Updated: 02.19.08 @ 11:06am: post typo-cop input
Updated: 02.21.08 @ 2:33pm: GA 101: Moderator – All things in Moderation from the GA Junkie. Scarily complete.

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On my post, Problems with a 2.0 Moderator, Dan Williams left the following comment,

You are standing/campaigning not for the position of president, prime minister, or bishop of the General Assembly, but as its moderator. We have purposely chosen that term to distinguish from those other models what we ask of this person. What has been happening in recent years is our denomination has gotten away from the true purpose of a moderator — to see that the meeting is conducted decently and in order. Instead, we tend to get people who have no clear idea how to moderate a meeting, but believe it is their job to subsequently circulate through the church (usually, the non fly-over areas) and share their perspective on issues. In many instances, this has contributed to the further erosion of trust in our denomination. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Some will argue that we need to send the moderator around the country to interpret what the GA has done. However, each presbytery has commissioners who can perform that task both more efficiently, and probably, better.

Give the GA a true 2.0 moderator. Stand for moderator by pledging to conduct an orderly and fair meeting, then promise to mostly stay home for the next two years.

I don’t know Dan.  I don’t know from what experiences he is speaking.  What I do get from this comment is that he raises a good question, “What exactly is the purpose of the Moderator?”

Let me take a stab at answering this question.

Here are the crux of the functions as laid out in Section “H” of the Standing Rules,

(4)    When the Moderator presides at the assembly, it is to be a sign of the bond of unity, community, and mission in the life of the church. During the period between assemblies, the Moderator serves as an ambassador of the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace, telling the story of the church’s life and upholding the people of God through prayer.

How I see these two things . . .

Moderating GA – Theological perspective aside, the week of GA has produced a variety of moderatorial styles.  You will get differing opinions about particular moderators and their relative effectiveness.  As I reflect on the moderators I have experienced over the years, a few approaches stand out to me.  These are the goals I would have as moderator:

  • Be excruciatingly fair // make sure folks feel heard and are taken seriously, voices are balanced, the minority is protected, the majority honored;
  • Be appropriately compassionate // understand that there is and will be hurt, pain, joy and sadness in the body and strive to have times to provide healing and celebration;
  • Be intentionally disciplined // listen and respond to the movement of the spirit so that fairness and compassion can be lived out within the body in the midst of debate and decision-making.

Being an Ambassador – Now this one is a little more tricky.  What exactly does it mean to “tell the story of the church’s life”?  I think that it is both simple and complex.  I don’t think it is simply regurgitating what went on at GA.  I think the role of telling the story is more about using one’s unique perspective to more effectively listen, experience, discern and share about a great many things, such as . . .

  • The Prophetic – Telling the story of where we may be falling short;
  • The Pastoral – Telling the story of where we are serving Christ;
  • The Priestly – Telling the story of where the Spirit of God is moving;

The “Elephants in the Room” – A few more thoughts/rants/musings and other things to stir the pot.

I am sure Dan is not alone in his ambivalence about the subsequent expectation that moderators “circulate through the church . . . . and share their perspective on issues.”   I do not agree.  And even if I did agree, we are not set up that way.  Those that want the Moderator to be a neutral presence, not speak his/her mind, or simply be an official bearer of ecclesiastical greetings  are failing to see the benefit of having diverse individuals serve as Moderators.  This perspective also assumes that a Moderator cannot be fair and have integrity if she or he is also an active leader.

Through informal networking, pre-GA campaigning time, and the Q&A on the night of the election, those of us standing for Moderator are are inviting folks to get to know us.  Why?  Because there is some expectation that the unique nature of each candidate will flavor the moderatorial term.  In essence, our system is set up to vote on the tone and content of the candidate.  The fact that this is a short, non-paid position with little policy power allows the denomination to take risks and make a statement with the election of the moderator.  We can allow ourselves to enter into new conversations that we may not otherwise enter into.

What a gift!

I think back to past Moderators that I have had the pleasure to know.  What if John Fife didn’t talk about justice and sanctuary?  What if Marge Carpenter didn’t tell stories of global mission?  What if Syngman Rhee didn’t lift up issues of racial reconciliation?  Of course no one person is just one thing, but each brings a unique life perspective that the GA discerned would be good for the larger church to experience. Again, what a gift.

Looking at the three candidates standing so far this year: what would it be like if Carl Mazza were elected but didn’t help us think about issues of poverty and homelessness? Or if Bill Teng were elected and we didn’t talk about his stated themes of mission and evangelism? Or if I were elected and nary a word was uttered about the church of the next generation, church planting, or technology?

That would be weird, that’s what it would be.

Okay, so there you have it.  While no process is perfect, I appreciate the way we engage now and how we may engage in the future.  When we elect moderators that help us to move into meaningful interactions, open our hearts up to new ways God is moving and draw closer to Christ through the unique ways we have heard the story told, we are all the better for it as individuals and a denomination.

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