My General Assembly Experience

By Ty Buckner, FPC Elder and 2018 General Assembly Commissioner for Salem Presbytery

Hear Ty's full report Sunday, July 15, at 9:30 am in the Garden Room, Smith 124.

Ty BucknerBring more than 1,000 Presbyterians from across the nation together for church business, worship, fellowship and action for social justice and what do you get?

  • A glimpse of a denomination to which First Pres belongs that is forward-thinking and faithful to the Gospel.
  • An amazing display of (decent and) orderly deliberation over a series of proposed actions.
  • A group of Christians that is more diverse, inclusive and youthful than you might imagine.

That’s what I saw over eight days in June as a commissioner to the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in St. Louis.

General Assembly is a biennial national gathering of representatives from across our 1.4-million-member denomination. I was one of eight commissioners from Salem Presbytery and 538 from 171 presbyteries (districts) overall.

We met in full assembly in a large convention hall most of the week, and commissioners were assigned to one of 14 committees for 2½ days of intense work. I was a part of the Peacemaking, Immigration and International Issues committee. 

Here are a few observations from the week:

Social justice, fairness and equity: Commissioners took actions on church polity (governance) but also to bring relief to strife and poverty in places like South Sudan and Central America, and to create a consistent policy for family leave for employees across the denomination.

Public action: Issues of mass incarceration and immigration reform were highlighted. There was a march to the justice center to deliver a freewill offering for release of people unable to make bail on minor offenses as well as an immigration rally.

Vision 2020: The last General Assembly in 2016 charged a vision team with developing a guiding statement for the denomination as it moves into the future. The statement is, “God calls the Presbyterian Church (USA) to be: Prayerful, Courageous, United, Serving, Alive.”

Ecumenical and global emphasis: Worship services included speakers from other faith traditions. Women from the Middle East and Sudan were among pastors delivering sermons, and Spanish and other languages were spoken.

Women leaders: Commissioners elected women co-moderators for the second straight General Assembly. New England pastor and presbytery executive Cindy Kohlmann and Florida elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, a native of Puerto Rico, are both in their early 40s.

Youth movement: The 158 young adult and theological student delegates in attendance were active and enthusiastic participants on every committee and in the full assembly.

Greensboro connection: Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson leads the Office of the General Assembly, and Diane Givens Moffett is the new president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Both are former St. James Presbyterian Church pastors.

Mel Bringle: “Draw the Welcome Circle Wider,” a new hymn by next February’s Mullin Forum preacher and teacher, was featured in worship all week.

Fun: Jazz saxophonist and Gospel artist Kirk Whalum, who toured with Whitney Houston and soloed on one of her greatest hits, gave a concert one night.

Future: Mainline Protestant denominations, including the PC(USA), have been losing members for decades. However, our denomination is retooling for the future. In remarks to the Assembly, J. Herbert Nelson stated, “The Presbyterian Church (USA) is not dying. We are reforming … However, this cannot happen without each of us, and those we left back home, adhering to our ordination vow as leaders—to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination and love.”