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Presbytery of New York City installs Ruling Elder Frances Thom, the body’s youngest-ever elected moderator

The 2020 theme: ‘An equal world is an enabled world’

by Jim Nedelka | Special to the Presbyterian News Service

From left to right are Ruling Elder Frances Thom, the Rev. Krystin Granberg, the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann and Ruling Elder Terri Youn. (Photo by Jim Nedelka)

NEW YORK — On Saturday, March 7, the eve of International Women’s Day, the Presbytery of New York City celebrated this year’s theme, “An equal world is an enabled world,” in a unique way: the installation of Ruling Elder Frances Thom and Ruling Elder Terri Youn to their one-year terms as, respectively, moderator and moderator-elect. Present for this historic occasion in the sanctuary of Riverdale Presbyterian Church in The Bronx was the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly.

The Rev. Chris Shelton, pastor of Broadway Presbyterian Church, concluded his one-year term as Moderator with the honor of leading the brief but historic ceremony. Along with the traditional denominational questions, two New York traditions were continued: the longstanding passing of the Moderator’s Cross and the relatively new transference of the Moderator’s Stole.

The Rev. Chris Shelton, pastor of Broadway Presbyterian Church, places a stole on Ruling Elder Frances Thom, the youngest moderator in the more than 300-year history of the Presbytery of New York City. Watching is the presbytery’s moderator-elect, Terri Youn. (Photo by Jim Nedelka)

During the Communion Prayer Thom, a Riverdale Presbyterian Church member since childhood, along with the Rev. Krystin Granberg, Riverdale’s interim pastor, and Youn, of Bedford Park Presbyterian Church, the first single woman of Korean heritage ordained as a ruling elder in that Bronx congregation, were joined in the chancel by Kohlmann to raise up the names of groundbreaking women, among them:

  • The many who have served as deacons since this office was opened to women more than 110 years ago.
  • Sarah Dickson, the denomination’s first woman ruling elder, and Tillie Paul Tamaree, the first Native American woman ruling elder, both ordained in 1930.
  • The Rev. Margaret Towner, the northern Presbyterian Church’s first female teaching elder, whose 1956 ordination was followed in 1965 by
  • The Rev. Rachel Henderlite’s ordination as clergy in the southern Presbyterian Church.
  • The Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, ordained in 1974 as the first African American clergywoman in the United Presbyterian Church, followed by
  • The Rev. Rebecca Reyes, the first Hispanic/Latina clergywoman ordained in 1979, joined that year by
  • The Rev. Elizabeth Kwon, who transferred her ordination from Japan, becoming the denomination’s first Korean-American clergywoman, and by
  • The Rev. Holly Haile Smith Davis, the first Native American woman teaching elder ordained in 1987.

As this litany concluded, the names of the 13 women who have also served the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as moderator or co-moderator (until recently termed “vice moderator”) since 1983’s reunification were lifted up in prayer.

When Kohlmann blessed the upcoming leadership of Thom and Youn, she provided a surprising tidbit of history: at age 28, Thom is the youngest moderator ever elected in the Presbytery of New York City’s history that reaches back to 1717.

Ruling Elder Jim Nedelka, a frequent contributor to the Presbyterian News Service, is a member of New York’s Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and eagerly looks forward to the opening later this year of the congregation’s new 21st xentury home and identity a few short blocks north of its longtime 19th Century home. Click here to view Nedelka’s music video tribute, “Farewell to East 74th Street.”


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