Wednesday, August 27, 2014


The Office of Public Witness at the 221st General Assembly

OPW Staff and Summer Fellows in the GA Exhibit Hall
The staff members of the Office of Public Witness were busy at the General Assembly (GA), which took place June 14-21, 2014, in Detroit, MI. While Director for Public Witness J. Herbert Nelson and Representatives Catherine Gordon and Leslie Woods attended the GA as resource people for various committees (5 committees amongst us), our Summer Fellows served the Assembly as Student Assistants. Three of them were assigned as committee assistants, so if you visited or served on the committees on Middle East, Marriage, or Mission Coordination, you probably met them! And our recent seminary intern, Sabrina Slater, represented Princeton Seminary as a Theological Student Advisory Delegate.

It was a busy week for us. Even as we supported the commissioners, advisory delegates and corresponding members with our prayers and expertise, J. Herbert Nelson also made five speaking appearances. We had a great time connecting with old allies and new partners for justice all over the place – from the Exhibit Hall to the committee room to the Plenary floor. Here are just a few highlights:

GA Plenary

The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson addressed the General Assembly during the Friday afternoon plenary. In his address, he reminded us of the long Presbyterian tradition of engaging in public life, from John Calvin’s advocacy with the leaders of 16th century Geneva, to John Witherspoon who signed the Declaration of Independence, to Stated Clerk Eugene Carson Blake who marched with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. He quoted current Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons who wrote in 2009 “So, on one hand, it would appear that those of the Reformed tradition have been defenders of the role of government, and on the other hand, disturbers of governments.” Rev. Nelson remarked, “this paradoxical call places us in a significant position to love our nation while possess a willingness to make it better.” Nelson concluded his remarks to the GA by saying, “We cannot remain silent in these troubling times. The world needs the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to stand up and be the Church. Join me in making a difference in this sin sick world. We can do it together.  Thank you and God Bless!”

New Education Initiative

J. Herbert Nelson and Frank Dimmock
Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry, together with World Mission, announced a new “Educate a Child, Change the World” initiative that seeks to provide quality education to one million children worldwide by the year 2020. This joint partnership was approved the General Assembly and launched at a lunch event where Frank Dimmock, World Mission’s catalyst for poverty issues, and J. Herbert Nelson, each discussed the critical issues of education as a tool to create equality. Education transforms lives,” Dimmock said, “empowering girls and women particularly … for leadership … for economic opportunity … for better health.” The children who be reached by the education initiative “are children of God and our children,” Dimmock continued, “providing them a quality education is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.” Both speakers emphasized the fundamental truth that “every child can learn.”

CPJ Meal and the Reverend William Barber

The Reverend Dr. William Barber
At the Thursday evening meal, Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry welcomed the Reverend William Barber, President of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the growing Moral Monday movement. Barber, whose presence is powerful and inspiring, challenged us to take the on the special interests that use private money to create public power. He said, “Never before have we seen so much money spent to oppose equality.” He went on to profoundly disturb us with the observation that “we live in an age when corporations are treated like people and people are treated like things.” Barber challenged the church, at large: “if we claim to believe in the triune God, then we have to oppose the triune evils of racism, classism, and militarism… how can we oppose Rome when we have become Rome?” We left the evening feeling energized, but convinced of just how much work there is still to do in the cause of God’s justice in our public places. “Never forget,” Barber said, “when you pray ‘God bless America,’ that God is not the property of just one nation.”

Gratitude for the General Assembly

The Office of Public Witness gives thanks for the work of the General Assembly, for the commitment of the Commissioners and Advisory Delegates who did the hard work of discerning the will of the Spirit, and for all the OGA event planners, student assistants, volunteers, and COLA folks without whom the Assembly would not have been possible. As the voice of Presbyterian public policy, tasked with representing the social witness policy of Presbyterian General Assemblies, the Office of Public Witness pays close attention to the GA. We have come home with a lot of new work to do! Join us in the struggle for compassion, peace, and justice in our public lives.