Reflections on the PCUSA General Assembly & How the Young Adult Advisory Delegates Led the Way

When I arrived as a Commissioner for the Presbyterian Church 221st General Assembly (GA) last month, I had publicly committed to vote in solidarity with the Young Adult Advisory Delegates (YAADs). I confess my commitment was tested on the very first significant choice before us: the vote for Moderator of the assembly.

As is always the case, the three people “standing” for this office—representing our whole church in the two years between our assemblies and presiding for the rest of our week together—were all good Christians and dedicated church folk. They all spoke hopefully about our church family. Their endurance in the long question and answer selection process boded well for all of them being able to handle the complicated parliamentary business we faced over the coming week.

One of them emerged from the three as my choice for our Moderator. This was not the same person who received the overwhelming majority of YAAD advisory votes.

In the seconds I had between seeing their advisory vote and the moments I had to fill in my ballot, I chose to abide by my word. I voted with the YAADs from that vote to the last. I made sure to keep updated, through Twitter and Facebook, those who cared to follow the reality of me living out my commitment. And I kept a tally in my head of how the whole assembly voted (with the YAADs or not) as the several days of plenary sessions progressed.

What I watched unfold shocked me. By my calculations, the whole assembly of about 650 commissioners voted as the majority of YAADs did about 98% of the time. In fact, the majority of commissioners voted with the YAADs on the most controversial actions we considered this year. This was in stunning contrast to other assemblies I have witnessed where there had been some outright tension between generations.

The early signs did not foreshadow that such harmony was coming. On the first Sunday in Detroit, I worshipped at the Fort St. Presbyterian Church. Newly elected Moderator Rada was also there and made me smile when he joined the kids and Dr. Mook for the children’s sermon. Listening in on the young people’s comments, adults chuckled and clapped warmly. Unfortunately, this kindly yet rather dismissive attitude has been more the norm toward YAADs at GA in the past than a truly attentive taking in of their words to us.

But not this year. Our YAADs did lead us. How did this happen?

Starting in the two days of committee work, the YAADs stepped up, clearly taking seriously the equal voice and vote they have in committee. My impression is that every committee experienced what I did in mine: YAADs spoke eloquently to the overtures before us, made substitute motions or amendments that helped the debate, asked good questions, and called us to prayer when things got murky or tense. They showed up with their “A” game, ready to fully and faithfully participate.

This positive contribution continued in the plenary session when the whole assembly reconvened to do its work. They refused to take a back seat. During one of the first lengthy debates, a YAAD pointed out that the Moderator called upon six commissioners without any YAAD voice recognized in that long stretch. Duly chastised, Moderator Rada was careful from then on to call upon a speaker from the YAAD microphone consistently. His respect—gently demanded of him by the YAADs–also set an important tone.

And the YAADs helped us all in their traditional way of occasionally leading the whole assembly in line dances, encouraging us all to get up out of our chairs and move around for a few moments. YAAD energy is always a gift to the church. This assembly recognized that their intelligence, imagination and love can lead us too.

I prayed deeply in the months before this 221st PCUSA General Assembly that we would let our younger generation lead us. It was truly amazing that the answer in Detroit to that prayer was YES. Now my prayer is for the YAADs at GA to continue their leadership in our congregations and presbyteries and for the older generations who join them in church to follow their lead into the 21st century.

Photo from Michael Whitman, PCUSA

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