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Topics of interest to Clerks of Session, Session Moderators and others who are interested in Presbyterian local-church governance.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Report from GA: We Have a Moderator

NOTE: My posts from the General Assembly are mirrored on the New Jersey GA participants' Blog, "Walking, Running, Soaring in Hope."

It’s always a fascinating exercise to observe the election of a moderator at the General Assembly – particularly so in light of the national Presidential contest, whose relentless lack of civility has all the appeal of fingernails scratching across a blackboard.

We Presbyterians do so much better. Are there differences among us? Of course. But there’s a common value of unity that’s so much stronger. That gives me hope for the church.

I’ve watched a number of these question-and-answer sessions over the years, but I never tire of marveling how unpredictable the process is, and how it so often happens that front-runners emerge only after the Q&A has begun. Sometimes it’s one clear choice. Sometimes, as happened tonight, it’s two or three – which means several ballots. It’s all about thinking on one’s feet, being gracious, showing compassion, having theological integrity – and, most of all, displaying a love for the church that’s natural and in no way affected.

Symbolism is also important. Who the successful candidate is, demographically speaking, has an influence. If the person looks the way most commissioners would like the church of the future to look, that’s a significant – but by no means deciding – factor.

Even though there were several front-runners, we had four outstanding candidates. Any one of them could have done the job admirably. That’s usually the case. People just don’t get the endorsement of their presbyteries to try for this crazy job if they don’t have a lot going for them.

I always feel for the unsuccessful candidates. Some years back, one of them made up a bunch of campaign-style buttons that said “Member of the Almost-But-Not-Quite Moderators Club,” and handed them out at General Assemblies for a few years after that. They’re a distinguished bunch, and I always feel sad that we as a denomination don't find a way to tap more of them for other national leadership positions.

One of the popular parlor games at the General Assembly is to speculate on how each Assembly’s choice of moderator may or may not be a bellwether of which way the Assembly will go on the big issues before it. Neal is clearly in favor of making some space in the church for those who would like to perform weddings for same-gender couples (at least in the several states where this is legal). I wouldn't read too much into that. I’m not so sure this is the reason he got elected. It’s more about what he symbolizes: the younger, more multicultural church we Presbyterians wish we were.

They say if wishes were horses, beggars would ride, but my wish is that Neal’s moderatorial tenure will be more than just a symbolic expression of our desire to be well-positioned to serve the needs of 21st Century America – demographically speaking, the country we actually are and are becoming.

Here are the vote totals, in case anyone’s interested in the nitty-gritty...

Robert Austell - 26%
Randy Branson - 9%
Susan Krummel - 25%
Neal Presa - 38%

Austell - 27%
Branson - 4%
Krummel - 27%
Presa - 42%

Austell - 25%
Branson - 2%
Krummel - 26%
Presa - 47%

Austell - 22%
Branson - 2%
Krummel - 24%
Presa - 52%

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