Amazed by the Call to Serve as GA Commissioner


I have served as a teaching elder — minister — in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for thirty-four years. During this time, I had never felt called to serve as a commissioner to the General Assembly, the now biannual national authoritative gathering of my church.

Even the year I served as Moderator of my presbytery, 1987, I asked the Vice-Moderator to go to the assembly in Biloxi in my stead as I had at home two toddlers and a physician spouse trying to start a private practice. I could not carve away the time it took to prepare for the work of the assembly and attend that intense week.

For many different reasons that I can see over the years, I hadn’t felt God’s call to serve the church in this way. Until now.

Yesterday, the Nominating Committee of Pittsburgh Presbytery placed my name in nomination for teaching elder commissioner to the 220th General Assembly of the PCUSA that will convene here in Pittsburgh at the end of June 2012. And I definitely feel this is a call from God to serve the church in a particular way that is now affirmed by the Nominating Committee and, barring unforeseen circumstances, will be completed by election by Pittsburgh Presbytery at our December meeting.

I have attended several recent assemblies so I have a good sense of how they work and what they are like. A few weeks after I returned home from the last GA in Minneapolis, a shocking thought came to my mind — that I might be a commissioner at the next one. This thought was a bit daunting for me. Instead of dismissing the idea out of hand, I felt called to carefully consider it. I sat with it, prayed about it, and talked with some folks in the church about it. Then, in July, the letter came from the Nominating Committee saying that the presbytery manual rules had put my name in the pool of minister members eligible to be nominated based on seniority.

Every day since I sent in my card saying I was willing to serve, I have pondered and sought to answer this key question: Why me and why now?

A comment by Carmen Fowler, the president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, on the recent ordination of Rev. Scott Anderson, who is an out gay man, helped me begin to answer that question. Carmen Fowler said , “Although it is a joyful day for Scott, it’s a sad day for many in the Presbyterian Church.” It was the same kind of grief that I saw echoed in comments on my recent post about Scott’s ordination.

To me it seems that many in the church experience our ongoing disagreements as a sort of seesaw of conflict, with one side always being up and one side always being down. When the ban on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ordination was in place, many Presbyterians felt hurt; like being down while looking up at those who wanted the rule in place. Now, with G-2.0104 in place, Presbyterians like Carmen and Ted feel that they are the ones who are down, looking up at Scott and those of us who see and rejoice in his call to ministry.

It’s not just the issue of LGBT welcome and inclusion — there is actually a host of different ways in which many now think of the PCUSA in terms of this seesaw of conflict, especially as our resources continue to contract. Other examples are the way evangelism seems to be up and social justice down. Young adults seem down; the older generation up. Congregations up; General Assembly or Louisville down. It is really a rampant dynamic in so many aspects of our church life that we now take this way of thinking for granted.

Yet, it doesn’t have to be like this. On every seesaw there is the moment of balance between both sides. It was Carmen Fowler’s comment that made me realize it’s that moment of balance that I delight in. My long-time passion for bringing people who disagree together in conversation, instead of in conflict, can help us to achieve that balance or at least get us closer to it. This is my answer to the question of “why me?” and “why now?” — My passion and experience can meet the church’s current need.

I respect and trust the Presbyterian process for discerning God’s will and feel called to participate in it as a commissioner at the next GA. I believe that my gifts, my experience and my passion will contribute to the PCUSA, helping us to get closer to our being one in Christ as Jesus prays for in the Gospel of John.

My many years of experience working to find harmony among the various and differing points of view in the PCUSA seems to me to explain why me and why now God is calling me to serve as commissioner to the 220th General Assembly. As Pittsburgh Presbytery affirms the call, I will prepare to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. And may it all be to God’s glory.


Reverend Janet Edwards

12 Responses
  • Michael J. Adee on October 21, 2011

    Janet, I am so happy for you and pleased that Pittsburgh Presbytery’s Nominating Committee has placed your name to serve as a Commissioner to General Assembly in your beloved hometown of Pittsburgh. I am praying that the presbytery will confirm this nomination at its meeting in December. I know that you will serve in a spirit of prayer, genuine openness of heart and mind, and deep care for the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

  • Janet Edwards on October 21, 2011

    Dear Michael,

    Thanks for sharing my joy in this and for your confidence in me.

    I trust God will help me meet your expectations. And, Michael, I look for the day when you, as a Ruling Elder, will be a commissioner to GA! What about such a call growing in your heart?

    Peace, Janet

  • Bob Patton on October 21, 2011

    Janet, I am pleased by your selection, and your commitment to dialog on this important issue.

  • Janet Edwards on October 21, 2011

    Dear Bob,

    Thanks for your affirmation!!

    And I hope you understood that my commitment is to dialog in all things because it is so centrally our Reformed Christian way of being open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

    I am certain that the best way through to the liveliness and joy that we all envision as the character of the Body of Christ active in this world is full dialog among Presbyterians in all our variety and on all the things that concern us deeply.

    As a good Presbyterian, I am sure, you see that this is basically the Presbyterian way.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on October 22, 2011

    Dear Janet,

    May it be so…


  • Mary on October 22, 2011

    I would like to share with the others my congratulations on getting to this point. I pray that the rest of the process goes as well and that the presbytery votes to get behind your call as commissioner. May the dialogue begin.

  • Janet Edwards on October 22, 2011

    Dear Donna and Mary,

    Deepest thanks to you both for your encouraging words!

    While some see it differently, the heart of the new G-2.0104, the ordination standards in the PCUSA, is serious dialog in the appropriate presbytery committees with candidates for calls or ordination. These are to be based on what we all share: Scripture, our tradition in the Book of Confessions and the ordination vows. These conversations are what I feel called to nurture.

    And you know a great discussion about most church related things makes my heart sing.

    May you be about what makes your hearts sing.

    Peace, Janet

  • Michael Neubert on October 25, 2011

    Why now? Apparently because “the presbytery manual rules had put my name in the pool of minister members eligible to be nominated based on seniority.”

    Your very public advocacy in favor of normalizing sexual sin seems obviously disqualifying. But these days are strange days. The PCUSA has officially abandoned the Word of God as the rule of faith. Since presbyteries are making up the rules as they go, you may well be elected.

    Of course, no one who cares about diversity would vote for you. The GA has been overwhelmingly liberal for the last several years. Presbyterians who care about justice, equity and diversity will affirm their commitment by voting for conservative commissioners. We’ll have to wait to see if anyone cares.

  • Calvin on October 25, 2011

    Hopefully, there will be enough commissioners in the Presbytery of Pittsburgh that are actually grounded in God’s word to go against this travesty. I’m praying that this does not happen; but anything goes in the PC(USA)anymore. General Assembly has become a joke.

  • Janet Edwards on October 26, 2011

    Dear Michael and Calvin,

    I am grateful for your comments here even though they can be hard for me to hear.

    Every morning I pray that God will use me to share in a communion of love with everyone. I trust that one thing we can agree upon is God’s desire that we this–this sharing is, for me, the Gospel message we are compelled to proclaim to the world.

    I hope you will join with me in a spiritual exercise of praying for the next month specifically to share in a communion of love with each other. This possibility has come to me in my prayers as I have contemplated upon your comments here. For us, prayer may be the bridge that can reach across the chasm between us.

    This daily prayer may be one source of my passion to build bridges with others, especially with those who, like you, disagree with me on some very serious matters. My sense is that you may worry that a bridge between us will require you to come to my “side of the bridge.” I don’t know of any bridge that is built for the people on one side to abandon it for the other. Bridges are for connection and communication across the chasm. It is that connection that I want.

    This is why i am grateful that you come to Timetoembrace and are moved to share your thoughts. And will you also pray with me this next month?

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on October 26, 2011

    Dear Janet,

    “I don’t know of any bridge that is built for the people on one side to abandon it for the other.”

    This is why I hope so much that you will serve as a commissioner. You have so much to offer, so much in the way of Christian principles and love being put into practice.



  • Janet Edwards on October 26, 2011

    Dear Donna,

    Thanks for your confidence in me. It is gift from God that sustains my spirit.

    Peace, Janet

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