Our Children, the PCUSA General Assembly and the Future

Blessed to be a commissioner to the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Detroit this June, I have publicly vowed to vote from start to finish as the majority of the Young Adult Advisory Delegates (YAADs) do. Reaction to this commitment has been mixed, from both older and younger Presbyterians. Some of the most provocative comments, from both young and old, respond to my use of the word “children.”

Who are our children and what are they to us? What is their place in the PCUSA?

I confess that one central influence upon me in answering these questions is not from Scripture. It is in the cultural canon of my generation, given to me in my youth: Kahlil Gibran’s, The Prophet, particularly his reflection upon children set to song by Sweet Honey in the Rock. Gibran writes,

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and the daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them just like you.

While this view may not come from the Bible, it fits well with the essential truth that we are all beloved children of God, first and foremost. Jesus called God Father and encouraged us all to do the same. Old and young are all, at heart, children of God.

Even in the past—when the elder generation was the primary teacher for the surviving and thriving of the younger—the parents were what Gibran calls “bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” This is even more so now, when technology is changing life experience so swiftly.

Truly, the introduction of a new dimension we call cyberspace leaves most in my generation struggling to grasp what is natural for our youth. Particularly at this moment in time, I am asking my generation, “Who are we to judge, when we simply cannot know what the church of the future will require?” In the 21st century, our children are the ones, more than ever, with the wisdom of “the house of tomorrow.”

I remain committed to my calling to vote with the YAADs, trusting that their wisdom—inspired by the Holy Spirit who inspires us all and facile in 21st century ways—can best lead the PCUSA to tomorrow.

Can any of you, younger or older, tell me I am wrong in this? Does it make sense to you that I am inspired by the Holy Spirit to vote with the leaders of the future in the PCUSA at the General Assembly? Might you also be so inspired, whatever your role at GA or your place in the PCUSA?

Thank you in advance for your prayerful response.

Photo Credit: Art4TheGlryOfGod via Compfight cc

4 Responses
  • Robert Shell on March 27, 2014

    Thanks for your post. I’ll admit I missed the first part of this conversation, but came across this post today. Anything that can have generations working together instead of against, I’m in favor of. The lack of intergeneration dialogue and partnership within the greater Church is at the heart of its decline.

    I’m the first member of my family for hundreds of year that no longer has their membership within the Presbyterian church (especially PCUSA). I still very much consider myself Presbyterian, but when it came time to fill out ordination papers in Seminary, I just could no longer push forward. At the heart of this is the continue feeling of being frozen in time (please note I’m speaking of my experience and do no attend to make generalizations). If it wasn’t for my time with the Presbyterian Camps and Conference Association, I would have left a lot sooner.

    One of the biggest feelings that sticks with me was this idea of having to earn a voice. For some reason being a part of the community wasn’t good enough to warrant that. I eventually made it on session, but it seemed to more about having a token young person than a desire for partnership. Often times the “solutions” that were put into place compartmentalized our younger and older generations, instead of providing opportunities for partnership. In hoping to minister to our whole community, we drove a divide in our community be appealing to personal interests.

    So, those are some general reflections, for what they are worth. Again, I’m speaking a couple years out of the PCUSA, but these memories and thoughts still stick with me. Grace and Peace to you as you make decisions and continue walking with the Presbyterian church.

  • Janet Edwards on March 31, 2014

    Dear Robert Shell,

    Thank you so much for sharing some of your experience with us here.

    Your sense of youth having to earn a voice, and of well-intentioned efforts driving a wedge between generations rather than creating partnership is what I see, as well. I am trying a different way.

    I see you as one of the host of Presbyterians that the church let go over the past several decades. It grieves me terribly. This is one small step on my part to open new possibilities.

    I hope you see that. Your well-wishing is precious to me. Peace ,Janet

  • John Vest on March 31, 2014

    This is very interesting, Janet. I just read your original post and comments for more background. I’m 100% in favor of YAADs having voting rights at GA. And while I’m certainly intrigued by your idea, I’m not fully convinced. As a committed youth worker, I fully believe that young people are the present of the church and not just the future. And I want their voice to be heard loud and clear at GA and always. But I’m not sure about abdicating personal discernment in favor of voting according to the majority of one particular demographic. One of the things I’m most committed to as a Presbyterian is our process of discernment. As much as I value the opinions of young people—and bemoan their under-representation in our aging church—I value each of our opinions and discernments as well.

    But, your plan is subversive and dramatic enough to get my attention and pique my interest. I like the boldness of it. I’ll keep thinking about it.

  • Janet Edwards on April 1, 2014

    Dear John,

    Thanks for your thoughts here, John, and for your retweet! I will continue to think about your comments on discernment and its centrality in the governance of the PCUSA.

    I confess it has been tempting, I admit, to ignore the details at the assembly since discernment of God’s will has already inspired me to vote as the majority of the YAADs do. Upon further consideration, I have seen that it is important for me to pay close attention to see where my own discernment diverges from the YAAD vote in order to get a better sense of how exactly my perspective varies from the younger leaders in the church.

    I stand corrected, too, for I agree with you that the future is now for the PCUSA. That is one reason I am in a hurry to let the youth who are still among us lead. Even if YAADs become Young Adult Commissioners, that improvement will only slowly have an impact on our life together. If other commissioners have the same sense I have, perhaps we can reform more quickly.

    When you have further ideas, please share them! Peace, Janet

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