Meet Loretta Baker-Yates. Many here at the 222nd General Assembly(2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) hope to do so. She’s somewhat famous now, as the lady who rode a bus for three days to get here from Sumter, South Carolina.
“When I found out about the General Assembly,” she says, “I was on fire to get here.”
The story of how she made it across the country is an example of the efforts one small congregation will make to be connected to the larger church.
Here’s the story:
When Baker-Yates and her husband married, two years ago, they returned to their Presbyterian roots and joined New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Sumter, a small congregation that soon tapped her to be a deacon.
Then the church secretary quit, and she became the church secretary.
A year later, the congregation elected her as a ruling elder. Then, almost immediately, it elected her as clerk of session.
“The first thing I did was go home, phone up the Presbytery of New Harmony office and ask for a handbook, since I didn’t know one thing about it,” she said. “The presbytery staff has been incredibly helpful.”
Next she enrolled in a Presbyterian Lay Ministry Academy, where mentors encouraged her to get more involved by witnessing a General Assembly. “Being in that class and learning about the governing of the church started my quest to get here and learn more,” Baker-Yates says.
The presbytery gave her a scholarship. The congregation said it would cover her meals.
She got on the bus.
“The General Assembly is absolutely awesome,” she says, her face lighting up with joy, and awe. “Heath Rada (Moderator of the 221st General Assembly) came to our presbytery in May. When I got here, he was the first person I saw. He remembered me. I met someone named Gradye Parsons on an elevator. He asked all about me. And then I found out he’s the Stated Clerk. It is like a big family here.”
She says she thinks all ruling elders and clerks of session should attend a GA, when possible, to get a better understanding of their responsibilities.
Now, Baker-Yates says, she can’t wait to go back home: “I feel like everything has changed for me by being here. I am on an all- time high to get my church to get out of their box and expand their mission.”
She says she won’t mind the bus ride back home at all.
Already she has embarked on a new quest – to make it to the 223rd GA in St. Louis in 2018.