Thursday, June 15, 2006

First Day of Offical Business

Today is the first day of official business at General Assembly, which has taken over the entire Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC). It's a great facility, but... My reservation is about the amout of room allocated for observers. Assemblies like this (where there is predictable controversy) can attract thousands of observers, such as I, from all over the country. It's been my experience at past GAs that plenary meetings were held in arenas where the voters were on the floor and there was plenty of space in the peanut gallery for observers. The plenary hall at the BJCC is not an arena--only a large room. The space taken up by commissioners, advisory delegates, and press, leaves seat for only several hundred seats for observers, who have paid $125 just to observe. It will be interesting to see how thousands of observers will scramble for the limited number of seats.

The observers' area

The commissioners area at GA

The afternoon's business was perfunctory, so Chrissie and I had time to view the various exhibits, meeting with Kirk people at work here in Birmingham. John and Diana Haley were at the Literacy Evangelism International, where we also saw Sid and Christa Rice (The Rev. Sid Rice is the President of LEI). Wayne and Kay Ward were at the Presbyterian Coalition Exhibit (the Coalition is an evangelical group within the PCUSA). We also talked with the Rev. Ed Hurley, who served at the Kirk in the 1980s.

John and Diana Haley

Sid and Christa Rice

Wayne and Kay Ward

The interesting business started this evening with the election of our new moderator. The candidates were formally nominated, and then each followed with a prepared 5-minute campaign speech. After that, came an hour for questions from the floor. This is where it got interesting. After a couple of innocuous questions, it became pointed: "Where do you stand on the ordination of practicing gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals?" The two men, Kerry Carson and Tim Halverson, were clearly opposed to it. One of the women, Deborah Block was in favor; the other, Joan Gray (no relation), gave a confused answer, implying that she hoped the GA would come to a decision. Prior to this GA, it was clear to me that the track records of Block and Gray indicated support for GLBT ordination.

It took three ballots, and Joan Gray was elected moderator of the 217th General Assembly of the PCUSA. I cannot tell you what this bodes for our future except to say that the floor vote indicated that the commissioners were more interested in persons who would "just get along" over those who had a clear stand.

It's 10:00 now and there's a lot happening (committees meet to debate issues) tomorrow. So, I'll sign off for now, but please continue to check in daily, and add your comments to the blog (click on the "comment" link) so we can all carry on a virtual conversation.


Suzanne Forsberg said...

Thanks for taking the time to write us these updates. Will continue to pray for a positive outcome for these meetings and for the observing seating situation for all of you observers. I agree with you about the moderator choice. Not a good sign. Thanks for all you and Chrissie are doing. God Bless!

Suzanne Forsberg said...

Thanks for your time to fill us all in at General Assembly. I love being able to log on and get your view so fast! Will Pray for the seating situation for the observers and please know you and Chrissie are in our prayers as well.

Anonymous said...

Tom, could you explain the difference between a commissioner and an advisory delegate? Esther

Apostle John said...

Maybe I will see you at GA! By the way, I observe at every GA and I don't remember ever paying a fee. I'm attending this year as a member of the press, so is this something new?

Jim Carey said...

Tom - thanks for keeping us up to date. We watched some of the proceedings on the streaming video from the denomination's website, which worked quite well. It is difficult for the uninitiated to read between the lines at times so it's been very helpful to have your take on it all. Praying that you and Chrissie, and the other observers, will have seats throughout the week.

Sean Farver said...

Hi Tom,
Thanks for creating this blog and keeping us posted on the Assembly. I agree, I think Gray's election means the comissioners are in a 'moderate' sort of mood. I think their instinct will be to try and hold together the largest number of people possible which means the avoidance of saying anything definitive. Moderation may, indeed, be a virtue with respect to a great many issues but there are core convictions at odds at this Assembly which seem impossible to me to hold together. I pray that the Assembly will not see fit to keep our feet firmly planted in mid-air for another two years or more.

I wanted to let folks know that they can view portions of the General Assembly via live, streaming video over the internet. You access it from the PCUSA website (


TomGray said...

A commissioner is elected by presbyteries and can vote at the plenary meetings of GA. An advisory delegate is elected by a presbyery (youth and theological student representatives) or by category (ecumenical delegates). These folk have no vote on the floor of GA, but are assigned to and have votes on committess.

Quotidian Grace said...

My impression from watching the streaming video of the election was that Gray was personally oppossed to GLBT ordination. But I don't know anything about her other than that. I agree she wasn't as forthright as the minister from Iowa in her opposition.

Nan said...

Tom - what do you think about the announcement of the $150 million donation to the denomination being made during the assembly?...merely a coincidence?

Anonymous said...

Tom, I did not realize that you were only there as an observer. Are there commissioners there from the Kirk/Tulsa? Do you generally know where they stand on the issue at hand? Brian

Anonymous said...


Just reading your blog for the first time. Actually Dr. Gray said she has struggled with the gblt issue but she cant wrap her mind around the idea that homosexuality is God's intention for people. She took the second most conservative stance on the issue, next to Carson. Actaully Halverson is fully supportive of gay ordination but he is unwilling to push it on the church because he doesnt think there is enough consensous on the issue yet. BTW i used to go to SHPC and i know Dr. Hurley. I'm a pastor at the presbyterian church in Guntersville Al. Hop all is well with the wineskins convention and i will be anxiously awaiting reports from it.