Seeing Things (for the First Time) – GA220 Part 1

In this little story of my first GA experience, I’m going to go ahead and skip the travel portion of my story. From what I heard, most people had a hard time getting into Pittsburgh and an even harder time getting onto a shuttle to their hotel. So, for brevity’s sake, I’m going assume none of us had a good time getting to the conference and we can just share that feeling quietly.

So as I just said, this was my first time at GA. I had been to Presbytery meetings before, both back home in Arkansas and out here in California. To be honest, I expected a little bit of the same at GA, only on a more expansive scale. Turns out I was right. The only thing, though, was this was the kind of Presbytery meeting that I had never before attended.

The whole week was a bit of a blur, the kind of blur that slows down when you’re in the middle of it, but looking back seems to have gone awfully fast, and in my GA-hangover (aka #gangover on Twitter), I forget a bit of the details, especially for some of the “smaller” committee reports, so I apologize if I forget any of those details.

The thing I remember the most from the first plenary session was when I had to go on stage and pray in front of everyone. My friend and polity instructor, Kathy Runyeon, came and retrieved me  and led me behind the curtain about 15 – 20 minutes before I was told to check in. Once I was told where to sit and hang out for a bit, I looked around expecting to see a faux-wizard running the show. Alas, there were only the tech-guys, making sure the broadcasts and voting systems worked properly. Business really is handled by people in front of the stage! When it was my turn to go on stage, I was actually led up there about 20 minutes early. So I got to sit on the chairs stage-right of the GA leaders and await my turn. Now normally, I don’t have any problem praying in public or in front of a group. But it dawned on me that this is GA. This is where the big dogs come to play. I admit it, I became nervous. I had the humorous anecdote planned, but winged the prayer. After all, I said that any prayer that comes from the heart, as led by the Holy Spirit, can’t be a bad prayer, right? I think I did alright, at least I hope I did. Never got any complaints. But hey, who’s going to complain about a prayer at a national church meeting, right?

After our dinner break, the fun in plenary session started. We more or less dove right into the election of the Moderator of the 220th General Assembly. I remember connecting to two candidates during their speeches – Robert Austell and Neal Presa. I thought both had a clear idea of what they were trying to accomplish and spoke very well. However, that changed during the question session. The first question I remember was on the issue of gay marriage. Presa answered the question first and, I admit, he probably dodged the direct answer. But he did it pretty eloquently. Austell gave his traditional definition of marriage and he was pretty much off my list at that point, sorry Rev. Austell.

As for Randy Branson and Sue Krummel, I must simply say that neither wowed me one bit. Besides, as I grew to know more about Neal and especially his vice-moderate candidate, Tara Spuhler McCabe, I knew he was my front-runner. He admitted his definition of marriage was not my own, but Tara’s definitely was. Their platform of unity in the Church despite our differences had me at this point. I think it was obvious, based on the Advisory Delegates’ (ADs) votes that they had most of our generation as well. I knew this was going to be a good duo to represent the PC(USA) for the next two years. But, as we all know now, it was not meant to be.

The next day, we were all greeted with some pretty disturbing news. Tara, after receiving an “open” letter from Stay PC(USA) and several nasty, nasty Tweets (including, from what I hear, some death threats), decided that she would resign from the position of Vice Moderator. This was a pretty heartbreaking moment for me, and I’m sure, many others. My feelings at the time went a little bit like this: If she wasn’t there, why the hell did I give my advisory vote for Neal? There’s no unity in one without the other, right? Just because some folks were bullying her, doesn’t mean she should have resigned! Why isn’t the GA doing anything about this or even just addressing this issue? They’re just simply accepting her resignation!

Of course, after time to digest and get my head about me, I knew Tara was doing this because she thought it was best for the church. If her attempt at unity sparred divisiveness, then it was no longer an attempt at unity. Tara, with all her heart and soul, was doing the most pastoral thing she could do. And I love her all the more for that.

So with her stepping down, we had to confirm a new Vice Moderator. Neal picked Tom Trinidad, which turns out was fine, but at the time, I’d say 90% + of the floor didn’t know a thing about him. We were stuck in this position where we had to give this guy a confirmation vote and no one knew who he was! Again, my thoughts at the time read something like this: Hold on! Who is this guy? Why did Neal pick him?  Is Neal sticking up for his platform he ran on? Is, after Tara’s resignation, he changing his mind? Why don’t we get to question a new candidate?! RAWR! CAMERON SMASH!

I was floored. I do love our polity and Robert’s Rules of Order. But given these circumstances, I can’t say that they were the best system. We were stuck between a rock and a hard place. With these sudden changes, we were more or less forced to confirm a candidate for a position when we had no idea who he was and had no chance to get to know who he was. If I could change our system, that process would definitely be something to re-write. This took up so much of my emotion and brain power, that I hardly remember what happened for the rest of that plenary session. I know Gradye Parsons was elected Stated Clerk, again (#teamGradye), but that’s really about it. Did anything happen after that?

Now I’m looking at my word count. I’m already over 1120 words, so it looks like this is going to be at least a 2-parter, but more likely a 3-part series. So I’m going to peace out for a bit and look to post part 2 later this evening. Don’t worry, it’ll be even better than this one. I’m going to focus on committee work and I was on polity. I know, I just felt that tingle too.

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