My Endorsement of Joan Gray for Moderator of General Assembly
General Assembly meets this week. This is the national level of the Presbyterian Church (USA). One of the first actions will be Thursday's election of a moderator.
The moderator presides, or "moderates," over the large gathering of voting commissioners during the several days of the assembly. But the moderator does more. He or she becomes the most visible leader of our denomination until the next General Assembly, scheduled for 2008.
There are four candidates.
I predict a winner --- Joan Gray.
First two of the others represent specific interest groups in the denomination. While there are exceptions, General Assembly commissioners often look for a true MODERATOR who will represent the whole church. This year, with the emphasis on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church, I believe voting commissioners will be especially sensitive to the whole church.
The Rev. Deborah A. Block, a Milwaukee pastor and leader in the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a group that supports ordination of gays and lesbians.
The Rev. Kerry Carson of Conrad, Iowa, whose congregation is part of the Confessing Church movement that wants to hold the line on homosexual ordination.
That leaves Gray and the Rev. Tim Halverson, pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Cape Coral, Fla., who describes himself as a centrist. He seems like a decent fellow -- actually, they all seem like decent folk. But as I read Halverson's information online, I don't see the amount of preparation that Gray has. I don't believe he has ever moderated a governing body larger than his own congregation's session of elders.
So out of those two, why Gray?
Experience -- she has been moderator of one of the largest presbyteries of our denomination -- Greater Atlanta. She is considered an expert on church polity and structure, and is the co-author of Presbyterian Polity for Church Officers. She has been moderator of the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission and a member of the PC(USA)’s Advisory Committee on the Constitution. Through five General Assemblies before and after Presbyterian reunion in 1983, she served on the Provisional Constitutional Committee. All of these are very important positions that provide Gray with insight and skill needed to be the moderator of the General Assembly.
Like the other nominees, she is a pastor (there are no lay leaders or elders in this year's group of nominees). She served seven churches in the Atlanta area --Fellowship, Oglethorpe, Columbia,
Hemphill, Good Shepherd, Smyrna, and College Park. She has served as Adjunct Faculty at Columbia Theological Seminary, Johnson C. Smith Seminary and has taught at Princeton Theological Seminary.
I've never met her, but I know the pastor of one of the Atlanta churches where she served as Interim Pastor from 2001-2003, and he affirms what many are saying about Gray -- she is a peacemaker.
For a General Assembly planning to focus on the PEACE, unity and purity of our church, having a peacemaker would be a good thing!
I also like her choice of Vice Moderator. Irv Wilson is a great choice. I've gotten to know him through his work on the Presbyterian Men. He also provides diversity. Among a slate of four nominees for moderator, all are pastors and all are White. Among the candidates for Vice Moderator, two are African-American and two are elders. Irv represents both of those groups by being the only African-American elder to run for Vice Moderator. Hence, the Gray ticket provides the single most balanced team before the General Assembly.
And there is one other reason.
She's a woman.
Normally that would not matter at all, but this is the year Presbyterians celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women as Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, and the 75th anniversary of the ordination of women as elders. I believe commissioners will be especially aware of this early in the assembly and this will add a slight, but vital, extra in Gray's favor.