Everything about the year 2020 has been different for churches and presbyteries and the way they conduct business. There have been a lot of firsts, including an online General Assembly and digital worship services and presbytery meetings.
As moderators gathered virtually last weekend for the Moderators’ Conference, they received some tips and suggestions on how to make the meetings they manage more meaningful and Spirit-filled.
One of the final sessions was led by Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018), and the Reverend Dr. George Goodrich, co-general presbyter of the Presbytery of Yellowstone.
Both said the pandemic has made it “a little unnerving” to moderate at this particular time, but also an opportunity for meaningful work.
“There are three things I learned from my time as a moderator: you are never alone in this ministry, but part of a team. The world calls the equipped, but God equips the one that God calls,” said Cintrón-Olivieri. “There is no way one can serve in this role without being intentional about preparation. It can be stressful and heavy, but it is important to be as prepared as we can be.”
When asked to list the qualities of moderators, attendees listed several:
- Non-anxious presence
- Listening skills
- Sense of humor
“You’re the one to lead the meeting. Be culturally sensitive and be aware of those that are in the room. It is important to be impartial, fair, and trusted,” Cintrón-Olivieri added. “Read the room well and be able to follow the process to decision. You may even sense that the body is not ready to make a decision yet.”
Cintrón-Olivieri told the group to be a stabilizing presence and be prepared to serve in the digital world in which we now live.
Goodrich expanded on the need to be spiritual moderators, being focused on the work but also on the spiritual realm.
“Most of us just want to get through a presbytery meeting, but in reality, what we do there really can echo throughout eternity,” he said. “The church is God’s church, the work is God’s work, and the glory is God’s glory. That is the unifying force in this age of technology that could divide us fast.”
Goodrich added that moderators, presbytery leaders, and pastors are servants of Christ and the stewards of the mysteries of God. He says the church needs to go back to the foundations and learn what the church really is.
“This is a blessed opportunity. You are opening your lives to be used in a new way and in ways you may not expect,” he said. “Look back at Scripture before each meeting and focus on what is going on at the presbytery rather than just what is seen and heard.”
Other suggestions for being effective moderators during this time of pandemic include:
- Cultivating spiritual practices
- Leading by example
- Being intentional in confession and prayer
- Taking prayer walks
Goodrich says his presbytery leaders prepare for meetings with one day of fasting.
“When we fast, we signal to God and to ourselves that as we depend on food to survive, we depend on God for God’s work,” he said. “Fasting prepares our minds and ears to what God wants us to place focus.”
In a time of Zoom meetings, Cintrón-Olivieri reminds moderators to be prepared technically.
“There are digital considerations. Remember logistics,” she said. “It is important that technical issues not hinder you from being all-in for the meeting. This is true during in-person meetings as well. Be aware of accommodations, closed captioning, and interpretation. Speak slower if needed so that your words are interpreted correctly.”
The three-day conference concluded with feedback (both written and spoken) from attendees and final thoughts from the Co-Moderators of the 224th General Assembly (2020), the Reverend Greg Bentley and Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart.
“God has called me with my particular gifts to this role in this time, and I need to stand confident in how God has been preparing me,” wrote Laura Hudson of the Presbytery of Eastern Oregon.
“I’m looking forward to amplifying the voices that have come before me and have been ignored because of demographics,” said Greg Bolt of the Presbytery of Twin Cities.
The Co-Moderators ended the meeting emphasizing the relevance of this year’s online gathering.
“We’ve heard a lot about being a new church in a new way at a time such as this,” said Street-Stewart. “We wanted to make sure that this event focused on both the viral pandemic and systemic oppression we are facing.”
Bentley said the church, as a whole, should review how it conducts business and determine the best way to operate under the circumstances the world is in now.
“What’s the best way to discern what God is up to? Decision-making is about power. Discernment is about aligning ourselves with God’s will,” he said. “We haven’t put enough emphasis on discernment and we should shift our effort toward that.”
Nearly 200 mid council moderators and vice moderators took part in the three-day online conference this past weekend.