General Assembly Moderator Heath Rada has become well-known to Presbyterians for his commitment to reconciliation within the deeply conflicted Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). So it is no surprise that his invitations to three diverse PC(USA) pastors to preach at next summer’s 222nd General Assembly (2016) reflect the wide spectrum of the denomination.
As is customary for Moderators, Rada will preach at the assembly’s opening worship service in Portland, Oregon, on Saturday, June 18. The three pastors he has invited to preach on other days of the June 18–25 assembly are his Vice Moderator, the Reverend Larissa Kwong Abazia, director of church relations at Princeton Theological Seminary; the Reverend Alice Ridgill, pastor of New Faith Presbyterian Church in Greenwood, S.C.; and the Reverend Jerry Andrews, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in San Diego, Calif.
“They [the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly] are really good about letting the Moderator pick the assembly preachers,” Rada said. “The three I’ve invited represent where we are as a church. The theme is reconciliation and I’ve asked them to address that from their own unique perspectives.”
Kwong Abazia, Rada said, “is a beloved Vice Moderator known for her respect and caring for everyone.” Moreover, he added, “this denomination has cared so much for her during her cancer battle that I wanted to give her the chance to speak directly to them.”
In choosing Andrews—a longtime leader in conservative-evangelical circles and chair of the Theological Task Force of The Fellowship Community—Rada said, “I’ve had the pleasure to be with Jerry on a number of recent occasions. If I am saying we want everyone to be part of this denomination and love each other despite our differences, then I want the church to hear Jerry Andrews.”
Ridgill, African American pastor of the small but rapidly growing, multicultural New Faith Church, fulfills what Rada said was “a constant plea that we include small church pastors in the GA preaching line-up.” New Faith “is on fire,” Rada added, “because of Alice’s leadership and extraordinary preaching skills.
The Reverend Tom Hay, director of assembly operations for the Office of the General Assembly, added that the Ecumenical Service of Worship will be held on its traditional Wednesday morning (June 22) and the popular practice of inviting assembly-goers to attend Sunday worship in local PC(USA) congregations will continue in Portland.
A new feature for GA222 will occur on assembly committee meeting days (Monday and Tuesday), when Bible study/worship will be conducted in the committee meetings to start each day. Those sessions will be led by Richard Boyce and Sung Hee Chang of the Charlotte campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary.
“They will introduce the Bible study on Sunday and prepare a study guide for the committees’ use,” Hay said. “We felt that Bible study was a valuable addition that will build community and set the biblical and theological groundwork for the committees’ work.”
All worship services will be held in the assembly plenary hall and will include the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, Hay said, “to impress upon assembly-goers that all that the assembly does is the worshipful work of discernment of the will of Jesus Christ.”