Many of those who read my blog either watch local meetings with me or get some information from my blog about what happened at meetings they could not attend. Today you'll have an opportunity to watch live streaming video of a large Presbyterian meeting, of the sort that has informed my ability to follow a meeting's process.
The 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will meet in Birmingham, Alabama June 15-22. The meeting will be broadcast over the web with streaming video that you can watch here.
The opening business session will begin at 1:00 PM Central Daylight Time today. (That's 2:00 PM on clocks in Tarentum) On the video of that part of the meeting you will see such things as the convening of the meeting, some orientation of the commissioners, training in how the commissioners will use the electronic voting system at their tables, etc. There are usually some humorous questions asked of the commissioners to train them in using the voting keypads.
Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase will report on his activities as the Moderator of the 216th General Assembly over the past two years. The host Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley will welcome the General Assembly and give a presentation about its history, life, and mission.
The evening session begins at 7:30 PM CDT and the main business will be the election of a Moderator. There are four candidates, each nominated by his or her presbytery. Each of the candidates could do the job, but each would bring to the job a distinct set of experiences, skills, and interests.
Those who watch the streaming video will unfortunately miss out on watching the four candidates interact with a large group of commissioners and visitors to the assembly at the Outlook dinner that immediately precedes the evening session of the Assembly. When I attended Assemblies, the presentations during that dinner have given me a better sense of who the candidates are, and how they would be as moderator.
Presbyterian blogger Apostle John has endorsed candidate Joan Gray and predicted her election. I believe she would do an outstanding job as moderator. I warm deeply to her candidacy because I sense the kindred spirit of a person who is passionate about our polity. But I think that the things that make me like her may not be as broadly valued in the PCUSA as I would prefer. She is absolutely right that a challenge facing our denomination is to "stay with the pain," but I wonder whether a majority would rally around that flag so early in the meeting.
Apostle John dismisses Deborah Block as a viable candidate because she is a member of the Covenant Network. I would not discount the influence of the Covenant Network so quickly. It is my perception that among the various groups advocating for the ordination of gays and lesbians, the Covenant Network is cloer to the Presbyterian center than organizations such as More Light Presbyterians or That All May Freely Serve. Block is also not a single-issue candidate; she is involved with the Jewish-Presbyterian Consultation, which is highly relevant as the Assembly deals with the possibility of continued study and possible divestment from some corporations operating in Israel and Palestine. I note that she has selected my favorite portions from the "Brief Statement of Faith" as footers to the pages of her candidacy dossier, and those may resonate with a large number of commissioners as well.
Timothy Halverson brings some important concerns and experience to the Assembly, and I would love to see his ideas get broader attention in the church. I am not sure how his passion for evangelism translates into leading a meeting of the General Assembly. He certainly brings an impressive set of connections: he is a fellow Yalie who was ordained in one of the more conservative churches of a presbytery I once served; his running mate is Carol Divens Roth, the current moderator of Pittsburgh Presbytery. He is also a strong candidate.
I agree with Apostle John with his reasons for dismissing Kerry Carson as a viable candidate.
Without the benefit of meeting the candidates or hearing them prior to the election process this evening, I think Block is the strongest candidate, even though I wish Gray would be elected.
The result of this election will be an important indicator of where the General Assembly may go with much of its business in the coming week.
Does anybody want to gather around the streaming video to watch the election tonight?
Update: 11:50 PM: It was Joan Gray on the third ballot. I am delighted.