Presbyterian Church (USA) closed its 224th General Assembly with an observance of silence that lasted 8 minutes and 46 seconds for victims of prejudice, and racism specifically.
On May 25, a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the neck of a handcuffed George Floyd for that amount of time as two other officers held onto his back and legs, leading to his death. The incident, which was captured on police body cameras and recorded by bystanders, sparked massive protests and riots across the United States.
The PCUSA's observance of silence took place on Saturday, as part of the final plenary session for the general assembly, which was the first in the denomination’s history to be held online.
General Assembly Co-Moderator Elona Street-Stewart said that the observance, which she described as a vigil, had a broader meaning than just one tragic death.
“This vigil is not simply to remember the tragic murder of George Floyd, but to remember all the injustice suffered by black, indigenous, and people of color due to systemic racism and white supremacy,” Street-Stewart said.
“To remember the economic oppressions upon people who are poor, to remember the denial of many immigrants the rights of U.S. citizenship, to remember the iniquities suffered by those whom our nation has forsaken.”
Street-Stewart also hoped that those involved in the vigil of silence would “remember and repent” of “marginalizing our siblings in our churches and throughout our denomination.”
“Let us be resolved and repent to live out the justices of God’s kin-dom, let us be resolved to use our resources and privileges to live out the Church’s great ends into the streets, our communities, our cities, our nations, and our world,” she continued.
Earlier in the session, PCUSA General Assembly Stated Clerk the Rev. Herbert J. Nelson prayed to “Mother God” on behalf of African American women who have been victimized in various ways.
“Help us to repent, to live lives that restore those whose wounds are still there,” Nelson prayed. “We need you, Lord. We’re waiting. Our girls, our women — they’re waiting. Their families are waiting. Amen.”
2020 marked the first year the PCUSA general assembly was held exclusively online, after the denomination decided to cancel its in-person gathering due to COVID-19 concerns.
Because of the move to an online platform, the scheduled agenda had to be reduced to key items, including church leadership elections, budget, and actions from special committees.
In April, Stated Clerk Nelson assured those concerned that despite the shortened schedule, the general assembly still intended to address social justice issues.
“We are not divorcing ourselves from social justice. We are in a world and nation that is hurting in many ways and people cannot connect with loved ones who are dying,” Nelson said at the time.
“We have always been pro-justice. This is not a diminishing of that. I do think there is a need for us to be very poignant in our way of expressing who we are as Presbyterians.”