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Making the (virtual) rounds

The Co-Moderators drop in for a chat with the Presbyterian Church, A Corporation Board

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart and the Rev. Gregory Bentley were elected in June to be Co-Moderators of the 224th General Assembly (2020).

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Gregory Bentley and Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart, the Co-Moderators of the 224th General Assembly (2020), took 45 minutes Thursday with members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation Board to share their vision of what’s ahead over the next two years.

Their time together during the first day of the board’s two days of meetings was both warm and illuminating.

“Getting acquainted with you and your work is important,” Street-Stewart told the board. “How can we work together as part of the PC(USA)” to “truly be the hands and feet of Christ?”

She told the board both she and Bentley “have committed to the vision of Matthew 25. Addressing the systemic causes of racism and oppression that have led to poverty are very important to us … We want to make sure we have the resources available to truly implement being a Matthew 25 church,” which God calls to address three significant needs: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eliminating systemic poverty.

“Matthew 25 is the core of what we are trying to get at,” Bentley said. “We’re excited about the future in spite of all the challenges we have. There are definite weaknesses and threats, but we believe our strengths and opportunities outweigh those, and Matthew 25 is the perfect vehicle to shepherd us into the future.”

The Co-Moderators discussed ways they’re trying to get before Presbyterians, including the “Good Medicine” Facebook Live event they launched Wednesday, when they announced the book they’re recommending for churchwide study: Edgar Villanueva’s “Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance.”

“We want to show up in a way that brings the gifts, talents and healing wisdom of our people to help the PC(USA) become all God wants it to be,” Bentley said.

Asked about their vision for future General Assemblies following June’s all-online format, Bentley replied, “Without question, we can’t reproduce how we did it in the past.” However, he said, “we need to have some sort of in-person gathering.”

Building relationships “is certainly part of seeing General Assembly as a homecoming,” Street-Stewart said. “It reinforces commitment to the church and its ministries.” But “in the midst of that, there are people and histories that have been overlooked. Can the business of the General Assembly be one where you can identify and exercise the relationships of people of color in the PC(USA)? Are we able to truly say this is a time for us to make a commitment to equitable participation and access?”

“Who is speaking all the time?” during committee meetings and plenary sessions, she asked. “Who benefits from the actions we are taking?” Another important consideration, she said, is “being committed to the next generations, to our advisory delegates.”

“As Co-Moderators, we aren’t designing or redesigning” how the assembly is run, she said. “But we want to be part of the conversation about how we provide that in time for the next General Assembly.”

Asked about why people attending worshiping communities have a more difficult route to serving on national boards such as the A Corp, Bentley said the church ought to “look at the faithfulness of worshiping communities. Are they adding value to the PC(USA)? … You don’t necessarily exclude people because they don’t fit every notion we have of what it means to belong to the PC(USA).”

The Co-Moderators were asked about communicating to Presbyterians the need to support the various ministries of the church, especially during the pandemic.

“The church is not vaccinated against the challenges of the greater society,” Bentley said. “We are experiencing the same upheaval and heartburn we are seeing around us … I think we need to key in on those who see and support the vision of the future to which God has called us. If people have made up their minds not to support it, they’re not going to support it.”

Sometimes, he said, “we give so much time and energy to disruptors.”

“The church has always been resilient and responsive to God’s call,” Street-Stewart said. “Gregory and I both have grandmothers who made a way out of no way … That’s where we talk about faithfulness, about how our churches have responded.”

“It’s the perfect time to lift up ecclesiology,” Bentley said. “What does it mean to be a member of a church? Do I only invest when I get my way? It’s time to do some serious teaching.”

“These are tough times,” Bentley said, “but God has placed among us people who are equal to the task.”

The board’s co-chair, Chris Mason, expressed appreciation for the Co-Moderators’ time and for their leadership.

“No one on this board,” Mason said, “wants to move anywhere but forward.”

A Corp Board actions

Later the board held a closed session. Afterward the board announced these actions after moving back into public session:

  • The board approved a zero percent (0%) salary increase for the staff of the Administrative Services Group, effective April 1, 2021.
  • The board approved reductions to the Administrative Services Budget of $1,512,988 in 2021 and $1,137,884 in 2022.

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