KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – One of the workshops offered at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s national meeting called Big Tent held July 39-Aug. 1 on the campus of the University of Tennessee was “A Conversation with the moderator of the 221st General Assembly.”
Since the workshop was called a “conversation” Moderator Heath Rada let the participants choose the topics they wanted to hear about. He went through a list of issues that he has discussed at various events during his travels as moderator and then went into more detail about the ones attendees showed interest in.
Rada asserted that some of the people and churches who have left the denomination in recent years are “coming back, because we didn’t realize what we were giving up,” including influence of the PCUSA on social justice issues.
When asked to identify those of whom he was speaking, he said there were not that many churches yet, but he is hearing people say “we gave up so much more than we thought we would have to give up.”
The Stated Clerk in the Office of the General Assembly did not respond to requests from The Layman to identify the churches that the Moderator said have reversed course and re-affiliated with the PCUSA after joining another Presbyterian denomination.
The first subject raised for conversation by a Big Tent participant was about Rada’s international travels.
Of mission partners and personnel, Rada said, “I have been overwhelmed with the confidence of those serving in the field. They are amazing. Their commitment, their love, their influence is so phenomenal.”
Rada spoke of his recent visits to the tent cities that house the Iraqi Christians who fled from Mosul when ISIS took control. These Christians were told by ISIS that they either had to leave the country in one hour without taking anything with them, or sign a document stating they were now Muslims and pay a high fee.
“We are talking about people who had nice homes, cars — living a life of affluence even” in Mosul, he said, and had been for generations, who were now living in tents as refugees with nothing.
Rada said he couldn’t help but think how it would be easy to lie, sign the papers and then continue to live in their beautiful homes. “I didn’t hear anyone who was even tempted by that.”
“One of the beautiful things that happened,” Rada said, was that an elderly lady with Parkinson’s disease came over to him and she held up the Moderator’s cross he was wearing around his neck and kissed it.
“I’m not kissing this because it is a beautiful piece of jewelry,” she told him “It represents the hope that I have in what this is representing and even in my old age, I may never get back to my home, but I know who will take care of me.”
Closer to home: issues in Louisville
Speaking of the PCUSA’s denominational structure, Rada spoke of the need of a “buck-stops here” person. The PCUSA has six agencies – the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the Office of the General Assembly, the Board of Pensions, the Presbyterian Foundation, Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program and the Presbyterian Publishing Corp.
“One of the issues is that the collegial function is no longer working as well as it did,” he said, adding that the PCUSA “does not have a person who is concerned about the whole overview of the denomination.”
On another issue, Rada mentioned that he was seeing a new “emergence coming about” in the PCUSA.
He said that people are telling him that they are “tired of arguing and defending the church. We want to be the church.”
He added that presbytery officials are telling him that in their presbytery meetings “We are no longer arguing with each other but talking about how we go further.”
Rada also spoke of attending the 2014 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Peru this past December.
Finally, Rada made one request of those attending the workshop. “Pray for the church, and for me, and for [Vice-moderator] Larissa [Kwong Abazia]. Prayer is very sustaining for me and Larissa.”
The denomination maintains a webpage where you can learn more about the Moderator, where he’s traveling, what he’s writing and submit an invitation to have him speak at your church, presbytery or event. Moderator Rada is serving a two year term that began at the 2014 General Assembly and will conclude at the installation of the next Moderator during the 2016 General Assembly in Portland, Ore.