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

Friday, October 18, 2013

Seek the Welfare of the City

I've just returned from the PC(USA) Fall Polity Conference, the annual national gathering of Executive Presbyters and Stated Clerks. It was a rich time.

As is the usual practice, we met in the city where the next General Assembly will take place, which happens to be Detroit. The Assembly will meet there from June 14-21, 2014.

Often, the location of the Assembly has an influence on the experience of the commissioners - and, indirectly, on the outcome. It's hard to predict what this will look like in advance, but the "feel" of the host city is something all participants experience.

This time around, the impact of the location is becoming clear well in advance. Tom Hay, a member of the national staff who is in charge of working with the Local Arrangements Committee, mentioned in a presentation a number of anxious communications he has received, questioning whether Detroit is a safe place to meet.

It's no secret that Detroit is a failed city. The municipal government has filed for bankruptcy, and there have been sensationalistic news reports about crime, rampant drug abuse, non-functioning street lights and even packs of wild dogs roaming the streets.

The location of this Assembly was established a number of years ago, before the most recent round of urban problems had become apparent.

Having seen the downtown area around the Convention Center, though, I'm very comfortable in recommending it to commissioners and visitors. While city officials may have failed to provide essential services in some neighborhoods, this part of town, near the General Motors headquarters, is clearly their showpiece, and they have made sure visitors can move around that part of the city freely and with confidence - as much as in the downtown of any other major city. The People Mover - a monorail train that runs in a loop, connecting the principal downtown locations, is especially convenient (it only runs in one direction, but the loop is fairly short). I hope they have the capacity to put additional trains on the tracks during the Assembly's "rush hours," as hundreds of commissioners and visitors travel between their hotels and the convention center.

Several presenters at the conference made reference to the famous line of Jeremiah 29:7: "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." With comfortable downtown hotels and a state-of-the-art convention center, the Assembly is hardly an exile experience, but the rest of the verse holds true. "Seeking the welfare of the city" is very much a part of the church's mission. If nothing else, the infusion of cash into the local economy may aid the city's recovery in some small way.

Is it too much to hope for that, as a result of the Detroit location, the 221st General Assembly will have a pronounced missional focus?