Every two years, the Presbyterian Church (USA) gathers to discuss and vote upon church-wide polity and policy. The 221st General Assembly kicked off on June 14 in Detroit, MI, where thousands of church members met to exchange and debate ideas, craft new policy language, and prayerfully discern God’s call for the Church at large. McCormick Theological Seminary was well represented, with alumni, current students and faculty participating in every aspect of the assembly. “There’s not that many McCormick graduates in the world,” said Linda Eastwood, alum, current student, and adjunct professor. “But we were disproportionately represented at GA”.
Linda, Ben Snipes, student, and Alicia Hanner, student and Recruitment Office assistant, discussed their experiences at the 221st General Assembly. Each went for different reasons and hoped to accomplish different goals.
“I had to go,” laughed Alicia. “The Recruitment Office wanted me there to represent McCormick.” She and other Recruitment representatives were out on the floor every day, networking with alumni, talking to prospective students, and filling attendees in on all the great work McCormick is doing in Chicago. Alicia said that even though she grew up Presbyterian, she had very little understanding of the way the Church worked. This was her first General Assembly, and she was glad of the opportunity to learn more about her denomination.
Ben became an active member of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF) last fall, taking lead on the development of a new Peace Communities Initiative. He went to GA to represent the PPF and to give testimony in front of the Peace and International Concerns committee. “Nonviolence should be the Church’s primary way of responding to violence in our world,” Ben said. Ben also enjoyed the opportunity to network with Presbyterians from around the country to discuss some of the more controversial issues on the docket. “I ran into John Vest [moderator for Greater Chicago Presbytery] and just talked for half an hour on the topic of Divestment and Chicago Presbytery’s idea of a ‘3rd Way.’ It was a great opportunity to open up that conversation.”
“I’ve become a policy-wonk over the past few years,” said Linda when explaining why she made the pilgrimage to GA. “McCormick will do that to you.” For GA 221, Linda went as an observer with the PPF, and as a member of the Covenant Network (an LGBTQ advocacy group). She also wanted to get to know the Advisory Council on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), which she will soon join in an official capacity. “Working with groups like Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and Covenant Network, I can see all the work that goes on behind the scenes before resolutions come to a vote. There’s actually a lot of lobbying that goes on.”
McCormick students can attend as a Theological Seminary Advisory Delegate (TSAD) and participate in the shaping of Presbyterian policy. Alicia, Ben, and Linda strongly recommend that McCormick students, no matter their denominational affiliation, take the opportunity to be part of a General Assembly at least once. “I didn’t go just because I’m Presbyterian,” said Alicia. “I think it would be valuable to anyone from any denomination.”
“We’re at a seminary that has a strong social justice focus,” said Linda. “McCormick wants us to engage with the world and with these controversial issues.” General Assembly offers a space to not only learn about social issues and the complexity of responding to those issues as a church, but also the experience of standing up for social justice as a disciple of Christ.
The 221st General Assembly was a busy one with over 380 motions being passed. The CURE blog will delve into some of these developments over the summer. For a basic summary, check out the Assembly in Brief provided by the PCUSA. Be sure to also check out the gallery of McCormick students, faculty, and alums at GA 221!