There is more to being a moderator in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) than simply running a meeting. The second day of the annual Moderators’ Conference took up that topic on Friday.
More than 140 people are taking part in the conference this weekend. Many will be assuming roles as moderator or vice moderator for the first time in their presbyteries. Leaders in the Office of the General Assembly’s Mid Council Ministries led discussion around the roles and responsibilities of moderator and how to navigate meetings dealing with highly charged issues.
The forum also provided opportunities for attendees to provide their own feedback.
“It is evident that God in timing, has allowed each of us to experience opportunities that we might not have seen or had before,’’ said attendee Neal McCulloch.
“Moderators have an opportunity to be a positive implementer of diversity and inclusivity, being committed to demonstrating the beloved kin-dom of God,” wrote David Thornton.
Others offered their own interpretation of the moderator’s role:
- A provider of vision and leadership
- To meet with congregations to honor achievements, anniversaries, celebrations
- A patient presence and support to ensure all voices are heard during meetings
- To challenge churches to participate in initiatives identified by the presbyter
- To serve as the morale officer for the presbytery, setting the tone and encouraging/cheering folks on
- To be a visible presence in the lives of the congregation
- To listen and be present in times of joy and need
- To ensure there is inclusion during meetings and set the tone for those meetings
- To be a non-anxious presence and source of knowledge during the transition of a new stated clerk and presbytery executive
“As moderator, you have to acknowledge there are different ways of looking at things and invite everyone to listen to various perspectives and take that into account as they consider an issue,” said attendee Patricia Terry. “In the end, the moderator moves people toward one accord.”
“Don’t let one or two voices dominate the conversation,” said Bob Parker. “Slow down the discussion, stop and pray before it gets too heated.”
“Spiritual maturity is essential,” said the Rev. Greg Bentley, Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly of the PC(USA) (2020). “Parliamentary astuteness, although important, is not a substitute for spiritual maturity.”
The Rev. Jihyun Oh, Director of Mid Council Ministries in OGA, led the discussion around conversational intelligence and how that can help manage relationships and navigate difficult meetings.
“In order to do relationship management, we need to grow curiosity and compassion for one another, especially as we are called to be a communion together, not just a loosely affiliated group that has shared interest,” she said. “We need to maintain that relationship.”
The conference opened on Friday with worship, led by the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Preaching from Matthew 25, Moffett urged churches to care for those who have less.
“Jesus identifying with the least of these is surprising for many today because the term often carries a negative connotation,” she said. “Those who are left out, rejected and neglected, those on the bottom of the human social pyramid depend on charity to meet their basic needs. They are dismissed by color, creed, sexuality, or some other factor that makes other people think less of them. There is social distancing, not because of COVID, but because they are seen as less.”
Moffett pointed to U.S. reaction to the influx of immigrants into this country.
“People flee poverty, ruthless governments, earthquakes, floods, and tornadoes. Human siblings come here desperate for relief, kindness, compassion, a safe place to escape the butchery and bloodbath of their land,” she said. “They are denied entrance, families are split up at the border like a deck of cards. Lord, when did we see you a stranger and invite you in?”
Moffett also pointed to the criticism the PC(USA) and other denominations have received for supporting groups like Black Lives Matter.
“In this season, somebody greater than Santa is coming to town. Jesus has come and God is with the least of these,” she said. “We have been called to make those who sit on the margins of society to be the center of our ministry.”
The Office of the General Assembly hosts the conference each year to bring moderators and vice moderators together for training, networking and worship. The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented the group from gathering in person since 2019.
The conference concludes Saturday evening with a question-and answer-session with Elona Street-Stewart and Bentley followed by closing worship.