Synod of the Trinity
2023 Assembly Report
Omni Bedford Springs Resort, Bedford, PA
October 29-31, 2023
The 2023 Synod of the Trinity Assembly in late October was a hybrid gathering held in-person in Bedford, PA, and through video conferencing platform Zoom. Below are highlights of the meeting.
Ruth Faith Santana-Grace, the co-moderator for the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, gave the sermon for opening worship on Monday morning and also delivered a keynote address later in the day. Here are some highlights of both:
- Ruth’s sermon, titled “From the Margins and Footnotes,” touched on her recent trip to the South Pacific that included a stop in Fiji. There, she saw the natural and economic hardships that area is experiencing. “Theirs is a story written from the margins and the footnotes, a story that does not easily make its way to the pages that you and I get to read. So much life happens in the margins and footnotes that we never read about.”
- She continued, “As we are entrusted with leading our churches, our presbyteries and this Synod, consider the array of people we serve. I believe we must find a way together bringing those stories, taking them from the margins and footnotes and incorporate them into the pages of our larger narrative. We don’t have to compete; we need to be able to share the depth of our journeys together. We must claim them and write them down, for in those margins and footnotes, we will find voices of those long silenced.”
- Monday afternoon, Ruth spoke about some of the challenges facing our churches. “It’s a season of experiment,” she said. “What’s the worst that will happen? We try something, it didn’t work, next year we pivot. But if we don’t try anything, we don’t ever know what we can or can’t do. We won’t even let God affirm what we might do.”
- Ruth shared some examples of things that can disrupt the church, like cultural unrest and a decline in religious identity. She added that about 70 percent of people identify as “spiritual” despite church attendance continuing to decline. “We have failed several generations because of our institutionality that has put our way of operating as more important than engaging outside our walls.” She continued, “The church has always been challenged by both outside and inside forces. The inside forces can at times be more detrimental than even the outside forces because it dilutes our ability to work together.”
- Those assembled broke into groups and shared stories of hope with one another.
- A recording of Ruth’s opening worship and keynote is available on the Synod’s YouTube channel by clicking here. Her keynote begins at 26:23.
- Ruth’s PowerPoint presentation she used during her keynote is available by clicking here.
Tuesday morning, Maureen Wright, the transitional executive presbyter for the Presbytery of West Virginia, opened the day with devotions. She touched on Joshua 1:6-9 (“Be strong and courageous”), reading it three times and asking those in attendance to “listen for a word or phrase that captures your attention,” followed by “praying on that word or phrase.” Maureen’s final question was “What is God’s gift/invitation to you in this passage?”
Co-Moderators for 2024
Brian Choi (Huntingdon) was elected for a second term as co-moderator of the Synod. He will be joined next year by Meg Steele (Washington), who will fill the vacancy of Bernice Adams (Redstone). Bernice will end her two-year stint as a co-moderator on Dec. 31.
Synod Executive Forrest Claassen gave his State of the Synod report on Tuesday morning, outlining – among other things – a new direction for the Synod’s granting process. Among the points he touched on were:
- A realignment of Synod grants so they coincide with the Synod’s ends.
- New “Future-Proofing” Grants for presbyteries with the goal of having presbyteries address the future needs of ministry in their regions. Each presbytery will have $30,000 set aside for its use through the end of 2026, covering expenses back to Jan. 1, 2021. The funds shall be used explicitly to help develop new ecclesiastical structures or missional practices, specifically for something that has never been seen or done within the bounds of the presbytery. The money shall also be used for presbytery-wide innovations, not benefiting a select few congregations.
- Hardware costs will not be part of this grant. “The word ‘innovation’ has to stop being about hardware,” Forrest said. “We’re going to be innovating ecclesiastically and missionally, not technologically.”
- A change to campus ministry grant distribution in West Virginia. Currently, the Synod sends funds to West Virginia and Upper Ohio Valley Presbyteries, which they in turn send to the Westminster Foundation to distribute to the colleges and universities. In the future the hope is that the Synod can send grants directly to the Foundation in order to streamline the process.
- Expressed thanks to the attendees for their comments regarding discussions surrounding terms of call for Forrest and Stated Clerk Michael Wilson. By having the terms of call available in advance of the meeting, that transparency allowed for commissioner review and questions to be asked.
LEARNING THE SYNOD REGION
The programs on Sunday evening and Monday evening were designed as opportunities to have the Synod’s commissioners and presbytery leadership bond while also serving as an education tool about the region.
- Sunday evening had a “Hollywood Squares” theme patterned after the 1970s television game show, with nine people acting as the tic-tac-toe board while a pair of two-person groups fielded trivia questions about the presbyteries in the Synod.
- Monday evening began with a game of unscramble the presbytery name and locate that presbytery on the map. The second game included one little-known fact about each of the Synod’s presbyteries.
- Monday night concluded with a game designed after the TV gameshow “Chopped” where groups received five different church items like “budget,” “furnace,” “song books,” etc. and they had to figure out a way to link them and make church work. Bonus points were given for creativity and humor.
- Grocery store and convenience store gift cards were distributed to the winning teams, who were asked to in turn give them to a person in their presbytery who is in need.
Opening Worship Offering
The offering benefited an outreach of Bower Hill Community Church in Pittsburgh Presbytery that is reducing and eliminating medical debt in the Synod region. Through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Matthew 25 invitation, Bower Hill is seeking to “eradicate systemic poverty” by teaming up with four-star, 100-percent Charity Navigator non-profit organization RIP Medical Debt. More than $580 was collected in-person and through online contributions.
- For more information on this initiative, click here.
- To donate, click here.
- For a video explaining how this program works, click here.
GOVERNING COMMISSION REPORT
Among the items in the report were:
- Evaluated Governing Commission Role Development Training, reviewed the Turkey/Syria earthquake response, gave ongoing oversight to synod finances, reviewed Synod Ends, reviewed Policy Governance Manual, worked on Tertiary Ends, and worked with CoRN on best practices for nominations.
- The Governing Commission reviewed the Primary and Secondary Ends of the Synod and recommended no changes to these, at this point in time.
- The Governing Commission recommended changes to the Policy Governance Manual.
2025 Per Capita
The financial report included a 2024 budget overview. The Synod’s per capita amount for 2024 will remain at $2.40, which was announced at last year’s Assembly. It was also reported that the per capita figure will stay at $2.40 for 2025, marking the sixth consecutive year without an increase in this amount.
PRESBYTERIAN WOMEN OF THE SYNOD OF THE TRINITY
Joyce Johnson, the moderator for the Synod’s PW, gave a brief recap of the work this group has done this year. At its annual summer gathering in July, the PW met under the theme of “Do Everything in Love.” Joyce said, “It is love that brings out the Presbyterian Women’s purpose. Love brings the Presbyterian Women’s purpose to life.” She also reminded everyone of the PW’s annual Mission Project, which for the second year is “Welcome Home SIS,” a non-profit, Christ-centered safety net that caters to women who have been impacted by the criminal injustice system and have endured a period of imprisonment. More information on the Synod’s PW group is available on the Synod website by clicking here.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THE LAND
Forrest Claassen spoke about those native to the Synod of the Trinity region, reminding everyone that Native Americans occupied the Synod region long before “the white people” arrived. Maps were displayed showing the forced migration of tribes like the Lenape and Delaware as far west as Oklahoma.
Rod Horner, the church musician at Bedford Presbyterian Church, provided keyboard accompaniment throughout the morning portions of the Assembly on Monday and Tuesday.