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
At junior high youth group one week, I remember that the speaker projected a picture and asked us to guess what it was. A haystack? Fur? Chicken feathers? A scarecrow? A quiche with baked cheese? A lion’s mane?*
After she let us guess for a while, the speaker projected a picture from the book Animalia of “Lazy lions lounging in the local library.” [http://westportlibrary.org/kids/all-about-reading/lazy-lions-lounging-local-library] It was a picture of two large lions surrounded by bookshelves and piles of books. The first picture she had shown us was a corner of one lion’s mane.**
It turns out it’s hard to understand a piece of the picture without looking at the whole picture.
In my years before seminary, I’d heard the baked cheese/haystack/chicken feathers stories of nFOG, 10A, and G-6.0106b. But that was about it.
In preparing for and attending GA221, I began to see the bigger picture. The long and difficult decisions around marriage and divestment from Caterpillar, HP, and Motorola came into focus as the mane of a lion when I realized that the church I’m a part of cares about marriage and how we invest money, but also about gun violence, food sovereignty, and ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.
And I realized that the General Assembly and the PC(USA) is not even just about the lion and its mane. I also noticed the library—the context in which everything else is set—when we almost daily gathered together around the pulpit and the Table. When a YAAD (Young Adult Advisory Delegate) offered a prayer for the Assembly. When in the midst of a long and sometimes frustrating debate, a commissioner at a microphone (while waiting for his motion to appear on the screen) began singing “Bless the Lord, oh my soul…” When the whole Assembly joined in on that chorus. When we celebrated the 248 new worshiping communities that have been started in the last two years.
It also became evident to me that many pieces of the picture are still missing. Yes there are Young Adult Advisory Delegates, but only 4% of commissioners (those with real votes) were under 35. Only 15% of commissioners were under 45. Only about 15% of commissioners were people of color. The Assembly is getting closer to gender parity with women comprising 47% of commissioners. [http://www.pcusa.org/blogs/spirit-and-truth/2014/5/16/first-look-commissioners-and-advisory-delegates-22/]
But even these statistics tell only part of the story. Though I know the moderator tries to balance calling on women and men in equal numbers, the paucity of women lined up at microphones made me wonder if women actually feel equally empowered to speak on the floor of plenary and suggested to me that we still have a ways to go in valuing all voices.
In order to tell the whole story we have to hear the whole story.
When we don’t tell the whole story and when we don’t hear the whole story, we’re left with baked cheese and chicken feathers.
*Okay, I couldn’t remember what answers junior high students had offered, so I subjected a few friends to this exercise.
**My friend who guessed that it was a lion’s mane would like it noted that she is a Methodist
Kari Olson is entering her final year at Princeton Theological Seminary and is a candidate for ordination as a teaching elder in the PC(USA). She attended General Assembly this year as a Theological Student Advisory Delegate. A native Seattleite, she has embraced life in the Northeast by purchasing an umbrella she promises never to use in Seattle.