As if taking their cue from the Sankofa bird — the avian symbol adopted by the Co-Moderators of the 224th GA (2020) that flies forward while reaching back — members of the Theology, Worship and Education (TWE) Committee embarked upon their work with the repair of historic harms and the PC(USA)’s future wholeness and health squarely in mind.
The concern emerged clearly in their first two items of business, TWE-02 and TWE-18, two sets of recommendations for the Award for Excellence in Theological Education, both of which the committee approved unanimously.
The Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty, senior director of Theological Education Funds Development for the Presbyterian Foundation, presented the recommendations of the Committee on Theological Education (COTE) to the committee, namely the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Francis Caldwell and the Rev. Dr. Darrell Likens Guder, the 2020 nominees who were referred by GA224 to this Assembly; and the late Rev. Dr. Gayraud S. Wilmore and the Rev. Dr. Frank M. Yamada, the nominees for 2022. Tribute videos of all four nominees are available for viewing here.
“We have an opportunity to look back but also to look forward by righting a historic wrong this year by honoring the Rev. Dr. Gayraud S. Wilmore, who should have been honored in his lifetime,” said Dr. Saundra Tracy, chairperson of COTE. “Highlighting the Rev. Dr. Frank M. Yamada lets us look toward the future.”
Wilmore, a leading voice in founding the Black theology movement and the only Black member on the drafting committee of the PC(USA)’s Confession of 1967, died in 2020.
“How sad it is that we recognize [Wilmore] after his death,” said Teaching Elder Commissioner RJ Kang, Presbytery of Chicago. “I hope we can do better recognizing our colleagues while they are still alive. I hope our denomination is headed in a better direction on this.”
The committee’s subsequent approval of action TWE-15, a recommendation that the Assembly confirm the election of Dr. Asa Lee as president of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, also passed unanimously. Lee, who assumed his duties as president on June 7, 2021, brought greetings to the committee via Zoom.
In recommending that the Assembly approve TWE-17, the confirmation of new trustees elected by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) theological institutions, the concern about the PC(USA)’s future was again raised.
“It’s appalling,” said Ruling Elder Commissioner Jeannie Dixon, Presbytery of Florida. “Our institutions need to do a better job of representation. They need to step it up.”
A comment was later added urging COTE “to discuss and make a priority the diversity and representation on the boards of trustees of related seminaries and to report back to the 226th General Assembly (2024).”
grant permission to theological institutions to celebrate the Lord’s Supper; and TWE-MIN-01, to receive COTE’s minutes.
For the afternoon session, Teaching Elder Commissioner Joseph Scrivner, Sheppards and Lapsley Presbytery, committee moderator, turned the moderatorial duties over to vice moderator Teaching Elder Commissioner Enikö Ferenczy, Muskingum Valley Presbytery.
The committee then welcomed via Zoom Ruling Elder Heath Rada, Moderator of the 221st GA (2014) and a member of the board of Auburn Theological Seminary, to speak to TWE-14, the proposed covenant between the PC(USA) and Auburn Theological Seminary.
Rada, in turn, introduced Auburn Seminary’s new president, the Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson, who also addressed the committee via Zoom. “The covenant with the PC(USA) was the strongest selling point for me,” Jordan-Simpson said in describing her call to Auburn. “As God leads, I will do all that I can to steward this relationship and ensure that this covenant remains strong.”
The action passed unanimously.
In introducing the next item of business, Tracy said that COTE’s work with Auburn helped prepare them for their conversations with San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS), which was acquired by the University of Redlands in 2019.
The Rev. Dr. Christopher Ocker — who has already joined COTE by a verbal agreement made in late 2021 — was invited to speak to the proposed covenant between SFTS and the PC(USA), outlined in TWE-16. Following Ocker’s remarks, Tracy added that the covenant “grew out of good faith but also very difficult conversations.”
“We agreed that COTE and SFTS would use their best efforts to encourage the GA225 to approve the covenant between the PC(USA) and SFTS,” said Tracy. “I’m here before you to use my best efforts.”
After several commissioners rose to express their enthusiasm and commend the “spirit of reconciliation” inherent in this action, it was approved unanimously.
In other business Monday afternoon:
- The committee voted 33–0 to recommend the Assembly’s approval of TWE-09, the report and recommendations from the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates as amended based on the advice and counsel of the Racial Equity Advocacy Committee and with comment.
- TWE-07, regarding the status of the University of Tulsa as a Presbyterian-related university, was disapproved 35–0 by the committee, since most of the concerns previously cited were addressed following the arrival of the university’s new president, according to Jeff Arnold, executive director of the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities. In recommending that the Assembly approve TWE-11, the list of related schools, colleges and universities, a comment was added to affirm the criteria approved by GA224 that will be used in the future determination of which institutions are Presbyterian-related.
- For TWE-10, calling for the approval of the institutional relationship between the PC(USA) and the historically Presbyterian racial ethnic colleges and universities, the committee welcomed leaders Lindsey Gilbert, the Menaul School; Kim Warner, the Presbyterian Pan American School; and Mark McCormick, Stillman College. The action was approved by a vote of 34–0. All expressed thanks to the PC(USA), especially for the financial support received through the denomination’s Christmas Joy Offering.
- TWE-INFO, COTE’s related theological institutional narrative reports, were accepted by a vote of 34–0, as was COTE’s agency summary.
“This was a real team effort with all of us involved,” Ferenczy said at the conclusion of the committee’s first day. “It’s amazing what we can do decently and in order.”