My first time at a General Assembly for PCUSA was an experience too much for words. I’m trying to process everything – the work, the proceedings, the discussions, the community, the aftermath and backlash. One voice I continue to desire to hear is that of young adults and millenials. I’ve asked YAADs (young adult advisory delegates), TSADs (theological seminary advisory delegates) and young adult commissioners to offer their own reflections, which will be posted here for the rest of the week. -Mihee KK
I stepped off the plane in Detroit and made my way to the baggage claim. The first person to greet me was a COLA (committee on local arrangements, ie. hospitality) volunteer. I immediately recognized the man in the teal apron as Raeshawn, a member of my small group at the 2010 Presbyterian Youth Triennium. The Presbyterian community truly is tiny. After Raeshawn and I did a little catching up, he showed me to the shuttle and I was on my way. I was struck immediately by the sense of genuine community right from the beginning.
On Saturday, as people gathered together for the first plenary, I made my way to my seat, K58. The average age of the people on my row was approximately 60. Naturally, when the technology began to fail right away, the other younger people and I jumped into roles as tech assistants. We connected our peers to the internet, got them onto PC-Biz, and showed them how to vote using a clicker. I was happy to prove my worth to the commissioners and earn their respect in the opening stages of the week.
In my committee, I found that the 80/20 rule was in full effect, that is, 80% of the talking was done by 20% of the people. Instead of speaking my mind, I would just wait for one of them to get up and say exactly what was on my brain. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to participate, they just beat me to the mic every time and I didn’t want to be that guy that repeats what’s already been said by someone else. I found that the toughest part of committee was building a close relationship with my table mates and then voting opposite of them right to their face. Something about that just made me feel awkward inside, as if I was betraying them.
I hit the fatigue wall after committee work ended two days just in time to start the first business plenary.
Plenary is an experience in its own right. Three discussions stick out in my mind from this year:
1) Authoritative Interpretation – and what this means for the constitution and the identity of the church, and specifically in the case of the definition of marriage,
2) Divestment, and
3) Pharrell’s “Happy” and the sight of 250 huge red beach balls up in the air among the commissioners – an ending to the plenary initiated by the Presbyterian Mission Agency to represent each new community established so far.
What was disheartening to see in person was the way the marriage and divestment issues did a fantastic job of polarizing the church. Even if you agreed with what the body decided eventually, it was still extremely painful to hear the hurt in people’s voices as they acknowledged that their church would likely be leaving the denomination.
At the same time, and really oddly paradoxically, I’ve never felt a stronger sense of community than what I felt all week. As we wrapped up the first evenings’ work, hundreds of red beach balls were released onto the floor and the 900 commissioners and advisory delegates became engulfed into a frenzy of stress relief. As Pharrell sang his once catchy, now admittedly-annoying hit, a calm washed over me. No matter what decisions we made last week in Detroit, we will always have community. Whether we are worshiping together, arguing together, eating together, or throwing big red beach balls at each other, we can always find peace in our love for our Father.
And it made me think again that we should spend more time focusing on what binds us together, what we have in common, and the ways we overlap.
Will Owens will be joining a new church when he moves to Atlanta, but is currently a member at Highland Presbyterian in Louisville, Ky. He works in collegiate athletics as a Graduate Assistant for Athletic Media Relations. He has the distinction of being a triple-PK. His mother and father had him while they were studying at Columbia Seminary – his mother is the Executive Presbyter of the Mid-KY Presbytery. His father works for Hosparus. His step-father works in the publishing department at the PC(USA) Headquarters in Louisville. Detroit was his 6th GA, but his first as someone who say on the assembly floor.