DETROIT, Mich. – Heath Rada was chosen and installed as moderator for the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 221st General Assembly, but not without a taxing selection process brought on by a lack of Internet use and the need to vote by paper ballot.
Rada, a member of the General Assembly’s Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB), was endorsed by the Presbytery of Western North Carolina. He was selected by commissioners to serve as moderator for the remainder of this week’s GA and the next two years.
“I cannot thank you enough for the faith you have placed in me tonight,” Rada said. “I will do my best. We will give you everything we have to show the love we have for the PCUSA and Christendom around the world.”
Larissa Kwong Abazia was tabbed as vice moderator during Saturday night’s plenary session at the Cobo Center. She currently serves as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills in Queens, N.Y., part of Presbytery of New York City.
The tandem succeeds Neal Presa and Tom Trinidad as the public faces of the PCUSA.
Rada, a ruling elder from Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Asheville, N.C., garnered 52.4 percent of the vote, capturing 331 of the 631 votes cast.
Rada’s choice as moderator came from a field that also included John Wilkinson, teaching elder of Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester, N.Y. (endorsed by Presbytery of Genesee Valley), and Kelly Allen, teaching elder of University Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas (endorsed by Mission Presbytery).
Wilkinson earned 24.9 percent of the ballot (157 votes), and Allen had 22.7 percent (143).
Rada, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and dined with Desmond Tutu, spoke of being truthful and respectful within the church, overlooking political differences and a need to create ego challenges through seeking credit.
“In too many instances we feel entitled and forget about the truth,” he said, making a reference to a T-shirt he saw that had the slogan “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.” on it. “We need to get rid of that message. We need to embrace taking off that T-shirt. If we do, I see important and exciting opportunities for our church.”
Speaking on the matter of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) persons in the church, Rada said, “We need to get beyond the fact that we need to label people. We need to focus on the needs of people. We have a glorious opportunity to move beyond being identified with anything that sets us apart instead of bringing us together.”
In regard to congregations leaving the PCUSA, Rada noted a need to seek common ground in a gracious manner even when looking at things differently.
“I believe in family. We need to find ways to disagree but still live together as a family,” he said. “If it gets to the point we cannot, we need to be gracious and loving, and celebrate our brothers and sisters.”
Internet issues at the Cobo Center forced General Assembly officials to resort to the use of hand-held clickers by advisory delegates and commissioners to cast votes, thus slowing the process. Numerous test trials were conducted to determine if the system was working properly, all in an attempt to forgo the use of paper ballots.
Following comments from each of the candidates and a 45-minute question-and-answer period, one final test of the clickers was conducted to determine if they were revealing a true reflection of the full body of commissioners.
When the test did not reveal such a number, Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons recommended that advisory delegates vote by clicker with paper ballots used by commissioners. But even that did not work. Results from the delegate vote popped up on the large video screens that showed totals from the 2012 moderator election.
So, to address that hiccup, delegates raised their red cards to advise commissioners, leading to the vote that Rada won on the first ballot.
After being informed of the decision, Rada and Peggy, his wife of 48 years, returned to the floor of the assembly and received a standing ovation as he entered his installation ceremony, which included presentation of the moderator’s stole to him by Presa, also commended for his work as moderator the last two years.