The first of 14 plenary sessions to be held Tuesday through Saturday came off practically without a hitch on Tuesday as commissioners to the 225th General Assembly took care of items of business brought by the Theology, Worship and Education Committee.
Co-Moderators the Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace and the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis opened with what’s traditionally known as The Romero Prayer, written by Bishop Ken Untener to honor the martyred Archbishop Óscar Romero of El Salvador. In part, the prayer says this: “We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.”
Commissioners’ first action was to remove six items from the consent agenda, leaving 127 other items remaining in the consent agenda for quick approval. Those items removed for later consideration were HSB-11, RGJ-07, RGJ-08, ECU-06, IMM-06 and ENV-04.
As they will during future plenaries, Ian Hall, the chief financial officer and chief operating officer of the PC(USA), A Corporation, and DeAmber Clopton, associate director of finance administration for the Office of the General Assembly, advised on how the items they’ll be considering will impact both per capita and mission budgets. Clopton said approving all items that have financial implications will boost per capita rates by 23 cents in 2023 and 22 cents in 2024. Similarly, if those items with mission budget implications are all approved, the impact will be nearly $590,000 in 2023 and about $453,000 in 2024, Hall said.
Presenting on behalf of the Theology, Worship and Education Committee were the committee’s moderator, the Rev. Joe Scrivner of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley, and its vice moderator, the Rev. Enikӧ Ferenczy of Muskingum Valley Presbytery.
The two leaders bookended their presentation with brief biographies of those honored with Excellence in Theological Education awards in 2020, the Rev. Dr. Lib Caldwell and the Rev. Dr. Darrell Guder, and in 2022, the Rev. Dr. Frank Yamada and, posthumously, the Rev. Gayraud Wilmore.
In between, commissioners approved a slate of items brought to the plenary session by the committee, including:
TWE-14, a covenant between the General Assembly and Auburn Theological Seminary. Commissioners heard from the seminary’s president, Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson, who said the covenant “weighed heavily in my decision” to accept the presidency last fall.
TWE-16, a covenant between the General Assembly and San Francisco Theological Seminary, which was acquired by the University of Redlands in 2019. The interim dean at SFTS, Dr. Christopher Ocker, told the 3,600 people who’ve studied at SFTS over the years, “We are amazed by you. We pray for your thriving. Please pray for us.”
TWE-15 confirmed the 2021 election of the Rev. Dr. Asa Lee as president of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. “We will continue to form folks in the Reformed tradition,” Lee told GA commissioners. PTS graduates “are far and wide and give us guidance in ways to serve. We look forward to our relationships with the PC(USA).”
TWE-05 involved amendments to the Directory for Worship. As the committee recommended, commissioners approved all but one.
TWE-08 would form a committee to write a new PC(USA) confession. The Rev. Amantha Barbee of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta said it’s time “for this great Church to confess our sin regarding our complicity in systemic racism. We are a confessional people, and the time is now, more than ever, to write this confession. The clear proclamation of the gospel is at stake.” The financial implication is about $40,000.