Friday, June 24, 2016

222nd GA, Day 7: Home Stretch

Given the tensions, violence, political rhetoric of the past year, this General Assembly has shown a passion for racial ethnic sensitivities and justice.  The Assembly made history today by electing and installing the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly.  He has served for the past several years as the Director of the Washington Office for Public Witness of the PC(USA).

They are now coming down the home stretch this last night addressing Middle East and Environmental Issues.  There is lots of passion in the assembly hall!  They just passed 08-06: Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace—From the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.

Our commissioners, YAAD, and TSAD are tired but doing fine.

Find more complete GA news coverage at:  and also

Grace and Gratitude,

222nd GA: Day 6

The plenary worked its way through its business.  I will not try to report all of its actions here.  You can read about GA actions at  and

I will simply note here that there has been an out pouring of love and respect for Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk, who is retiring after this Assembly.  Most actions have been passed by large majorities.  The Belhar Confession was passed Wednesday evening in an historic vote which confirmed the support of the Presbyteries to include it into our Book of Confessions.  Today, there is a strong emphases and support to address the racial inequities: to continue its the church efforts to dismantle racism within our denomination and the larger society;  and that the PC(USA) and its members apologize to United States citizens of Native American ancestry.

It's been a long hard day.  Pray for the energy of the commissioners as they continue their work.  They will elect a new stated clerk tomorrow morning.

Grace and Gratitude,

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

222nd Day 5, Plenary takes up Committee Reports

My day began with the GA Breakfast Gathering with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.  Rev. Dr. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou   addressed us on the topic, "Faith in the Age of Ferguson."  He suggests it calls us into the public square to stand with the marginalized and persecuted;  to reject traditional leadership;  called into question failed modernity and neo-colonialism imperialism.  He pointed out that more lives have been slain in the name of Jesus than any other name.  We need to acknowledge this in confession and stand up to challenge our brothers and sisters to the better way of Christ.  He challenged us to sacrifice, to show up, stand up, and defend victims of violence.  He asked, "What blow are you willing to make against white supremacy.  He reminded us that Jesus was born to an unwed mother, to a people under occupation.  He became a threat to the Empire.  They killed him on a cross, the Empire's form of threat and control.  And the empty cross proclaims that the Empire will not have the final word.   Look for a utube video of this address at

I then moved to the Ecumenical Worship Service.  The preacher was REv. Reginald Jackson, AME Bishop.  His sermon, "Crisis of Conflicting Voices," based on 1 Kings 22:1-14, and in particularly verses 13 and 14.
13 The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king; let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” 14 But Micaiah said, “As theLord lives, whatever the Lord says to me, that I will speak.”

He suggested, don't pay attention to the masses of voices.  Don't be tempted to go along to get along.  The Church of Jesus Christ, the crisis of our times is our conflicted message to people.  What are we to do

  1. Each of us must remain faithful.  Like Micaiah, ignore the voice of the 400.  Our responsibility is to speak truth to power, to tell what God has to say.
  2. Don't be fooled by the numbers.  Too often we capitulate to those with the numbers.  "If you argue with a fool long enough you will become a fool yourself."  We are called not to be popular but faithful.
  3. Live like you know Jesus, ie.  not anxious, fearful and pessimistic.  Sleep in peace and confidence.

Then lunch with my Seminary:  Union Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  John Vest, the new faculty member shared with the Presbytery of the James, spoke on "Cultivating a Culture of Evangelism.  He is a key new resource for the church in rethinking our call to share the good news of the gospel.  He previously served as an associate pastor at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

As the Plenary reconvened, Rev. Dr. Leanne Van Dyk, a member of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan was introduced to the Assembly and was confirmed as president of Columbia Theological Seminary.

They approved a revised Directory for Worship to be sent to the Presbyteries for inclusion in the Book of Order.

At dinner, Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the Office of the General Assembly, who is retiring in July after this GA, was recognized and celebrated.

222nd GA: Day 4: Committees Complete Their Work

Day 4:
After getting their parliamentary feet under them, the committees really got to work today.  I am amazed at how committees work to amend matters that come before them.  We pray that the Holy Spirit works through them and this process to improve and strengthen to overtures.  Yes, compromises are made.  Advocates do not get all that they want.  The question is always, do the committees bend too much to appease?  Most committees completed their work by the end of the afternoon.  

What I really want to share today is a quote on partnership given to us to discuss at table at the World Mission Luncheon.  It speaks a truth I've experienced.  Individuals are stretched when we form a relationship with another, when we join a congregation, when we participate in a presbytery, synod or General Assembly, local or global mission. 

Quote:The most significant thing is the exchange of cultures....There is a whole lot of
cultural learning.  And we have been changed.  We have been transformed.  You know there is a saying: "When you meet the other, you get 'othered'."  That is very         important.  The fact that we met the other and we were influenced in one way or another by the other.  They were influenced.  I don't think Denver is as Denver was before they were in partnership with Zimbabwe.  Because they got "othered".  And we also, we are not the same, because we got  othered' by our partnership with Denver."  

                                Matorofa Mutonganavo, Moderator of the Presbytery of Zimbabwe                                               and Ecumenical Advisory Delegate to GA

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The 222nd GA: Day 3

Day 3 at General Assembly for the commissioners is all committee work.  Committees met Sunday evening and got acquainted with some team building.  This morning they began with a Bible Study "Messy Tables" on 2 Samuel 9 with the questions who is invited to the table of decision making and power, and who sets the table, and why?  See Bible Study Materials here

The committee process:   Committees then hear from overture advocates, and those who sign up to speak for and against matters before the committee.  They often break into small groups to discuss what they have heard.  Then they launch into deliberation on the matters before them.  It’s interesting and sometimes painful to watch committee members and committee moderators flounder in parliamentary procedure.   Few are practiced in it.  They quickly get bogged down in process and procedures.   Amendments are made, substitutionary motions are made to replace the main motions.  Amendments and main motions are perfected.   It's easy to get lost in where they are.  Questions of clarifications are made.   The more tired they become, the slower they grind and the more clarity is needed.  Good moderators constantly state and restated what the committees are addressing at the moment, and guide them through the process.  Eventually they find their legs and rhythm.  The wonder is that the original overtures and study papers sent to the GA for action don’t just get approved yes or no.  They are amended, tweaked, “perfected,” in committees.  Then the plenary later can do the same.  We trust these elected commissioners, not the professional leaders such as myself, and staff, to discern the mind of Christ through the moving of the Holy Spirt.  It's a bit different than a Synod of Bishops.  One of the joys of observing GAs, is watching young and old live into their responsibility and power.  It is hard work.  Your prayers are appreciated.

I started my day with a breakfast with a group of those interested in Cuba.  The Rev Daniel Izquierdo, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba addressed from his perspective the effects of the recent change in U.S./Cuban relations.  Then I attended Bible Study for those not on a committee with Richard Boyce, one of the authors of the Bible Study materials.  I stopped by the Face to Face room looking for Interim Pastor candidates for Big Rapids.  I joined a conversation with colleagues on the Search and Call Process.  Then I stopped by the committees our commissioners are serving to see if they were doing ok.  Then I floated among the Way Forward, Social Justice, Middle East Issues, Immigration and Environmental Committees.  I chatted at lunch with Leanne VanDyk.  She has had a fabulous year at Columbia Theological Seminary as their new president.  A panel of racial ethnic leaders at the luncheon challenged the white progressive audience to do our work in learning and understanding our white privilege.  They are tired of teaching us.   "Do your work, then talk with us."  There is an overture for a church wide conversation on Race.  There is a new awareness at this Assembly that we have a long way to go to address ethnic, racial iniquities.  


Sunday, June 19, 2016

222nd GA, Day 2

I started the day at the Presbyterian Foundation Breakfast.  Phillip Jenkins, a professor of church historian and sociology of religion, spoke putting the transformation the church is experiencing into the larger context of the world wide demographic shifts. In the early 20th Century there were three Europeans for every one African.  Today there are three Africans to every one European.  Fifty percent of Africans moved from Native Religions to one of the Abrahamic Faith Traditions choosing Christianity four to one.  

Eileen and I then worshiped with the the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland.  The Rev. Laura Cheitetz, assoc. editor at the Presbyterian Publishing Co., active with the Next Church, and board member of the New Covenant Network, preached a sermon, "A Legion of Demons" on Luke 8: 26-39.  She named the demons present today...and charged us, "Stare the demons in the face and name them.  Then go and give witness to what the Lord has done for you."  This music, the liturgy, the proclamation, the prayers, were rich in content and powerful.  In Westminster's beautiful sanctuary filled with worshipers, we sang in full voice the Johann Jacob Shultz hymn text from 1675, 
                v.1  Sing praise to God who reigns above
                       the God of power, the God of love, 
                       the God of our salvation,
                       with healing balm my soul is filled,
                       and every faithless murmured still
                       to God all praise and glory!

                v.3  The Lord is never far way,
                       But through all grief distressing,
                       An ever present help and stay, 
                       Our peace, and Joy, and blessing;
                       As with a mother's tender hand,
                       God gently leads the chosen band:
                       To God all praise and glory!

The fifth line of of the first stanza jumped off the page as I sang, reminding me of Jack Stewart's comment to us at Presbytery, last week, "I'm wearying from all the whining."  There is so much grief in the American old mainline churches.  You can feel it in the smaller crowd at this Assembly.  This hymn stopped the whining in my soul in it's tracks as this full sanctuary of worshipers sang in full voice in praise of "the God of power and the God of love...with healing balm my soul is filled every faithless murmured still."  This morning's worship at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland awakened and touched the soul of every worshiper present, and represented some of the best of our tradition. Check out their website:  for Rev. Laura Cheitetz's sermon.  Powerful, powerful!

But what I really want to give witness to was a God moment in the sharing of the peace.  I turned around to the pew behind me and while sharing the peace of Christ, the women I was greeting looked at my name tagged and said, "John Mark,  I'm Eleanor Pickle."  Her name tag was a blue commissioner's name tag with the name Ellie Grove, from the Presbytery of Donegal.  She is a member of the New Harmony Presbyterian Church, in Brogue, southern York County, Pennsylvania.  My dad was pastor of that church for the years in her youth, and he had a great ministry with young people.  She remembered when I was born, and baby sitting me.  My family moved from there when I was just starting first grade.  The last time we had been together was in 1961, 55 years ago!  We did not recognize each other's faces, but our names resonated deeply in our personal histories.  After worship we ate lunch together remembering our shared experiences, filing in family and church histories.  Only the people who have lived in Brogue, PA call it "The Brogue!"  She knew, knows all the people who I loved and who loved me in my childhood.  Out side my family, they are the only people who know me as "John Mark."  I felt like I just sat down by a cool stream of living water, the love and grace filled people in that rural hamlet of my early childhood, restoring my soul.  They were the people who shaped and formed me in the love of God.  The name Eleanor Pickle resonated so deeply in me.  She has five siblings.  My mother recognized the musical talent of Eleanor's older brother Nate.  She encouraged him to attend a summer choir camp at Westminster Choir College.  He went on to be a music teacher.  Eileen and I later named our first born son, Nate!  I always had a good feeling about that name.  

Ellie and my brother Dave are elders in the New Harmony Presbyterian Church.  Their pastor, like some other Presbyterian ministers, disagrees with the church's opening of the leadership and marriage for LGBTQ persons.  Yet they remain active in that rural congregation and resist leaving the PC(U.S.A.).  This week she is a Commissioner at this Assembly, and is serving on the Mission Coordination Committee with Eileen.  

This afternoon reports will be shared.  This evening committees gather for the first time.  Pray with and for Eileen as she gathers and shapes commissioners from across the country into a functional committee, listening to the voice of God in their midst leading this denomination into our future.

As the committees have this private time of getting organized, I'll be watching game seven of the NBA finals!

Yours in Christ,


The 222nd GA, Day One

The morning began with Riverside Conversations, table conversations on the common values identified in a COGA Report "When We Gather At the Table: a PC(U.S.A.) Snapshot" To read this report Click Here   The report is based on input from Presbyterians around the church.  It will be considered by the Way Forward Committee, a special committee assign to think out side the box about the future of the PC(U.S.A.) way of operating.  They will consider the possible merger of the Office of General Assembly and the Presbytery Mission Agency.

 Opening Worship followed with grand music presented by choir and organ, and thousands of worshipers, and concluding with music by the Winter Street Worship Band.  Out going moderator Heath Rada preached on the theme of Reconciliation, based on Genesis 45:1-15 and Luke 15.

The Assembly then convened, was greeted by several ecumenical leaders, were oriented and tested out their means of electronic voting.  This Assembly not only is paperless, but wireless for the first time.  I remember helping to disassemble all the wires as a volunteer at the conclusion of the 221st GA in Detroit.  The system is working really well, and a first.

After dinner, the commissioners had a private opportunity in the Marketplace to speak with staff of the six corporations of the church.

During the evening plenary session, the 222nd General Assembly elected the Rev. Jan Edmiston from the Presbytery of Chicago, and the Rev. Denise Anderson from the Presbytery of National Capital as co-moderators of the 222nd General Assembly overwhelmingly on the first vote by a margin of 432 to 136!  They are the first co-moderator team to every be elected.  They are elected on the 60th anniversary year of the first woman as teaching elder.  They shared convictions of hope, encouragement and enthusiasm for the church God is calling us into being.  They bring passion and a refreshing sense of humor. See story by the Presbyterian Outlook:
From my perspective, both sets of candidates would have served the church well.  There were no theological differences surfaced during the question and answer time.  We will be well served.

All are our commissioners and Young Adult Advisory Delegate have arrived safely and are doing well.  Keep them in your prayers.

Yours in Christ,

Friday, June 17, 2016

222nd General Assembly: Gathering

Presbyterians Gather:  Our colleagues from all over the country and our partners from all over the world are traveling yesterday and today to Portland, Oregon for the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  The GA convenes Saturday, June 18, at 2 p.m. EST (11 a.m. PST) for worship.  You can worship with the Assembly from home as it will be live streamed at  Opening worship is a special part of each Assembly as regional Presbyterians come for the day as visitors and all the liturgical stops are pulled for a special worshipful experience.  Join us if you can.

Following GA Business, News:  This link will also lead you to pc-biz where you can follow the business of the Assembly.  You don't have to sign in to use PC-BIZ. Another excellent news source is Presbyterian Outlook  Watch for my daily blog, and Facebook posts through which I will share my perceptions, photos, and video clips.

GA Schedule:  The Assembly will open Saturday, June 18, select a moderator (co-moderators this time) Saturday evening;  worship with local congregations on Sunday.  Committees will meet Sunday evening for orientation, group building and after Bible Study/Devotions on Monday morning,  and will meet with overture advocates and listen to those who want to speak to matters before the committee.   The Committees will deliberate through Tuesday and Wednesday morning.  Observers like myself will float from committee to committee, explore the Exhibit Hall booths connecting with representatives of various ministries of the church, join conversations, and dinner banquets with speakers on various topics, award banquets, Seminary gatherings...  Commissions have no time for these, but observers do!  The GA will then meet in plenary Wednesday afternoon through Saturday morning to act on recommendations of the Committees, and adjourn midday Saturday, June 25th.  

The Presbytery of Lake Michigan Delegation:  We elected two ruling elders, two teaching elders and one Young  Adult Advisory Delegate.  They have been preparing all winter for this.  Following are biographies of our delegates.  Please pray for and with them as they gather for this time of service to the church.  Others like them come to be the 222nd General Assembly.  The GA is often thought of as some mysterious, confusing, and often annoying body of the church--"them."  Really it is local folks like you and me, gathering to listen closely to what God is calling the church to be and do in this particular moment in time.   Paul Tomlinson collected the following bios.

Daniel Van Beek is a Ruling Elder from Benton Harbor First. In his 4th year on Session and 3rd as a Trustee, he is also now serving as the Board's President. Daniel is also involved with leading the church's Open Wide Our Front Door capital campaign to expand and enclose the front patio space to better welcome the neighborhood into First Pres and offer more space for youth and fellowship activities. Daniel has also recently joined the Church Growth Committee of Lake Michigan Presbytery. Daniel is originally from Hudsonville (MI) and is a graduate of the University of Michigan, so he bleeds Maize and Blue. He's a writer at heart, and acts as a creative director by day at an ad agency in St. Joseph. 

Daniel met his wife Jen in the late 90s while both were working at Camp Tall Turf, a Christian summer camp near Walkerville/Hesperia that is focused on racial reconciliation. It's been at the core of his family's ministry ever since. Daniel is a father of 3, a baseball coach and league administrator, and even plays vintage baseball by the rules of the mid 1800s in his spare time for the House of David Echoes and Livery Brewers, both of Benton Harbor. Daniel is a relatively "new" Presbyterian, having transferred from the Christian Reformed Church 7 years ago. After serving for years in a multicultural CRC congregation in Chicago, he was delighted to find a similar mission-focused PC(USA) home at Benton Harbor First. Daniel is most looking forward to seeing God at work in all of his people at GA—the strains of change, the exhales of relief, the struggles of compromise, the joys of letting Our God honor us as we are used as tools of the Spirit's mission here on earth.  Daniel will serve on the Way Forward Committee, which will look at how the PC(USA) is organized and consider new ways...

Eileen Best is a Ruling Elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portage, where she leads the Congregational Life Team and the Green Team. She is married to John Best, the General Presbyter of the presbytery and they have three young adult children. As a lifelong Presbyterian, she has served the church her for her entire career, which began as a mission co-worker in Brazil with John. Eileen is a church educator and graduate of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, VA. She is active in the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators, serving as historian. She has three part time jobs. At Westminster, she is the Connections Coordinator, a broad educator position with the task of keeping the church family connected to each other and the community. At the presbytery, she is the Resource Center director. She also staffs the Discipleship Ministry Team and provides leadership the Educator Fellowship group. At the Synod of the Covenant, she coordinates the Mission to the USA program, which brings church leaders from around the world to spend time with churches in the synod. At the upcoming General Assembly meeting in June, she will be the moderator of the Mission Coordination Committee. This completes her active involvement in every level of the church--congregation, presbytery, synod, and General Assembly. At the General Assembly she is excited about being a part of God's Spirit working through the church.

Paul Tomlinson, a Teaching Elder, is the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Cadillac.  He has been there since 2002.  The first 14 months he served as the Director of Christian Education and then became the pastor of the church in the fall of 2003.  Paul was ordained into the ministry in the PCUSA in June of 1982.  He is currently serving his fifth year on the Committee on Ministry.  Paul met his late wife, Nancy Tomlinson, while attending the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary where he received his Master of Divinity degree.  He has three grown children and 5 grandchildren. 

Paul loves watching sports.  He attends many high school sporting activities and watches college and professional sports on TV.  He plays on (although a little less lately) and coaches the church slow pitch softball team.  Two years ago he took up bicycling and spends many hours during the warmer weather bicycling around Lake Cadillac and Lake Mitchell and on the White Pine Trail.  In his ministry he loves preaching, providing pastoral care and enjoys singing solos and in the church choir.  He is looking forward to worshipping with fellow Presbyterians from around the country and being a part of the work of our General Assembly.  Paul will be serving on the Peacemaking and International Issues Committee of the General Assembly.

Ann Conklin, the Teaching Elder at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, is in her seventh year of serving God alongside this faithful congregation. Ann attended Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI, and was ordained as a Teaching Elder in the PC(USA) in May of 2010. While in seminary, Ann served as the Minister for Membership Development at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids which she considers to be her "home church" as it was where she was baptized and confirmed her faith and baptismal vows. At Westminster, Ann also served two terms as an Elder, served on the Camp Henry board, and moderated Presbyterian Women of Westminster. Prior to her call to seminary, Ann had a 15+ year career as a physical therapist, having received a MS in PT from Duke University and a BS in Biology from the University of Michigan.

Ann is married to Peter and this summer they will celebrate their 29th wedding anniversary. They have a daughter, Lily, who is finishing her sophomore year at Valparaiso University and a son, Lewis, who is finishing his junior year in high school. Their golden retriever, Bailey, completes their family. Ann enjoys running, biking, kayaking, traveling, and reading. She is looking forward to witnessing God's Spirit at work in Portland and feels blessed to have been called to be a part of this work. She will serve on the Social Justice Issues committee, an assignment for which she is grateful as working for social justice has always been a driving force in her life.

Gigi Goshorn is a senior enrolled at Niles High School and the Berrien County Math and Science Center. She lives in Niles, Michigan and is a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Niles. Gigi lives with her mom, her younger sister, and her one dog and one cat. She is involved in her school band and was drum major this past year. She has played the piano since third grade and the alto saxophone since sixth grade. This fall she plans on attending college for business and is currently deciding between two different schools. 

Gigi is the only youth elder at her church and was recently installed and ordained in January 2016. She will serve on the Theological Issues, Institutions, and Worship committee and is looking forward to learning more about the issues and perspectives impacting the Presbyterian community.

Others:  Fran Lane-Lawrence (Stated Clerk and Niles First), Ainsley Herrick (candidate/Jackson First) and Ashley Bair (inquirer/Holt First), Janice Jasperse (Lake City First), Bill and Pat Fuerstenau (Honorably Retired) and myself are here as observers, volunteers, and support.  If you know of others, let me know.  We will be gathering for a dinner together on Tuesday.

In Christ's Service,