On Friday, February 24, I attended the 37th stated meeting of the Synod of South Atlantic at Epworth-by-the-Sea in Saint Simons Island, Georgia, in part to find out what the synod is all about. Though I was not a voting commissioner from Peace River, I was (to my surprise) automatically seated as a corresponding member by virtue of my role as moderator of the presbytery. I wanted to share some reflections and notes on this gathering that left me feeling hopeful, energetic, and enthused for the future of our multi-state mid council, which covers Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

The most notable new face at the meeting was the synod’s new Executive and Stated Clerk, Ruling Elder Valerie Young. Valerie previously served in the same capacity for the Synod of the Sun, based in Dallas, Texas. She is incredibly energetic and eager to get to know the work of our presbyteries and churches. As she put it, “synod ministry is my jam!” Valerie encouraged each of us to follow the synod on Facebook and “friend” Valerie personally on Facebook. Establishing her charge to consider “the power of yet”, she spoke of several exciting things she is hoping to accomplish soon, including strengthening and building more robust communications for the synod, specifically through the website, social media, and newsletters, as well as visiting meetings and connecting individually with congregations and presbytery leaders. In her view, there is no place to “end up” as the synod or church; instead, we should be constantly moving and changing. This challenge, she noted, exists for all of us. Valerie is an eager, intelligent, and joyful source of enthusiasm for the work of the synod; I believe she will be a tremendous leader and asset. It is worth noting that our own Charmaine Ponkratz, in her capacity as chair of the synod’s Budget and Finance Committee, served on the team that helped recruit Valerie.

In other reports, the moderator of the synod Presbyterian Women noted that 280 ladies attended their October gathering at Epworth. Our synod hosts – by far – the largest gathering of women in the PC(USA)! For a bigger picture, most other synod events attract 75-80 women. So, SOSA is way ahead of the mark! The Savannah School of the Laity was also lifted up as a helpful resource for lay people and ruling elders. As for information I will file under “bring this back to Peace River”, Valerie equipped our synod moderator, Rev. David Shelor, with a “30 second dance break” button. When pressed, all present were asked to stand and dance. He used this button liberally, to our simultaneous delight and chagrin.

Valerie asked us to share some of the exciting things happening within our local regions. So many wonderful thoughts were exchanged. Tropical Florida Presbytery is hosting a big event — titled, believe it or not, “The Big Event” — on March 7 to explore what it means to be vibrant and vital. Providence Presbytery is hosting PDA for a PW event in April to grow more equipped in hurricane preparedness. In Flint River Presbytery, two pastors will be getting married at a presbytery meeting on August 4! All were invited to attend. I shared a word of thanks on behalf of our presbytery to all present, particularly Tropical Florida, for the help extended to Peace River and its congregations in recovering and rebuilding from Hurricane Ian. Valerie then asked about the work of Mision Peniel and the Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance. Pretty impressive knowledge for someone who has only been on the job for two months!

For me, a highlight of the meeting was spending time with Rev. Ruth Faith Santana Grace, the co-moderator of the 225th General Assembly. We are working together on a commission that came from our GA service, and she, upon recognizing me, gave me a big hug and asked to chat. I shared many stories from our presbytery, especially regarding the faithfulness of our congregations in rebuilding. She took each of them in with interest and enthusiasm.

I feel confident that, for its other purposes, the synod is a tremendous opportunity for networking with colleagues, meeting new friends, and a place to express the connectionalism of our church. I must have passed my email address around on half a dozen sticky notes requesting flyers, information, and newsletters. It is like a big interstate Presbyterian bulletin board!

The synod’s next meeting will be on Tuesday, November 14 at 10 AM via Zoom. We will ensure event information is shared as we move closer to the date. Thank you for allowing me to report on such an incredible morning.

In Christ’s Service,

Carson Brown
Moderator of Presbytery