Two South Carolina pastors will stand for co-moderators of the 226th General Assembly, set for June 25 through July 4, with plenary sessions to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, and committee work online.

The Rev. CeCe Armstrong, associate pastor of St. James Presbyterian Church on James Island in Charleston, part of Charleston-Atlantic Presbytery, and the Rev. Tony Larson, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Surfside Beach, which is in the Presbytery of New Harmony, have announced they will stand together.

“The Holy Spirit has been at work through the voices of our colleagues and mentors who have given us holy ‘nudges’ to offer ourselves for service by standing for this office,” the two pastors said in a statement. “In prayerful conversation, consultation and investigation, we have discerned that together we are willing to stand.”

The two pastors said their conversation began with key staff members of the Presbytery of New Harmony, including New Harmony’s executive presbyter, the Rev. Gavin Meek, and its associate for pastoral concerns, the Rev. Dr. Ella Busby.

The Rev. CeCe Armstrong

The Rev. CeCe Armstrong

The Rev. Tony Larson

The Rev. Tony Larson

Recently, Larson began serving as moderator of the presbytery. Meek called him one day last month to discuss an upcoming meeting agenda. Toward the end of the conversation, Meek told Larson he had one more thing to discuss: “I think you should stand for co-moderator of the General Assembly,” Meek told a surprised Larson.

You have enough experience in ministry, Meek told him. You’ve got polity skills and you have served the presbytery through its Committee on Ministry. “You have vision and energy that would serve [the PC(USA)] well,” Meek said, adding he and Busby had a person in mind “we think might stand with you.”

“That call came — oh, my stars!” Armstrong recalled. “I have undying respect for the Rev. Dr. Ella Busby, an iconic African American clergywoman.”

“I’m going to ask you to pray,” Busby told Armstrong. “I think you will like him, and I endorse him. You have faith and skills the denomination can benefit from.”

“Pray fast!” Busby urged Armstrong. “We need to make some deadlines.”

A week later, Busby had only one question for Armstrong: “What did the Lord say?”

That “God speaks through people I admire,” Armstrong told her. “[Busby] told me, ‘If God is saying this, I’m going to introduce you to him.’”

“We found time to have a phone conversation. We shard our experiences in ministry, our vision for the church and our theological perspective,” Larson said. “That began this work of prayerful conversation with one another, with God and others who have served in the role.”

“It all happened in the month of February!” Armstrong said.

Their vision is wrapped in helping Presbyterians “recognize who their neighbor is,” Armstrong said, while also “training their replacements” as older Presbyterians age out of leadership positions. “We are the church, but we won’t always be here,” she said. “How do we train those who will replace us?”

Trinity Presbyterian Church features “a vibrant group of older adults,” Larson said. Many Trinity members moved to Surfside Beach during their retirement years. “The church has to be a place that connects them to the community and introduces them to the neighborhood.”

“That’s part of my vision for the church in the 21st century, a time of great division in many ways,” he said.

When Armstrong first came to St. James, she moved in with a couple because of housing limitations. Her mother “was preparing to leave this life, and so she selected this set of parents for me,” Armstrong said. When Armstrong told this couple what she and Larson were discerning, the husband advised her that “If you are going with God, then trust God will be with you whatever that looks like.”

The senior pastor at St. James, the Rev. Dr. Brian Henderson, put it even more succinctly: “It’s about time!” When Armstrong told the session, they prayed for her and told her, “Do you know what it means for this congregation?”

“They’re already preparing,” Armstrong said. “Without their endorsement I would do nothing.”

An endorsement from both presbyteries, which are adjacent, is expected soon. “Each of our presbyteries has a story to tell about teaming up for a shared witness to Jesus Christ,” Larson said.

Larson shared the news with the Trinity congregation on Sunday. “They don’t get on their feet very often unless told to by an asterisk in the bulletin,” he said with a smile, but they did when they heard his news. “There were a lot of ‘God be with yous’” expressed when Larson shook people’s hands after worship. “There’s definitely some excitement.”

“I suspect the biggest challenge right now is there is a heaviness in our political arena,” Armstrong said. Even though the PC(USA) “is heavy laden with words and policies, we are a visual denomination” as well, Armstrong said. She expects “people will take in our visual presentation” with one candidate being a Black female, and the other a white male.

Larson said he’s been clear with Trinity’s session and the congregation that “the vision of the kingdom is broad and expansive and inclusive.”

“I think that’s a message that resonates with people here, and I hope that finds resonance in the larger church,” he said. While they were discerning their call to stand as co-moderators, “We talked about alignment in our discernment,” including gifts and skills and shared vision, he said, “and that’s true for the larger church.”

“Part of the work is to seek a vision of alignment, trusting God that even when there are differences, Christ intends healing, wholeness, reconciliation and grace,” Larson said.

“We just connected in February, and yet we are very certain this was a God call,” Armstrong said. “We bring what we have, but we know God provided it in the first place.”

“Neither had it on our radar a month ago,” Larson said. “To get to know one another and hear these affirmations has been a joy.”

Last fall, the Rev. Dr. Marian McClure Taylor announced she will stand as Co-Moderator with an announcement expected soon on the person she'll be standing with.