Last night, in a rescheduled session, the 224th General Assembly elected our new Co-Moderators. Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart and Teaching Elder Gregory Bentley were overwhelmingly elected, garnering 304 votes and easily winning on the first ballot.
It was a moving election, even in its virtual format. “I am hippopotamus happy and dinosaur delighted,” Bentley said. Elona’s screen was filled with family and joyful, tearful exasperations.
They now take over as head of the Presbyterian church in the midst of two pandemics, the COVID-19 pandemic which triggered the virtual GA, and the other a racial pandemic that continues to tear at our country and our church, a pandemic that Elona and Greg are uniquely positioned to help address. Elona is a descendant of the Delaware Nanticoke tribe and the first Native American to serve as General Assembly Moderator, and the first synod executive to be elected, who stated last night: “The world needs a church that has no fear over its diversity.”
Greg is a southern African-American pastor, who speaks with confident hope about our future: “We believe the denomination is headed in the right direction…. We want to heed Christ’s call to not be afraid … We want to run this race with perseverance, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”
During the answering of questions from commissioners they referenced this hopeful direction, namely the Matthew 25 invitation, which Maumee Valley Presbytery has accepted and is enrolled as a Matthew 25 Presbytery.
I also sense their time as Co-Moderators will be a time that focuses on building up relationships and our collective narrative. As part of the preliminary documents leading up to their election Elona stated: “Our personal experiences teach so much about who we are, and they are key to building relations across our differences, experiences and our church through the hope of the Matthew 25 initiative….We believe it will take all that we are, individually and collectively, to continue to take on the important work God has for the PC(USA) to do.”
Immediately after their election, the two were installed.
The Rev. Marie Mainard O’Connell and Arthur Fullerton received 90 votes. The Rev. Sandra Hedrick and Moon Lee got 65 votes.
As a colleague of Elona for the last few years, I know what a powerful voice she is for the stories of Indigenous people. And while I have not yet met Greg, I believe these two have a great chance to move our church forward in healing and reconciliation.