The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) meets every other year as a gathering of about 1,000 people made up evenly of commissioner pastors and congregational leaders (we call them teaching elders and ruling elders), advisory delegates (youth and seminarians), local and regional and national presbytery and synod and denominational agency officers, guests, observers, and I’m sure more people that I don’t know about yet. Overtures (sort of like motions, from presbyteries – our regional governing bodies) and resolutions about all manner of Presbyterian business are researched and prepared in advance, and then discussed and debated and voted upon, and returned to the presbyteries for approval (or not) before the next General Assembly.
What I don’t know about the PC(USA) as a whole could fill several volumes. I serve my congregation, I serve on a Presbytery committee, I attend Presbytery meetings, I read some denominational publications sometimes, and that’s about it. I’m interested in many of the issues which the church addresses, but I am quite well occupied, no one has ever tapped me to go beyond my local area, and I honestly haven’t given it much thought. So when I was invited to apply to serve as a presbytery teaching elder commissioner to GA, I figured that the chances of my going were minimal but that, if I did, it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience and participate in the broader body of the church.
Tonight, those of us heading from our Presbytery to St. Louis in two weeks will be commissioned at our regular Presbytery meeting. I’ve been trying to learn how GA works and what some of the overtures are all about — there are tons of materials available online — but, truth to tell, I have understood very little. I read and re-read, remembering my days as a teacher and the dictum that people have to be exposed to something seven times before they get it. At least seven! Yesterday, feeling increasingly overwhelmed and inadequate to the task ahead, I peppered the veterans in my weekly study group with questions. The answers were so helpful! but one of our wise elders asked if we hadn’t already had some local orientation. I guess that it didn’t sound from my questions as if we had but, as I explained, when you first get started, you don’t even know what questions to ask and, as info comes your way, you have no context in which to digest it. It has become clear to me that we have people who have spent days and months and years on issues that I didn’t even know existed (more about that in my next GA post), and that what comes naturally to them is completely new to me.
I feel a good deal like Dorothy in Oz, turning this way and that on the yellow brick road as heretofore unimagined phenomena appear. I can only hope to maintain Dorothy’s openness and good humor and courage as I slide with increasing speed toward the Emerald City . . . I mean, the Arch of St. Louis!