’s presentation representatives of various progressive groups were invited to introduce themselves. Among those represented were Presbyterian Affirming Reproductive Options, the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association, That All May Freely Serve, More Light Presbyterians, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Presbyterians for Earth Care, Soul Force, and others.

The Reverend Bebe Baldwin spoke about the first award recipient, the Kwanza Community Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, recipient of the Whole Gospel Congregation Award. The award was presented “in grateful recognition for ‘bringing saving freedom to body, mind & soul’ through the Good News of Jesus to all the people of the community”. The Reverend Lika Galloway, Co-Pastor (along with her husband Ralph) of the Kwanza Community Church, accepted the award on behalf of the congregation.

TPVJ Acting Co-Moderator Colleen Bowers presented the Andrew Murray Award to Ann and Manly Olson, long-time active Presbyterian leaders at congregational, presbytery, and national levels. The award was presented “in grateful recognition of their commitment and passion to social justice for all of God’s people in their service to the entire Church.”

The Reverend Sylvia Carlson, another member of the PVJ Coordinating Team, offered the Benediction.

219th GA: An Analysis of the Vote for Moderator

Because of glitches with the electronic voting system in the election of the Moderator, I am inclined to almost discount the first two ballots. There were only 497 votes recorded on the first ballot in spite of there being nearly 720 registered commissioners. The second ballot recorded 556 votes, better than the first ballot but still not nearly enough. Obviously some votes were not being counted.

The third ballot recorded 638 votes. Floor assistants counted approximately 80 empty seats. The glitches seemed to have been fixed but still none of the six candidates had the clear majority to be elected.

Between the first and third ballot it was apparent that commissioners were shifting from Kim, Lauterer and Nielson to Bolbach and Leeth. I think it can also be argued that they were shifting from Belle to either Bolbach and Leeth, most likely to Leeth, but because of the voting glitch that shift is not as apparent.

Bolbach was elected on the forth ballot, capturing 325 of the 635 votes cast. Leeth received 148 votes on the final ballot, just fourteen less than the other four candidates combined. Thus the two female candidates drew far more support than the four male candidates.  My intuition tells me that after the first ballot, those who first voted for Lauterer and Nielson started switching to Bolbach.  Likewise, those who first voted for Belle and Kim started voting for Leeth. 

I have heard some observers opine that while Bolbach was not the most charismatic candidate she demonstrated competence with a hint of whimsical humor, and that commissioners were looking for calm competence rather than a charismatic but less experienced moderator. I have also heard people say that Leeth was the most genuine and transparent of the three more conservative candidates. Some people are also suggesting that none of the candidates truly stood out and that all the nominating speeches were somewhat lackluster. Nevertheless, Bolbach pulled 149 votes on the first ballot, nearly twice as many as the second highest vote getter on the first ballot, Lauterer, who received 76 votes. Had all the votes been counted on that first ballot, Bolbach might have received more than double the votes of the second highest, whoever that might have been, as only five votes separated the other four candidates.

219th GA: The Election of Moderator Bolbach

Nominating speeches were made. Those nominated addressed the Assembly. Ninety minutes were then offered to Commissioners to ask questions, each candidate answering in turn.
Minister Commissioner Kim Travis Adams of Northeast Georgia Presbytery asked the first question, one relating to the historic Presbyterian emphasis on an educated Ministry, including Church Educators and Commissioned Lay Pastors. The first to answer was the Reverend Julia Leeth, followed in turn by the Reverend Jin S. Kim, the Reverend James A. Belle, Elder Cynthia Bolbach, the Reverend Eric G. Nielson (photo right), and finally the Reverend Maggie Lauterer. The second question related to the relationship among and use of the Bible, the Book of Confessions, and the Book of Order. The third question, asked by a Theological School Advisory Delegate (TSAD), asked the candidates to share what would be at stake if they were not elected Moderator. A fourth question related to the Great Commandment (mission) and the Great Commission (evangelism) and how the candidate would relate them and to them. A fifth question asked candidates to share how they felt about youth involvement in both local church life as well as church events such as General Assembly. The sixth and final question, asked by a Youth Advisory Delegate (YAD), focused on Civil Unions and Christian Marriage.

After the first ballot it was apparent that Cindy Bolbach was pulling the most votes, but not a clear majority. When it became apparent that as many as 200 votes were not being counted several minutes were devoted to testing and refining the electronic voting process. Finally, after a few more test votes and actual Votes, and on what I believe to have been the fourth ballot (as I predicted, but it was hard to keep track due to the problem with the electronic voting machines), Cindy Bolbach was declared the Moderator.

While Bolbach was the evening’s winner, the loser was the electronic voting machines and process. I found myself longing for the earlier days of voting by colored paddles, waved in the air. As the voting machines were being tested, some of us observing in the peanut gallery had visions of hanging chads and Bush vs. Gore. It wasn’t pretty and Commissioners seemed to be growing more frustrated with each test vote that still seemed not to be counting all the votes.

I was planning to report the vote tally for each ballot but the numbers flashed on and off the video screens so fast I could not right them down and the former moderator failed to announce all the numbers for the second as well as the final ballot.

219th GA: More Light Presbyterians National Celebration Dinner

I walked into the third floor lobby of the Hilton a little after 4:00 PM only to see about a hundred old friends I have made through the years at various General Assemblies as well as new friends yet to be made at this GA, many of them wearing rainbow colored knitted and crocheted scarves to signify and symbolize their commitment to an inclusive Presbyterian Church that welcomes all God’s Children, including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Children. The event and occasion was the More Light Presbyterian (MLP) National Celebration Reception preceding the MLP National Celebration Dinner. The cash bar enabled some to enjoy a beer, glass of wine, or cocktail before dinner while mixed nuts and pretzels on a few tables served as appetizers before the dinner proper. Conversation flowed freely.

Before we moved into the ballroom for dinner, MLP Executive Director & Field Organizer Michael J. Adee (photo right) introduced and honored the Don Stroud, who for the past several years has faithfully served the Baltimore Chapter of That All May Freely Serve. Michael also introduced a representative of the Oak Park Church, a More Light Church near Chicago, and Samuel Chu, Executive Director of California Faith for Equality. Samuel briefly spoke about the need to keep faith in the center of equality and to keep equality in the center of faith. Jean Audrey Powers of the United Methodist Church and Ross Murray and Brett Bowman of Lutherans Concerned were also introduced and shared remarks.

Around 5:00 PM we moved into the Ballroom for dinner, where eventually about 150 people gathered around tables. MLP Board of Directors Co-Moderator Vikki Dearing welcomed guests. MLP Board of Directors member Beth Van Sickle blessed the Meal. After dinner Michael J. Adee spoke about being a church of the Heart, a Church were love matters as much if not more than theology, a church which lives out Micah’s vision of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God, a church that takes to heart Jesus’ admonition to Love God with all our heart and mind and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves, a church of the heart rather than a church of the law, a church in which love and the God of love trumps theology. Michael also shared that MLP had hoped 1,500 rainbow colored knitted and crocheted scarves would be available by this General Assembly. Inspired by the Shower of Stoles project, begun prior to the 218th General Assembly two years ago, and spearheaded by the Reverend Janet Edwards, 1,700 rainbow colored scarves had been knitted and crocheted in time for this General Assembly!

Following Michael’s remarks, the Reverend Rebecca Voelkel of the Institute for Welcoming Resources offered the Keynote Address. Focusing her remarks on the LGBT movement as one of many forces of power, I felt like I was witnessing an example of “what goes around comes around” as I heard Rebecca saying that the LGBT movement, which began in the broader social justice movement, must now embrace the broader concerns of social justice and be concerned not only for justice for LGBTs but justice for people of color, for women, for the poor and oppressed, and for immigrants. May the circle be unbroken.

After Rebecca concluded her address the Reverend Ray Bagnuolo, a member of the MLP Board of Directors, addressed MLP’s legislative strategies at this assembly. MLP Board member the Reverend Mike Smith then invited all those present to feel good about giving financial support to MLP by directing the person at each table closest to the breadbasket to empty the basket and pass it around to be filled with green bread bearing images of former Presidents.

The highlight of many of the dinners at GA is the presentation of awards, and the MLP National Celebration Dinner was no exception. Janet Edwards presented The Reverend David Sindt Leadership Award to the Reverend Jean Southard. Trice Gibbons presented the Outstanding More Light Church award to St. Luke Presbyterian Church, Wayzata, MN. Madeline Jervis presented the Outstanding MLP Chapter award to the Open Doors More Light Chapter, Washington, DC.

Prior to the Benediction and being sent forth, Janet Edward and Patrick Evans led us in a musical dedication of all those 1,700 rainbow scarves. After the Benediction most participants left for the election of Moderator, soon to take place in the Plenary Hall.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

219th GA: The Six Candidates for Moderator

Six individuals (five Ministers and one Elder) are standing for election for moderator of the 219th General Assembly, meeting this week in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The person elected will not only moderate the bulk of the Assembly plenary but also serve for the next two years as a representative of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) with a bully pulpit to interpret the work of the Assembly to the Church and world and to shape the life and work of the Church through their power of appointment.

Three of the candidate, the Reverend James Belle of Philadelphia Presbytery, The Reverend Jin S. Kim of Twin Cities Presbytery, and the Reverend Julia Leeth of Santa Barbara Presbytery, might be identified as conservative. The three other candidates, Elder Cindy Bolbach of National Capitol Presbytery, the Reverend Maggie Lauterer of Western North Carolina Presbytery, and the Reverend Eric Nielson of Northern Waters Presbytery, might be identified as progressive.

This Year’s slate is Minister heavy. Of the six candidates, Bolbach (photo top right) is the only Elder, the other five all being Ministers. All six candidates have selected Ministers as their Vice Moderator running mates. Thus the Elder Cindy Bolbach and Minister Landon Whitsitt (Heartland Presbytery) is the only balanced ticket that would guarantee at least one Elder serving in one of the highest two elected offices.

I think two of the candidates, The Reverend James Bell, from Philadelphia Presbytery, and the Reverend Jin S. Kim, from Twin Cities Presbytery, have hampered their candidacy by choosing not only another Minister as their Vice Moderator running mate but a Minister from their own Presbytery. Bell selected The Reverend Wonjae Choi, also from the Presbytery of Philadelphia, while Kim tapped the Reverend Matthew. In my mind, their choice of a running mate calls into question their awareness of and commitment to the need for diversity, at least geographical diversity.

With six candidates and a majority needed to elect, we are likely to require several ballots before a Moderator is elected. Usually and as in previous years, Commissioners voting for candidates that receive the fewest votes will, on later ballots, vote for another candidate of their liking, until one candidate receives a clear majority, and this can take several ballots to sort itself out. I am not much of a prognosticator but I predict this year’s election will require at least four ballots before a Moderator is elected.

The Election of the Moderator is scheduled for tonight beginning at 7:00 PM. When it will end, who knows?

219th GA: Riverside Conversations: Middle East Study Committee

There were several Riverside Conversations: Pre-assembly workshops for Commissioners and Advisory Delegates, to choose from. I chose to sit in on the second of two conversations about the Middle East Study Committee Report.

The Conversation began at 10: 30 AM when the Reverend Susan Andrews, a member of the nine member Middle East Study Committee, opened the conversation with a reading from scripture and a prayer. Soon after participants were welcomed, Victor Makari, Ph.D., coordinator for the Middle East Office of the GAMC, offered a background of the 200 year history of witness, support and presence in the Middle East.

After Victor’s fifteen minute background presentation, Susan Andrews narrated power point presentation (photo right) designed to summarize the Committee’s Report, which in her words is “172 pages of dense narrative” and which seeks to speak the truth in love. After the half-hour Power Point presentation the Reverend Brian Ellison, Chair of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) Committee, spoke for about ten minutes about the work of MRTI, especially as it relates to the Middle East, and more particularly MRTI’s conversations with the Caterpillar Corporation.

With about thirty minutes left in the Conversation, Middle East Study Committee members in attendance, Lucy Janjigian, Nahida Gordon, and Byron Shafer, along with Brian Ellison, were invited forward to answer questions from participants, Andrews directing that only Commissioners and Advisory Delegates should be asking questions.

The Reverend Byron Shaeffer, the only Committee member who declined to sign the report, was asked why he decided not to sign off. He replied that he was not convinced that the report reaffirms the right of Israel to exist and that he thinks the report needs to include a third narrative which includes identification of what is wrong with both the Israeli narrative and the Palestinian narrative.

Committee member Nahida Gordon, A Presbyterian born in Palestine, shared her concern over the use of the word “rights”. She noted that asking Palestinians to say that Israel has the “right” to exist is like asking Indigenous Americans to say that Europeans had a “right” to colonize the North American continent.

About two hundred people were in attendance, half sitting around tables in the front and half sitting in rows of chairs at the back of the room. Considering this was the second of two scheduled conversations, approximately four hundred Commissioners and others were able to hear from the Committee and peruse free copies of the report before the GA even officially convened. Given the attendance, this report, coming before Committee 14, promises to generate considerable debate and focused consideration.

219th GA: Presbyterian Voices for Justice Commissioner Orientation/Breakfast

Formerly the Witherspoon Commissioner Orientation, this breakfast, held in the Hilton Minneapolis Ballroom D, offered progressive Presbyterians everything they need to know in order to be effective participants in the General Assembly legislative process. The continental breakfast included an opportunity for commissioners and observers to share, worship, meet other commissioners, and to be energized for the week. The event was jammed pack with information about GA Issues as well as helpful hints about how to a Presbyterian Voice for Justice during the General Assembly.

Approximately sixty Commissioners and other participants attended.  Welcomed by Presbyterian Voices for Justice (PVJ) Coordinating Team member the Reverend Sylvia Thorson-Smith, “We are the People Glenn Beck has warned you about”, people who care about and talk about Social Justice.

As participants enjoyed their Continetal Breakfast, four briefers spoke about issues and business being considered by the Assembly.  Gloria Albrecht spoke on behalf of issues related to the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options (PARO), and Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA).  Michael Adee, Field Director of More Light Presbyterians, addressed issues affecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered people. Marylin White, representing the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF) addressed issues related to the work of Committee 13, Peacemaking and International Issues.  Donald Mead, also speaking on behalf of PPF, highlighted work related to Committee 14, Middle East Peacemaking Issues.

That all four presenters represented organizations other than PVJ illustrates PVJ's inclusive posture orf reaching out to and working with other progressive organizations and groups in order to organize, inform and motivate all progressive Presbyterian Voices for Justice.

219th GA: Dinner with the Covenant Network

Listed in the official 219th General Assembly (2010) Program Book as the “Covenant Network Commissioner Dinner” but with printed programs calling it “Commissioners' Convocation Dinner” and held at the Westminster Presbyterian Church,  this gathering or mostly progressive Presbyterians and friends last night offered the opportunity for about a hundred Commissioners to the General Assembly as well as Observers and others to enjoy food, fellowship and to hear from Doug Nave (photo right).
Doug spoke in the sanctuary and from the pulpit of the Westminster Presbyterian Church. His remarks were preceded by a Gathering Litany and Hymn. They were followed by a Sending Litany and Closing Prayer. Though not billed as a worship service, it was clear that Doug’s comments were being set within a worshipful setting.
Doug is an attorney, a Covenant Network director, and a member of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. His topic for the evening, as listed in the printed program, was That’s For Sure but I am not sure why. I would have titled it “Coming Out as a Presbyterian”. If I heard Doug correctly, all progressive Presbyterians need to come out, that is to self-identify themselves as Christians who value and affirm the historic principles of our Reformed and Presbyterian tradition, principles such as “God alone is Lord of the conscience” and “there are truths and forms with respect to which [people] of good characters and principles may differ” and "’Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda,’ that is, ‘The church reformed, always reforming,’ according to the Word of God and the call of the Spirit.” It is these very historic principles, and others like them, that point the church to change its stance on the ordination of those who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered and to change its stance on marriage.
Doug pointed out that while the church once defended the geocentric universe as a matter of doctrine that we know that the earth revolves around the sun. He noted that whereas the church was in its early life communistic and a peace church that we now embrace such just war and capitalism. He observed that we once defended as a matter of doctrine the institution of slavery but that we now embrace equal rights for all. Whereas the Presbyterian Church used to believe that women could not and should not be ordained we now believe that God calls men and women to all ministries of the church. Similarly, while the church has historically argued that marriage is only between a man and a woman that it is time to recognize that same sex couples also fall in love and are already living in relationship that in every other way resemble marriage and are so legally recognized by some states, and so it is time for the church to change its understanding of marriage and to not only recognize marriage between same sex partners but to also empower its Ministers to celebrate these marriages where state law permits it.

After those in attendance were given an opportunity to enjoy their meal, the six candidates for General Assembly Moderator, some with their choice of Vice Moderator running mates in tow, each spoke briefly to those gathered.  This offered me my first opportunity to begin thinking about who I would vote for if I were a commissioner.
The Covenant Network was formed over a dozen years ago in order to affirm the historic principles of our Reformed and Presbyterian tradition after they were called into question by the Adoption of Amendment B, now G-6.0106b in the Book of Order, a provision which stripped away the session’s historic right and responsibility to decide who to ordain as Elders and Deacons and the presbytery’s historic right to decide who it will ordain as Ministers.

Thanks to the Presbyterian Voices Website, here is a link to the entire text of Doug's presentation.