Vision, technology and time management skills and, of course, leadership in a time of pandemic and protesting were among the skill sets examined Wednesday during a Presbyterian Outlook forum starring the three sets of candidates for Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly — Moon Lee and the Rev. Sandra Hedrick, the Rev. Greg Bentley and Elona Street-Stewart, and Arthur Fullerton and the Rev. Marie Mainard O’Connell.
Commissioners will elect the new co-moderators during the opening night of the online assembly June 19. Watch here or here beginning at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. The assembly’s initial plenary begins at 7 p.m.
A bit of biographical data on the three slates of candidates: Lee is a ruling elder from the Presbytery of the Northwest Coast, and Hedrick is pastor of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida, and stated clerk for the Presbytery of St. Augustine. Bentley is the pastor of Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama, and Street-Stewart is executive of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies. Fullerton is a fundraiser in Albany, New York, and O’Connell is pastor of Park Hill Presbyterian Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
Asked by Presbyterian Outlook Editor the Rev. Jill Duffield to talk about their experience with technology and their views on its use in the local church, Street-Stewart called it “a tool we find essential, not something we can avoid.” “It’s a great supplement, but a terrible substitute,” Bentley said. Hedrick said she loves using technology for worship and meeting people joining the service from a great distance. Lee said technology “makes me humble.” O’Connell said she’s grateful it gives the church “so much more accessibility and reach.” Fullerton said his church started adding online worship services two years ago, and that technology is “part of the solution for how we build the future church, and I am committed to that.”
The three sets of candidates also discussed how they’ve responded to the pandemic in their communities. Hedrick said the virus’ impact has not been as significant in northeast Florida as in other communities, “but many jobs were lost, and there has been loneliness.” Fullerton said three people he knows have died from coronavirus, and O’Connell said her church started a fund to “alleviate family stress.” In her synod, which spans six states, Street-Stewart said Presbyterians have brought financial, technical and medical support to those in need. Bentley said members and friends of the church he serves, “an already generous congregation, has become more generous.”
Candidates were asked what they would tell an unchurched young person about the PC(USA).
“First, I see you,” Street-Stewart said. “We see you and what you’re doing. It’s important to recognize.” “So far as I know, they are not against the church, yet they are seeking spiritual guidance,” Lee said. “I love my church, but before I talk about the Presbyterian Church I want to talk about Jesus first.” Hedrick said she tells newcomers to her church’s youth group they are welcome and that most Presbyterian churches are inclusive. “I would be talking to my younger self,” O’Connell said. “I’d tell her what I found in the PC(USA) … If you’re mad at the church, that’s a wonderful emotion. It means you care.” “We are a church about Jesus,” Fullerton said. “If we don’t talk about Jesus, what are we doing here?”
On managing time commitments over the two years of their service commitment as Co-Moderator, Fullerton said technology will allow the moderators to make appearances across the nation every day. “The only way my life works,” O’Connell said, “is boundaries and good time management.” Bentley said he’s a strong proponent of “get somebody who’s already doing something” to take on even more responsibility. “To me, this is the most exciting and joyful thing I have ever been asked to do,” Hedrick said. “When it’s joyful to you, it doesn’t seem like work.” Lee said he’s used to having three jobs at a time — teaching, clinical work and church work. “I like to meet people and I like to talk to them,” he said.
Duffield concluded the 90-minute forum by asking each of the six what brings them joy.
“Living sober for 25 years, staying sober and being debt free for 20 years gives me the freedom to do social justice and other work that’s important,” Fullerton said.
“My kids 100 percent bring me joy,” said O’Connell, as does “helping others find their passion” and connecting people to someone who can help them.
As a mother and grandmother, “joy is being part of a village to help raise a child,” Street-Stewart said.
Bentley said he sends a pastoral letter at the start of each year inviting parishioners to take a few minutes to read Scripture and pray each day. “It works when you work it,” he said.
“Real joy is knowing God through Jesus Christ,” Lee said. “Amazing grace has sustained my joy. By grace I am standing here with you.”
Hedrick named nature, travel, health and grandchildren, among others. “But what comes to mind,” she said, “is when I see God’s grace working in someone’s life.”
Duffield called the six candidates “an embarrassment of riches” and thanked them for their willingness to serve. “It’s inspiring and hopeful,” she said.