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In Spirit and Truth

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About this blog

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.

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February 21, 2013

Toward a More Full Self-Understanding

Learning our shared history, strengthens who we are together

In the summer of 2011, a historical document of the PCUSA became quietly accessible again with its online publication.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.

black text on white background: Celebrate Black HistoryFor 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 “ 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.).

It continues:

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.

Cover page for All-Black Governing Bodies report, center photo is of congregational leaders from Goodwill Presbyterian Church in Mayesville, SC in 1934

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.  

The report was originally published in 1996.  It is available in PDF format here and on the OGA website under publications.

Tags: all-black governing bodies, black history, gacor, mid councils commission, pcusa history

February 6, 2013

The Time Has Come!

On January 24, 2013, Leon Panetta, Defense Secretary made an astounding announcement that will  change the course of history for women in the military announcing the elimination of ground combat exclusion and suggesting a plan to move forward to eliminate all gender based barriers.  The  announcement, in my opinion, is a wake-up signal to the church and calls the church to also re-examine it's stance on women in ministry. Ironically, this announcement came between the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday celebration and the beginning of Black History Month.  What a more appropriate time to raise the issue ...

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January 2, 2013

Epiphany: a time for insight and revelation

As the horizon of human knowledge expands many traditions and words take on new meanings. Initially, the Epiphany (gr. epiphaneia - "manifestation") was a festival that was celebrated twelve days after Christmas in order to remember the birth of our Lord, his baptism in the Jordan River and the manifestation of his glory in the celebrations of the wedding at Cana. Die Reise der Heiligen Drei Konige (fragment) by Sasseta Giovanni (1432-1436), currently in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, USA. When in the fourth century, the Greek Church adopted the Roman date for celebrating Christmas ...

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November 14, 2012


As a teaching elder commissioner to the 220th General Assembly in Pittsburgh, I had a big time “wow” moment during a PowerPoint presentation given in plenary, “A Snapshot of Presbyterians.” (1.2M)  It was this shocking statistic:  of the 688 GA Commissioners, ZERO were under age 25.   ZERO.  So, how shall we increase participation of young adult commissioners at future general assemblies? General Assembly did take action on this issue.  The Review of Biennial Assemblies Committee’s item 04-01, Recommendation 5, (to create thirty-two young adult commissioners under age 36, 1 ruling elder ...

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September 21, 2012

So Much Change! Council Responsibilities and How They Can Sustain and Support Diversity and Full Participation

It's autumn and the General Assembly Committee on Representation (GACOR) prepares to convene for their first full committee meeting since the 220th General Assembly adjourned in July.  Later this week, they will welcome and orient 6 new members who join the 2 re-nominated members and 8 continuing members (a total of 16 persons, each residing in a different synod).  While new Constitutional language became effective on July 11, 2011, many mid councils (presbyteries and synods) waited to see what the assembly would decide regarding the Mid Council Commission report and recommendations (Item 05-12).  Synods are retained ...

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