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

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