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PCUSA elects first Native leader for first-ever online General Assembly

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has elected its first ever Native American General Assembly co-moderator, as part of the first general assembly to be done exclusively online.

Elona Street-Stewart, executive of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies and member of the Delaware Nanticoke tribe, was elected co-moderator of the 224th General Assembly last Saturday.

Street-Stewart won in a landslide first ballot of 304 votes, being elected alongside the Rev. Gregory Bentley, an African-American pastor who leads Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama.

“The world needs a church that has no fear over its diversity,” stated Street-Stewart, as reported by Presbyterian News Service. “We look forward to meeting the fabulous expectations our current co-moderators have established for us.”

Behind them in the first ballot were the Rev. Marie Mainard O’Connell and Arthur Fullerton with 90 votes and the Rev. Sandra Hedrick and Moon Lee with 65 votes.

Street-Stewart and Bentley were installed by the 223rd General Assembly co-moderators the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, and the PC(USA) General Assembly Stated Clerk the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, II.

Elona Street-Stewart and Irvin Porter distrubte communion on Native American Day (September 12, 2018) at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Street-Stewart was ordained a ruling elder at First Presbyterian Church Pendleton, Oregon, in 1982.

In 2015, she became the first Native American to be installed as head of a synod when she became the executive of the Minnesota-based Synod of Lakes ad Prairies.

Electing the first Native American co-moderator was not the only historic aspect of this year’s PC(USA) General Assembly, which is also the first to be exclusively online.

In April, the Office of the General Assembly voted unanimously to move the largest Presbyterian denomination in America’s church legislative gathering online due to coronavirus concerns.

The convention center in Maryland where they were planning to hold the in-person assembly was converted into a field hospital for those suffering from COVID-19, noted the Office of the General Assembly in an earlier statement.

As a result of the online platform, the agenda has been reduced to key items, including church leadership elections, budget, and actions from special committees.

The 224th General Assembly also recognized and honored the work of individuals involved in gun violence prevention campaigns, bestowing on them their Crystal Teardrop Award.

One of the honorees was the Rev. Deanna Hollas, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s coordinator of Gun Violence Prevention Ministry.

“If you manufacture guns, you need to create demand for your product and need to get new customers. There is no doubt that this pandemic showed an increase in gun sales,” stated Hollas.

“I think we, as Christians, can be a witness to the kingdom of God and show people that there are other ways to be safe, like building community, supporting one another, loving our neighbors.”

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