In Spirit and Truth seeks to encourage discussion and deeper consideration of representation issues in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It is hoped entries will prompt reflection and dialogue on aspects of expanding representation and supporting full participation in the PCUSA, especially at the assembly and mid council levels.
This blog will occasionally feature content written by one of the fourteen members of the General Assembly Committee on Representation, who are church members, ministers (teaching elders) and ruling elders from across the country, as well as links and articles of particular interest. The ministries of advising, consulting, advocating, promoting inclusion, reviewing and recommending actions 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 sister committees on representation at lower councils throughout the church.
Any views or opinions presented in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. or the General Assembly Committee on Representation.
Author/Facilitator Molly Casteel is an Assistant Stated Clerk and the Manager for Equity and Representation in the Office of the General Assembly. 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.
About ten years ago, while I was serving on the Young Adult Consultation of the PCUSA – they needed a “snow-capped mountain,” or as we are sometimes called, “Q-tip” Christians – to maintain some age diversity – I had the pleasure of having dinner one evening, I think it was in Philadelphia, with Neal Presa** – one of our Moderator candidates.
We were talking about the struggles of our denomination to become more inclusive and culturally proficient and Neal said to me, “What you say on the floor of a Presbytery meeting is automatically heard and respected simply because you are an older white male while I could say the exact same thing and yet I will be heard differently and not taken with equal seriousness.”
That conversation has changed my calling and ministry perspective. White privilege is a topic those of us white folks in the PCUSA don’t encounter much and isn’t on our radar. We are about 92% of the PCUSA and most of us are older. Until I began to see our advantage just by being white, until I did some serious study of theology written by folks of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, until my calling led me to work more directly with black folk and Latino-Hispanic folks, I never questioned or challenged myself how the gospel calls us to reach out to folks on the margins, poor folks trapped in an endless cycle of low-paying jobs, single parent families-many without fathers.
Currently, I serve a very small, ICU, all white, mostly older church in a transitional neighborhood where I have started a community garden; I also am volunteer chaplain for a mostly black-Latino football team in a tough section of Greenville, SC, and also mentor a soon to be 15-year-old black teenager who was arrested the last day of school for possession and distribution of weed – those funny cigarettes that many of us 60’s boomers were known to sample.
If the PCUSA, which I know and love, is to truly learn a different way of being church in the 21st century, if we are going to grow deep and wide, then us white folks need to see and understand how “white privilege impedes our healing and transformation because it requires some in the church to ‘disadvantage ourselves’ in order to advantage others. Although this seems hard, this is the work of the Gospel demonstrated in Jesus Christ.”
I close with a brief reflection I wrote after visiting my young teenage mentee in prison…
The rusty-orange colored steel door
anonymously slides across the entrance
into the “holding pen,”
there we are, a baker’s dozen
of parents, guardians, and a minister-mentor,
a communion of saints and sinners
for the next click-buzz
of yet another automatic door
controlled by some mysterious, unknown authority
who lets us enter the plate-glass barriered visitation space
where inmates and Sunday-sabbath guests
see face-to face
but talk through muffled, recorded 30 minute time blocks.
I stand across from a fourteen year young black youth
locked up in detention
for the first time-
for possession and selling
quick money in a drug-infested world
I wonder where this turning point will lead
to a life of confinement-or-
to fulfillment of hopeful dreams
I try to understand his everyday world
of incarcerated dad,
struggling, defensive single-parent mom
the ever-present temptation of internet
peers eager to supply missing stuff
that substitute for community and home
Can he envision a different tomorrow?
white-world, black- world
so close together
yet so far apart
but so different options.
I send him a letter before our next meeting
a tough but consistent presence
Will the Spirit-wind seed of faith
somehow find an open heart-space
and take root
and yield a harvest of hope?
Climate for Change Task Force Testimony to the 220th General Assembly (2012), Social Justice Issues Committee (#11) by the Rev. Dr. Albert (Al) Masters, III, pastor of John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and a member of the Task Force presenting its report.
**Neal Presa was elected as the Moderator of the 220th General Assembly (2012) on June 30th.
Privilege, Power and Policy: The Church as Employer, the report of the Climate for Change Task Force to the 220th General Assembly (2012) was adopted with slight amendment suggested by the task force itself. The report may be found here until it is prepared for final publication. The GACOR commends it to you and gives thanks to those who served on the task force and to the assembly for adopting its work.