Where to Go From Here...

First a disclaimer. Before I get too deep into blogging about my experience at the General Assembly Council (GAC) meeting that met in Louisville, KY March 25th- 27th it is important folks have a general grasp of the context from which I am writing.

I am of the new class of GAC members, but I am not alone in that. Half of the current GAC came on at the last General Assembly. Take away from that what you will, but it is important to note. Though I am new to GAC I am not new to the PC(USA) national church scene. Having served on the board with Presbyterian Health Education Welfare Association (PHEWA), moderated a network of PHEWA, and also interned at the Presbyterian Center for over a year while in seminary, those experiences give me pretty good perspective.

Then there is the demographic piece of the disclaimer. I am the only woman serving on the GAC under the age of 50. There are other women of course, elders and clergy, of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, whose wisdom and experience in the church compromise a beautiful tapestry of ministry and service. I celebrate the ways they contribute to the make up of the GAC. But there is something to be said about being the only young woman there. I don't always feel all that young as a pastor and mother... these callings often leave me feeling very tired. Nevertheless, I do feel a certain weight rests on my shoulder to be a strong and effective voice for the young women of our church.

Going into the GAC meeting I knew would be frustrating, exhausting, and full of very hard decisions to make. I live in Michigan after all, I know all about how the economy is effecting real people, real lives, and how there is a real sense of fear about jobs, income, and being able to provide for family needs. Determined to be prayerful, I spent time talking to God about my feelings and struggles with what was about to happen. I remained in conversation with God and people whom I respect a great deal about my frustrations going into this meeting. Frustration that I didn't feel a part of the communication process or the had any concrete input on the decisions that would be made.

The term "rubber stamp" came up a lot. In my own conversations and among others in the GAC. I came into the meetings determined to be more than that. I felt called by God to be more than a "rubber stamp" to decisions having already been made. An interesting response to my thoughts about this prior to the meetings came from a pastor friend of mine. Now in his mid- 40's (still young by church standards) and having been someone who struggled with the decision making process of the church he said: "Just don't become that angry young person, Melissa. You will be dismissed quickly both publicly and in the minds of other GAC members and leadership. They will see you as that young person who just needs time to grow out of being a rebellious trouble maker and then you will come to your senses."

Those words stopped me in my tracks. How true. Navigating these waters became tougher and tougher. Not only did I take into consideration the weight resting on my shoulders to be an effective voice as a young woman, but I reflected carefully on the perceptions others would have of me for being a young woman.

Going back over and over again the issues before the GAC, I did my best to see where God's hope and grace had the slightest possibilities to emerge. Where in our work did we have the opportunity to reflect who God is calling the PC(USA) to be and do?

Sitting in the Crystal Ballroom of the Brown Hotel with packets of papers in front of me, it became harder and harder to ask myself those questions. I quickly discovered that the very questions I was asking myself were the questions I was presenting before this body. That while we can say decisions are made for this reason or that, using words to describe the rationale behind them. Ultimately, the entire church will have their own perceptions and assumptions about what these decisions communicate to them in the midst of the ministries God is calling them to. Pretending that the rationale behind these decisions will answer the questions and challenges only masks the very real message the church takes to heart.

No matter how many times I told myself I wasn't the angry young person, that I was passionate, sought justice, and sincerely wanted to advocate for what I felt God's message of the kingdom calls us to do and be...I was still perceived as the angry young person. Questions I raised dismissed, concerns I brought forth ignored, and at one point falsey accused of sharing confidential information compromising trust the body had in the voice I brought to the table. Another GAC member with a great amount of wisdom whispered to me through our meetings: "Don't let it own you, Melissa."

The decisions made by the GAC were hard ones to make. I'm not going to say they weren't necessary or made without prayerful deliberation on the part of the GAC staff or elected leaders. I am going to say that the church is going to walk away from this with their own perceptions about the decisions that were made. About whether certain ministries of the church are truly valued or will continue the historic and prophetic witness we believe God is calling us to do and be. Press releases, news stories, and videos won't change the real message many Presbyterians will take to heart.

I'm not letting it own me. The week was exhausting, discouraging, and frustrating. I am not exactley sure where to go from here with all that happened, but it doesn't own me. For the obvious reason that my life rests in the hands of God and the other reason is I came home. I turned in my name badge, grabbed the box lunch and sat in my car. I drove over the Ohio River into Indiana and on to Michigan as people who I know and love lost their jobs. I came home to my family, my job, my life outside of Louisville that is mostly unaffected by the changes that were made.
My heart and prayers remain with those whose lives were devastated by these changes. May the grace of God offer transformation and hope in the midst of great suffering and pain. And I pray that while I won't let the epxerience I have serving at the national level of the PC(USA) "own me" they do posses the ability to empower me to ask the hard questions and be a effective voice that represents who God is calling the church to be.


  1. I am proud to know you, Melissa. Having worked on staff for the GAC, I empathize with your struggles and frustrations. God IS at work in our midst; it's just sometimes very difficult to discern God's Spirit amidst the clutter and blocks. Peace be with you!
    Martha Gilliss

  2. I'm proud to know you, Melissa. I worked on staff for the GAC for 5 years with some wonderful people, but there are also many, many roadblocks, clutter, and agendas that feel hurtful. It's hard to discern much of the time the presence of God's Spirit amongst, within, and above (and under) it all. Hang in there. There are many who appeciate your voice and spirit.

  3. Melissa, I am glad you were there with your "angry young person" viewpoint. I am almost 70 and it sounds as if you represented this "angry old person's" viewpoint very well.

  4. thanks for your reflections. i've been pondering lately how the "angry" adjective is used to negate a person's voice. is there really something wrong with being angry? thanks for your presence - and voice.

  5. Thanks Melissa. I was wondering what your thoughts and experiences were.
    I think we're discounted as angry young women often. Do men get discounted as angry young men? Do you know?

  6. Melissa,
    Thanks for honest reflections from a tough week. I could so relate. After telling a college campus minister that I wanted to go to seminary after college, he said to me, "Well just don't go to seminary X, there's a lot of angry women there." I did go to seminary X (it was the obvious choice), and I didn't find angry women there. I have reflected ever since on his (and other's) descriptions and perceptions of "angry" women. Kerri is correct, I think the "angry" adjective is used to negate someone's voice.


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