Chantal Atnip, the treasurer at the Synod of the Trinity and a ruling elder and clerk of session at Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, PA, is among three candidates/teams that are standing for moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 223rd General Assembly in St. Louis. She held a gathering in the Synod and Presbytery of Carlisle offices recently where she answered questions from those in attendance and shared her vision toward the moderator position should she be elected.
The conversation opened with Chantal sharing her background and the moment when she felt the call to stand for moderator. Those details can be found in a previous story here that announced Chantal’s desire to fill the moderator role.
What follows is a brief recap that touches on many of the high points from the conversation that ensued.
Why are you running for moderator?
I really feel that I am called to do this. I think we are at an interesting time in the Christian faith, not just Presbyterianism but Christianity as a whole. It’s not like the ‘50s, and it’s not like the ‘60s. We are, I think, back in a time just like the time of Acts, and we’ve got to figure out what it means for us to be Christian in this society and in this time. We need to act on our faith. We need to be open that we have this belief. We need to individually and corporately listen to God’s call for what we should be doing.
To be called like this is out of my sense of comfort – this is not my comfort zone. And I think it’s time for all of us to be listening to God’s call.
Tell me about your hopes.
I am hopeful that we can be joyful as a people of God. I am hopeful that we can show that joy and that sense of belonging to God, belonging to a community of faith that is visible to the world. One of Bruce’s (Stevens, former Synod executive) favorite sayings is that “We need to be a demonstration community to the world of what it means to be a Christian faith.”
Where do you think we’ll be getting this joy? What will generate joy in you and in others?
I get the greatest joy out of knowing that we are touching lives in the world. At Pine Street, we have a bunch of outreach ministries. I think that we as Christian communities need to be willing to not just go and sit in the pews on Sunday but to look outside our doors and hear what God is calling us to do in our neighborhood.
We need to be more visible, not just to the people who’ve always come, but we need to be not afraid to be different. We need to not be afraid to look a little differently than we’ve looked in the past. If we welcome our neighbors into our congregations, it will look different. We’re in a place where we’ve got to welcome that and be joyful.
What issues are coming to this General Assembly?
There are so far only 28 overtures, so J. Herbert (Nelson, PCUSA stated clerk) is saying it’s going to be “GA Lite” this year. There really are not huge, huge things coming to General Assembly and they’re not expecting it be as jam packed full of business as we’ve had the last couple of times.
J. Herbert’s big, big issue that he is spending his time and energy on is immigration. Immigration is mostly his issue. But it’s something that we need to as a denomination figure out how we’re going to express our faith in this time.
There are several overtures having to do with the continuing discussion about Palestine and Israel. This has been a discussion since the Old Testament. There are things about continued divestment of companies that are supporting the creation of weapons.
Fossil fuel is another big thing. This overture, which I like because I’m a glass half-full type of person, says rather than divesting we’d invest in renewable energy and dealing with the environment in a positive standpoint as opposed to a punitive standpoint.
But frankly, the big discussion is going to be on the structure of our denomination. There are three different groups that were established at the last General Assembly all looking at structure. That’s going to be the focus of the General Assembly – what should we look like? One of the structural things that is being recommended is that the stated clerk finally be the person that would make statements on behalf of the denomination. I think that’s a good thing. It goes along with having a sense of who we are.
People in the pews have no concept of what a presbytery is, what a synod is and what the General Assembly does on their behalf. We’ve lost the understanding of what it means to be a connectional denomination. If I had to pick the one thing that I would fight tooth and nail for as moderator it is to work on educating what it means to be Presbyterian. What does it mean for us to be connectional? Because, frankly, we’re all becoming congregational. Each congregation is feeling divorced from one another.
How will your hopes and desires for our denomination to have more joy and be more like Acts trickle down?
The job of the moderator is to be a moderator. I’m not the spiritual director of the denomination. I do have messages that I will be happy to share. But my job is to be the public face of the denomination. I would be expressing that in terms of joy and hope. I can’t personally get down into the weeds and help every congregation, but I certainly can say what I believe as forcefully as I can.
One of the jobs of the moderator is to appoint people. You can make a difference based on who you choose because you can go to people with a positive attitude and a joyful heart as opposed to the naysayers who are thinking in terms of scarcity instead of abundance. That has the potential for a more lasting effect.
My job is to go and take what we decide as a denomination and bring that forth with joy.