THE REV. SUSAN ANDREWS was presiding as the newly elected moderator of the 215th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), so maybe she was caught up in the excitement. "Now is the time," she said exuberantly, "for us to do the work of the people of God."

From the depths of the Denver Convention Center, however, it was tempting to think of the PCUSA's convention in less sanguine terms. On this hot afternoon in late May, inside a dark, cavernous plenary hall, it was easy to imagine legislative sessions in hell: Legislative delegates acting on hundreds of resolutions in a week, and always voting their conscience, as informed by their personal experience; every bit of legislation, its framers will announce in stentorian tones, will be a matter of justice, with delegates condemning how God reigns over his creation; and so on.

It's not that General Assembly's decisions were typically hellish. Indeed, compared to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (ECUSA), which met at the Minneapolis Convention Center from July 30 to August 8, General Assembly was a model of legislative temperance.

The PCUSA's General Assembly dealt with the hot-button issues of homosexuality by referring them to committee for more discussion. ECUSA's General Convention, by contrast, chose to confirm the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson as the Episcopal Church's first bishop-elect who from the outset spoke openly of his homosexuality. (Other homosexual Episcopal bishops have kept their sexual lives hidden or have disclosed themselves only after retirement.)

Observing both conventions as a reporter turned up some common patterns and some truths for would-be reformers of mainline Protestant churches. Here are ten of them.

1. It's a Dirty Job, But Someone's ...

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October 2003

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