Doing the Work: Service to the Wider Church

When we are ordained to ministry as Deacons, Ruling Elders and Ministers of Word and Sacrament, we answer nine questions, and with our answers vow to fulfill the unique calls of these ordered ministries. Eight of the questions are the same for all of the offices of ordination, with one question unique to each office. Within the unique questions, Ruling Elders and Ministers of Word and Sacrament are both asked if they will be share in government and discipline and to serve in the councils of the church.

For many of us, that will mean serving on the Session and committees of our local churches. But there are many ways to serve the wider church, and in a connectional community such as the PC(USA), it is vital that we seek to do so. Without the voices of a broad representation of leaders, the work we do with and on behalf of one another can get stale or stuck. Just as in your local churches, without an energetic pool of leaders stepping up to the challenges of the wider church, the same people get asked or volunteer time and again, which leads to burnout or that stuck thinking.

Each of us who has been ordained to the office of Ruling Elder or Minister of Word and Sacrament has vowed to participate in this work, and the good news is that there are so many ways to do so. You may think that simply sitting on another committee is the extent of that work, but there is plenty of work in the wider church that does not involve committee meetings, or committees that do not work as you typically think of it.

Work at the presbytery, synod or national level often involves thinking together about the direction of the PC(USA) and its members, and how to equip churches and individuals to grow as followers of Jesus Christ. Sometimes that might mean thinking about strategic planning, but it could mean creating curriculum or resources out of our experience and expertise that can help others learn what we’ve learned.

There are nominating committees for each level of governance, from your local congregation to presbytery to synod to General Assembly. And there is no doubt that each of them are looking for leaders to help do the work that supports all of our mission.

Each General Assembly, we elect members of various General Assembly and Presbytery Mission Agency committees, commissions and task forces – some of these are standing committees that have on-going work, and some are created for specific terms with deadlines for their work. You can see many of the standing committees here. After General Assembly, some new teams will be created, and some that are on-going will have their membership filled through application and appointment by the moderator or co-moderators elected by the assembly. Right now there are several standing and shorter-term teams looking for members. Many of the deadlines are August 20, 2018. If you do not have one already, you will need to create an account to apply for these teams, but we encourage you to do so! Register, log in, and look at committees and descriptions here. The teams created, or extended, by the 223rd General Assembly are listed there and and below:

You can also serve the wider church with more hands-on work, like volunteering regularly at your local food bank, in ministries of other churches in the presbytery, or through ecumenical partnerships. Every time you step outside of your own congregation’s ministries, and help others do their work, you are helping create connections that strengthen the Body of Christ, within the PC(USA), and with others in the Body.

Did you know that camp and conference centers love volunteers? They might have opportunities in the summer to serve as volunteer counselors for a week, or to lead one of their programs, or to serve as a nurse or a chaplain. If working directly with children and youth isn’t your thing, many camps and conference centers rely on volunteers to greet visitors, answer phones, put together mailings, and maintain the camp grounds and facilities. They may have opportunities that last a week or a season, so ask them!

These opportunities for service to the wider church are abundant, but so is our leadership. It is important to consider these opportunities alongside the other work you are called to. There may be seasons in your life, or your church life specifically, when you are already serving to your fullest capacity, while other times you may find yourself looking for new ways to serve. There may be opportunities you see that are interesting and truly feel like a calling, but it may not be the right time. It may be the right time for someone else to fill that role, and in a healthy connectional community, service is shared and passed on.

With this abundance of leaders we gain the valuable insight from as wide a representation of our church as possible. We also keep our leaders refreshed and renewed for their long-term growth as disciples.

Disciples keep on learning and growing, and service to the wider church can be an excellent challenge to take on. So, think about where God might be calling you to push yourself and lend a hand.

General Assembly Day 7: Salsa and Jazz

Thursday found the assembly continuing to hear committee reports and take action on overtures, which meant they needed a few salsa breaks to stretch out the legs and shake loose the cobwebs. Thursday evening was an evening off from our work, and an opportunity to celebrate all the Presbyterian hands and feet that have been impacting St. Louis over the last two years in preparation for and during this General Assembly. Musician Kirk Whalum shared his amazing gifts of jazz with us.

General Assembly Day 7 Daily Digest

Thursday Afternoon in St. Louis

Barbara Smith

The Way Forward…

It has been a busy day thus far! And it has been an afternoon full of motions, and amendments, and “calls for questions” around the report of the “Way Forward Commission.” And for that reason, I am thankful that the daily GA newspaper is on-line and is being shared with you by our communication partners, Worship Times (see above).

However, I did want to report…

The commissioners, by a nearly unanimous vote, concurred with the following:

The 2020 Vision Team recommends that the 223rd General Assembly (2018) forward the proposed draft of the Guiding Statement to the church for study and comment in consideration of submitting it to the 224th General Assembly (2020) for approval.

God calls the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to be:


  • Confessing our sin before God and to those we have wronged, we accept our responsibility for the brokenness in the world and in ourselves. In Christ we are assured of forgiveness and freed to forgive others.
  • We ask the Holy Spirit to direct and guide us as we actively listen to Scripture and fully engage in the joys and challenges of life in this present world.
  • In Christ we are bound together by grace, cleansed in the waters of baptism, nourished at the Lord’s table, and sent out to share the Good News.


  • Reformed and always being reformed, we follow the Holy Spirit in new and imaginative ways to places we have not yet been.
  • We foster the hope of reconciliation in Christ that brings healing to individuals and communities, which transforms the world.
  • We work for God’s justice and peace for all people in every land, prioritizing the vulnerable, the marginalized, and the abused.


  • As members of the Church universal, we are Christ’s disciples, called by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  • Against forces that seek to divide, Christ compels us to bear witness to a love that sustains community across great differences.
  • Striving to love all our neighbors as ourselves, we approach others in a spirit of openness and trust as we follow Jesus Christ in respecting the freedom of other religions, worldviews, and traditions.


  • As followers of the One who washed his disciples’ feet, we listen to and serve our neighbors, working to meet their practical needs.
  • We partner with others to become the hands and feet of God in the world, showing compassion and generosity to all creation.
  • We venture beyond the familiar, meeting people where they are as we share Christ’s transformative love.


  • We are a people of the resurrection: though death surrounds us, we are not afraid because we follow the One who was raised from the tomb.
  • The Holy Spirit gives us courage to build a community that reflects the fullness of God’s image in humanity: beautifully diverse and no longer divided by age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender identity, sexuality, physical and mental ability, geography, or theological conviction.
  • In the sure and certain hope of resurrection, we testify that the church and its members are called to follow Christ’s model by risking all, even life itself, for the sake of the Gospel.

And so, God calls the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to be: Prayerful, Courageous, United, Serving, Alive.

General Assembly Day 6: Back to Plenary

On Wednesday, committees wrapped up, the exhibit hall closed down and plenary started back up with committee reports.

Our current Moderator, Rev. Ruth Boling, talked to Megan Hansen from Worship Times about her committee work, and important issues they discussed, and coming up for debate by the assembly:

Yesterday we talked to Newark Presbytery Moderator Ruth Boling about her committee and the issues they discussed as well as other important issues coming before the General Assembly today and tomorrow. #ga223

Posted by Presbytery of Newark on Thursday, June 21, 2018


General Assembly Day 6 Daily Digest

General Assembly Day 5: Peace and Justice

During General Assembly opening worship $47,000 was collected to support The Bail Project’s mission to combat the mass incarceration epidemic by paying the bail of low-income, non-violent offenders who are languishing in our jail systems. Marching from the convention center to the courthouse, hundreds of Presbyterians participated in a demonstration of peace and justice for the citizens of St. Louis.

The Hands and Feet Initiative recognizes the impact thousands of Christians can have upon a city, so instead of simply going about our internal business, we need to engage and leave a positive impact on the places we gather. These are just first steps in continuing to fulfill our call to witness to God’s love in and for the world.

Newark marched:


And so many others:

We also reposted videos from the march on our Facebook page, shared from the Presbytery of Southern New England. New Jersey ended its cash bail system, but there are many other injustices happening in our local communities, and this action shows how together we can actually make real change happen.

General Assembly Day 5 Daily Digest

General Assembly Day 4: Process and Procedure

The first full day of committee work can be challenging. Churches and presbyteries do use Robert’s Rules of Order for the parliamentary procedure that guides our meetings. However, rarely do we see amendments to amendments or substitute motions or other complicated procedural moves that help us clarify and hone our words and actions. The details can get confusing and seem tedious, but we know from experience that our words matter, so we want to be thoughtful and careful in crafting them, which takes time and attention to detail. Warren McNeill spoke with Megan Hansen of Worship Times about that and what helps committees learn to do this work well. You can watch that conversation on our Facebook page.

One of the things that Warren and Megan spoke about is the importance of centering our work around prayer. For those participants (voting or not) who need some extra time and space for prayer, there is always a room set aside for quiet, contemplation and prayer. This year the prayer room has items evoking the words of the song the St. Louis GA Committee on Local Arrangements commissioned, Draw the Welcome Circle Wider, which some of you may have sung in your worship on Sunday.

In addition, there was a beautiful round, windowed room in the convention center that was the perfect space for a labyrinth.

[soliloquy id=”9434″]

GA223 Day 4 Daily Digest

General Assembly Day 3: New Co-Moderators and Committees Begin

Sunday at General Assembly

Barbara Smith

Worship this morning was spread among the churches of the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy, our hosts for this Assembly.

This evening the commissioners and advisory delegates move into their respective committees where they will consider the business assigned. While Committee meetings are normally open to anyone for observation, traditionally Sunday evening meetings are closed so the group can get to know one another. To get an idea of what Ruth, Lorraine, and Emma will be doing –

Teaching Elder Commissioner Ruth Boling, is assigned to Committee #9 – Peacemaking, Immigration and International Issues. One of their Overtures to consider, from the Presbytery of New Hope (NC),  calls upon the PCUSA, in part, to: 1. …in faithfulness to the God of justice, mercy, and compassion—to take actions in defense of God’s creation and our own security, which is inextricably bound to the security of the rest of the world, to take all actions such as might be effective in requiring full U.S. compliance with the obligation to achieve nuclear disarmament under the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. 2. Renounce the false god of nuclear security with its promise of catastrophic consequences. 3. Renounce any policy that threatens the death of millions of God’s children in any land with a single command and a single warhead. 4. Join in ecumenical discussion at the highest level to develop a collaborative strategy with Christian and other faith communities to effect the total elimination of nuclear weapons from the earth.

Ruling Elder Commissioner Lorraine Cuffie is assigned to Committee #13 – BOP (Board of Pensions), PILP (Presbyterian Investment and Loan), PPC (Presbyterian Publishing Corporation), and Foundation.  One of their Overtures, which has some effect on the Presbytery of Newark since we are within the geographic scope of the Jarvie Foundation, calls for the PCUSA, in part, to: 1. Assess the current placement, management, and location of the Jarvie Commonweal Endowment Fund (now valued at $90 million). 2. Assess the current placement of responsibility for supervising the provision of services to the recipients of the prescribed generous Jarvie Service assistance. 3. Assess the current PC(USA) Presbyterian Mission Agency and Foundation organizational responsibilities for both the services and the endowment of the Jarvie Fund.

YAAD Emma Gritsch is assigned to Committee #7 – Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. One of their to consider, from the Presbytery of Carlisle (PA), calls for the PCUSA, in part, to: 1. Affirm and embrace the religiously diverse nature of the United States of America and the call of the Christian faith to love all of our neighbors—including those of other faiths—as we love ourselves; and 2. Condemn all religiously inspired and motivated violence, prejudice, discrimination, and hate speech, in particular, those actions based upon anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim behaviors and language.

As always, keep not only Ruth, Lorraine and Emma in your prayers, but also all commissioners and advisory delegates who are faithfully serving their presbyteries and this denomination this week!


GA223 Day 3 Daily Digest

General Assembly Day 2: Everything Starts

Barbara and Megan Hansen from Worship Times caught up on what was happening the first full day of General Assembly 223 in St. Louis right after opening worship. You can watch it on our Facebook page.


Barbara’s husband also gifted she and Warren with Newark Presbytery Fire Department hats to celebrate the good, but challenging work that presbytery staff do every day, which often includes putting out fires:


Barbara shares news from tonight’s moderator’s election:

Saturday Evening from St. Louis

Barbara Smith

This first full day of GA223 began with amazingly inspirational worship. The co-moderators of the 222nd General Assembly – Rev. Denise Anderson and Rev. Jan Edmiston – preached a joint sermon as they conclude their moderatorial term. Hundreds of voices were joined in prayer and song, we affirmed our faith with words adapted from the Confession of 1967, and we were fed at our Lord’s table.

This evening, commissioners once again gathered in the traditional Saturday evening activity – to elect the leader(s) of the 223rd General Assembly. Three teams were elected to stand – two co-moderator teams and one team of moderator/vice moderator.

Ruling Elder Chantal Atnip from the Presbytery of Carlisle presented herself as candidate for moderator. Chantal chose as her vice-moderator candidate, Rev. Ken Hockenberry from the Presbytery of Chicago.

Rev. Eliana Maxim, Associate Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Seattle, and Rev. Bertram Johnson from the Presbytery of New York City, presented themselves as co-moderator candidates.

Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, Presbytery Leader of the Presbytery of Northern New England and Boston, and Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri from the Presbytery of Tropical Florida also presented themselves as co-moderator candidates.

After a 5-minute time of introduction by each team, the commissioners engaged the candidates in a 45-minute question and answer period, 3 minutes at a time.

The advisory delegates advised, and then the commissioners voted. To be elected, the winner would need 50.1% of the votes, or 262.  On the first vote, Atnip and Hockenberry received 45 votes, Maxim and Johnson received 250 votes, and Kohlmann and Cintrón-Olivieri received 229 votes.  On the second vote, Atnip and Hockenberry received 18 votes, Maxim and Johnson received 256 votes, and Kohlmann and Cintrón-Olivieri received 248 votes. Is the third time the charm?? Apparently not. On the third vote, Atnip and Hockenberry received 9 votes, Maxim and Johnson received 252 votes, and Kohlmann and Cintrón-Olivieri received 261 votes. On the fourth vote, Atnip and Hockenberry received 5 votes, Maxim and Johnson received 253 votes, and Kohlmann and Cintrón-Olivieri received 266 votes.

Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintron-Olivieri, and the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann , co-moderators of the 223rd General Assembly of the PC(USA). (Photo by Michael Whitman)

Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri is an ESL teacher and a ruling elder at First Spanish Presbyterian Church in Miami. She served in 2017 as moderator of the Presbytery of Tropical Florida.

Cindy Kohlmann has been pastor of congregations in Ohio and Massachusetts, and currently serves in the newly designed position of resource presbyter for the Presbytery of Boston and the Presbytery of Northern New England.

Please keep our denominations new co-moderators, Cindy Kohlmann and Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri in your prayers!


Day 2 GA News Digest

General Assembly Day 1: Pre-Assembly

Thursday and Friday are the days when most of the General Assembly participants arrive and prepare for the work. National, synod and presbytery staff people, commissioners, advisory delegates, volunteers, exhibitors – arriving in St. Louis and getting ready. The exhibit hall opens on Friday, so Barbara and Warren spent some time seeing all the booths, reuniting with our friends from all over the country, and collecting the good swag. (And a couple meetings, as it goes at GA.)

Barbara stopped by to see the creators of our website and digital ministry providers, Worship Times, and wanted the team to say hi to all of you at home:

Barbara, Megan Hansen, Michael Gyura and Susan Gyura – our Worship Times team!

General Assembly kicks off tomorrow with opening worship (you can live stream all full assembly worship and plenary events at the GA223 site), and we will elect a moderator team tomorrow evening, so we’ll update you on all of that tomorrow.

Friday’s GA Digest

From the Vision Accountability Board

In 2016, the Presbytery of Newark sent the following overture to the 222nd General Assembly. This overture was ultimately passed with the bracketed and underlined text included:

“The Presbytery of Newark respectfully overtures the 222nd General Assembly (2016) to do the following:”

1. Encourage the ministries and agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to be aware of the presence of slavery [and forced labor] in international chains of commerce.

2. Encourage the ministries and agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to inquire of each vendor with which they do business (a) that the vendor [ascertain and/or] disclose the nature and extent of slavery [and forced labor] in its supply chains, (b) that the vendor disclose the programs and strategies that it has adopted to eradicate slavery [and forced labor] from its supply chains, and (c) that the vendor provide to the inquiring ministry or agency those reports, analyses, and other materials that confirm or otherwise illuminate the vendor’s representations.

3. Encourage the ministries and agencies that invest in companies to inquire of each company in which they make an investment (a) that the company [ascertain and/or] disclose the nature and extent of slavery [and forced labor] in its supply chains, (b) that the company disclose the programs and strategies that it has adopted to eradicate slavery [and forced labor] from its supply chains, and (c) that the company provide to the inquiring ministry or agency those reports, analyses, and other materials that confirm or otherwise illuminate the company’s representations.

4. Encourage the ministries and agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to do business with and make investments in those companies that (a) have a rigorous program intended to eradicate slavery [and forced labor] from their supply chains and (b) disclose those reports and other information that enable the ministries and agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and such other persons as may be interested, to understand and evaluate the program that is intended to eradicate slavery [and forced labor] from the company’s supply chains.”

Barbara Smith recently received an e-mail from Bob Boneberg, a member of Wyoming Presbyterian Church asking if the Presbytery of Newark might consider co-sponsoring an all-faith conference in Essex County so that “the different faiths may share (1) their understanding of the issue of modern slavery, (2) how the issue is addressed, if at all, within their faith, (3) resources that they may have created with respect to the issue, and (4) any common or joint initiatives that might be undertaken.” This event is being slated for some time in May.

The VAB, at their meeting on February 13, voted unanimously to co-sponsor this event, especially in light of the overture we sent to the 222nd General Assembly. Bob writes that there will be minimal, if any, demand on Presbytery resources. Bob will be present at our May Presbytery meeting to talk further about this effort.

Should you wish to become more personally involved, Bob can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 973.886.6576.