In Spirit and Truth is the blog of the General Assembly Committee on Representation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It will feature content written by the sixteen members of the committee, who are teaching and ruling elders from across the country, and our staff person in the Office of the General Assembly, as well as links and articles of particular interest. These blog entries are intended to prompt reflection and dialogue on aspects of expanding representation and supporting full participation in the PCUSA, especially at the assembly level. The ministries of advising, consulting, advocating, reviewing and recommending are vital to the life of the whole Body of Christ. Committees on Representation and/or their functions exists at all councils above session so from time to time we may highlight activities and insights from our sister committees on representation at smaller councils throughout the church.
Author Molly Casteel is an Assistant Stated Clerk and the Coordinator for Representation and Inclusiveness Services. She is a teaching elder (a.k.a. Minister of Word and Sacrament) in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary.
In the summer of 2011, a historical document of the PCUSA became quietly accessible again with its online publication.
The General Assembly Committee on Representation played a role in making that happen when it did. They were concerned about the ahistoricity of conversations around Presbyterian self-structures in light of the work of the Mid-Councils Commission in 2011.
For over one hundred years there were all-Black governing bodies (presbyteries and synods) in the Presbyterian Church. A history of these structures was written and adopted by the 205th General Assembly in 1993. This document provides a rich understanding of the diverse expressions of Black Presbyterian council life in the PCUSA's predecessor denominations.
I commend it to you for study, during Black History Month and beyond.
The document was commissioned after reunion and just after completing the move of the denominational offices to Louisville, KY (from New York City and Atlanta). It's origin is referenced in the foreword of the report:
The 201st General Assembly (1989), in response to Overture 89-2, directed Moderator Joan Salmon Campbell “..to appoint a task force of not more than six [persons] to document the history and contributions of all-black presbyteries of the South” (Minutes, 1989, Part I, p. 589).
As the forward concludes and I wholeheartedly agree,
This publication only represents a beginning of a history that continually unfolds. Individuals, sessions, congregations, and governing bodies must continue to identify, gather, record, and deposit the work and witness of the persons, programs, and activities of the all-Black presbyteries and synods of the predecessor denominations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
As Blacks continue to pursue their history in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the church should also encourage in-depth histories and contributions of Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans and other ethnic or racial groups who have enriched this communion.
To this, the General Assembly Committee on Representation and I can only say, "Amen!" The wider church has a lot to learn from its particular histories and we hope that more of these experiences will be recorded and not silenced or disappeared. Knowing our Presbyterian witness and ourselves more fully, only prepares us for the complexities of being church now and in the future.