The Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace and the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis say they’ve been buoyed by prayer and other health-producing practices during a grueling week of General Assembly 225 plenaries that will come to an end Saturday.
“I will sleep so hard when it’s over!” Starling-Louis told Fred Tangeman, the host of GA Live, during the program’s final broadcast just minutes before moderating the 15th plenary Saturday morning. “I have a lot of gratitude and hope, staying in the space God is having us co-create."
"Given the 12-hour sessions and the complexity behind the scenes, I’m doing well and am grateful for the opportunity and the privilege of this space,” Santana-Grace said.
Watch Tangeman’s conversation with the Co-Moderators here.
Tangeman asked the Co-Moderators — Santana-Grace is executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Philadelphia while Starling-Louis is pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina — how in their view commissioners and advisory delegates are holding up through the long plenary process.
“We don’t have access to Zoom” while moderating the plenaries, Starling-Louis replied. “I’m trusting my heart. A lot of times it’s reading the commissioner or delegate in front of me” who’s speaking to the assembly. “This is a real person’s story,” Starling-Louis added, noting the Co-Moderators have used the phrase “we are a body of actual bodies” more than once.
“I trust these aren’t just heads or Book of Orders before us. We are real people giving of our time and energy,” Starling-Louis said. “It takes physical and spiritual energy.”
“We are sensing imperfectly this community of 500 people out there,” Santana-Grace said. “We hear, we feel, and we sense, but in this modality, it’s challenging. We don’t see what others are seeing.”
“I really do trust in a God who will carry us so we can be bold and courageous,” Santana-Grace said. “I am a physical person, and I have not missed a day of working out [during her time in Louisville] even if it meant getting up an hour early.”
Starling-Louis has her family in town, and they grab a quick meal together as her schedule allows. “Wherever they are is home,” she said. Enjoying “taco bar with the kiddos is a reminder that this is just a season when it comes to the intensity … It’s the weaving in and out we are all doing. That happens at GA no matter the setting. And music and dancing,” she added with a smile, a reference that the Co-Moderators have been caught from time to time in both acts while, for example, waiting for a voting session to end. “They are the gifts of the Spirit that are beautiful.”
Tangeman said he wondered how the Co-Moderators have managed “the push and pull” of “bringing in perspectives the assembly needs to hear from.”
The Co-Moderators try their best, Starling-Louis said, “to respond to what’s in front of us” when selecting the next speaker. “People are sharing in real time,” she said, recalling that someone said recently, “It’s not a road trip if you haven’t had to circle around a few times.”
“We don’t know where God is taking us,” Starling-Louis said. “There is a gift in being honest.”
“We said up front there will be mistakes,” Santana-Grace said. “The moments we have had to circle back were when people felt like they had been shut out or shut down — we do the best we can.”
During their initial appearance on GA Live, the Co-Moderators discussed their theme “Unbound We Thrive.” “What do those words mean now?” Tangeman asked them.
“Those words are so foundational to my faith,” Santana-Grace said. “I think it reinforces that these faithful saints are trying desperately to be lights in the world. Those words embody who we are as people of faith.”
“I’m thinking about that moment we had [A Litany of Repentance, which commissioners read together on July 6],” Starling-Louis said. “There is something about acknowledging the brokenness that is central to thriving … There is joy knowing that there is nothing God can’t free us from, seeing what it is to be at a table together and no one is fighting to get to the table. There is indeed room enough for all. Those moments are more lucid in this walk through the GA process.”
“This assembly,” Santana-Grace said, “is daring to leave some things behind. It’s about thriving in our call.”
Signing off his 20th and final GA Live, Tangeman said he’s been “impressed and humbled by the work so many are doing,” including commissioners, advisory delegates and volunteers.
“From lament to hope,” Tangeman said, citing the GA225 theme, “it’s been inspiring to witness.”