By Sue Washburn
The beauty of the Presbyterian Church is that we are a bottom-up denomination. This means that one person or group does not make all of the decisions and lord it over churches and people. Every church (and even individuals) has the ability to influence the work and position of the church. Every two years representatives from around the country gather to examine our church constitution, finances and ministry emphases. We all get a say, but that doesn’t mean we get our way.
At GA, we spend a lot of time sitting at long tables in nondescript conference rooms trying to reach consensus about everything from divestment from fossil fuels to protecting children at the border to our relationship with people in other faiths. We talk about a lot of amazing things, and our rules for discussion make sure as many voices as possible get heard. But sometimes, when we debate the words and ideas, it can be easy to forget the meaning and ministry beneath. It’s not unusual to hear something like:
“I move that we amend the first line to say ‘We encourage churches to discern’ rather than ‘We recommend that churches.’”
“The amendment has been defeated and we are back to the main motion.”
When we get into the midst of discussion we do everything decently and in order. While we may feel passionately, we follow the rules of debate. We refer to the Bible, the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions (together they are our constitution), rather than just act on our own whims. We allow our history and experience to inform what we do.
But in the end, the business that we do is about God and God’s people.
The votes we take on this resolution or that motion aren’t left behind in an over air-conditioned conference center, they are incarnated in our churches and in the world. There are people attached to each of the decisions that we make.
In a big anonymous space with PowerPoints, florescent lights and too much air conditioning, it can be easy to forget that our business is about love.
The per capita increase.
The changes in the way we do business.
The stand we take on God’s justice issues.
The way we count our people.
Everything we do is done because we are gathered in unity to follow Christ and live out his Great Commandment to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.
Sue Washburn is a Teaching Elder Commissioner from the Presbytery of Redstone.