The view of the Portland skyline was sublime, but they weren’t there for the view. The circulating hors d’oeuvres were tasty, but they weren’t there for the snacks.
They were there – hundreds of people waiting in a monster reception line at the Portland Convention Center – to greet the new Co-Moderators of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
In a historic first, the 222nd General Assembly (2016) overwhelmingly elected Jan Edmiston, a presbytery executive from Chicago, and Denise Anderson of National Capital Presbytery as co-moderators Saturday evening.
Sunday’s reception was a chance for church members to wish them well.
“This is the first time, ever, that I’ve been truly excited about the church,” said Robert Lyons, a Young Adult Advisory Delegate from Prospect Hill Presbytery, who waited along with other YAADs equally eager to express their enthusiastic support for the co-moderators.
“They both are so dynamic, energetic, dedicated,” Lyons said. “It’s a more youthful perspective.”
Gigi Goshorn, the YAAD from Lake Michigan Presbytery, was impressed by the evident friendship between the two women. “Their relationship looks like it will last through a long journey,” she said. “It’s clear that each of them could have done this by themselves, but they have chosen to do it together. They are able to be separate, but also in partnership.”
McCain Walker, the YAAD from South Alabama, was happy to have been a part of an historic election – of the very first co-moderators, both women. “They will be a powerful role model to younger women in the church,” he said.
The YAADs’ enthusiasm impressed Don Brown, a teaching elder commissioner from Lehigh Presbytery, who noted that YAADS had led the way for the General Assembly, casting their advisory votes three-to-one in favor of Anderson and Edmiston just before the commissioners voted.
“The YAADs need to understand the assembly followed their advice, which contributed to the high total for Denise and Jan,” Brown said.
Tim Dooner, a teaching elder commissioner also from Lehigh Presbytery, wanted to look past the election to the future. “They have both written in ways that are prophetic,” he said, “and now their fingers are on the pulse of local churches and their struggles.” He said he appreciated the graciousness of the election, including standing ovations for all of the candidates, in stark contrast to the acrimony of the national election season.
Members of presbytery and synod staffs also were eager to weigh in on the prospects for the co-moderators.
“Both women are signs of a new diversity,” said Susan Wonderland, transitional executive for the Synod of the Trinity. “It’s a sign of hope that the denomination is willing to elect people who will take on some of the toughest issues of our day.” Mary Gaut, interim executive in Baltimore Presbytery, was glad to see the co-moderators’ vision for the future, and their energetic synergy. “I am impressed with their willingness to take on deeply rooted institutional ‘isms’ of every brand, and to bring diverse people to the same table.”
Dianna Wright, associate presbyter for Salem Presbytery, found the entire election process inspiring. “I think the church has made a turn,” she said. “This is about relationships, rather than fighting with each other. We finally have a chance to take charge of our own identity, rather than allowing voices that want to tear us apart have the upper hand.”
Cheryl Barnes, a teaching elder commissioner from Northeast Georgia, summed up the upbeat mood in the crowd. “In this election, the role of women in leadership was confirmed by the Holy Spirit and the vote of the people,” she said. “This dismissed the idea that women’s role is to be supportive.”
Barnes said she is glad that her 19-year-old daughter will have role models in the two women, one younger, one older, on white, one African-American, working together.
“I am extremely proud of this denomination,” she said. “Today I am proud to be a Presbyterian.”