The General Assembly has elected Howie Donahoe, a ruling elder from Seattle in the Pacific Northwest Presbytery, to moderate the 47th General Assembly. The vote was 848-493.
Donahoe has been a member of the PCA for 36 years and has attended churches in Washington, Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. He has served as a ruling elder for 32 years.
In his years as a ruling elder Donahoe has served in many positions (sometimes multiple times) including session clerk, presbytery moderator, and presbytery stated clerk. He has attended 26 of the last 30 General Assembly gatherings and served as host committee chairman in 2003 when the Assembly met in Charlotte. For 20 years he has served on the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC).
Bryan Chapell nominated Donahoe. The two first met more than 20 years ago, and Chapell appreciates Donahoe’s tireless dedication to the work of the church.
“For those of us in pastoral ministry, it’s our livelihood to care for the life of the church. But for a ruling elder like Howie, it is love for the health of the gospel that drives him,” Chapell said. “And he has been extremely active and dedicated at all levels of the church.”
An Ambassador for Civility
In his years of service, Donahoe has developed a reputation for helping opponents come together, get to know each other, and talk out their differences in a personal setting. When Donahoe began serving on the Committee for Review of Presbytery Records (RPR) several years ago, he noticed that people clustered in the same groups to work and to socialize after the meeting.
Wanting to change the cliquish dynamic, he started bringing beverages and cigars, hoping to bring together people who didn’t know each other. Not only did the men initiate across-the-aisle conversations, but they built common ground by discussing shared experiences like families and favorite books.
Donahoe understands that relationships are one of the antidotes to animosity, so when he senses that discord might threaten the unity of the church, he creates opportunities for relationships to grow.
As the 46th General Assembly approached in 2018, Donahoe became concerned that competing overtures dealing with memorials could disrupt the unity of the Assembly. Donahoe and his wife, Debbie, invited backers of the overtures to join them for dinner in Atlanta before the Assembly convened. When the differing sides had a chance to sit down face to face, get to know each other in an informal setting, and hear each other, they came away with greater understanding of the opposing points of view, Donahoe said.
“I have seen him willing to work across all lines of division and have an interest in being a peacemaker without compromising truth,” Chapell said.
David Coffin, who serves on the SJC with Donahoe, said Donahoe has helped repair damaged relationships among SJC members when conflicts have hampered the SJC’s work.
“Howie got members of SJC to come together — booked their hotels, flights and meals — and we spent the day together praying and talking and it was very healing. He facilitates people learning to trust each other.”
Coffin’s appreciation and respect for Donahoe seem remarkable considering the two men disagree on the correct application of law on many issues before the SJC. Still, they are able to maintain a close friendship despite their differences.
“We talk about it and sometimes energetically disagree with each other, [but] when it’s over, we are friends again,” Donahoe said.
Discovering Presbyterian Polity
A former Air Force pilot who now flies for American Airlines, Donahoe earned his undergraduate degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy and his Master of Science degree in Aviation Management and Human Factors from Arizona State University.
Donahoe grew up in a large Catholic family in the Pittsburgh suburbs. During his senior year in the Air Force Academy he discovered the work of C.S. Lewis. When he attended pilot training in Arizona, Donahoe started attending a Baptist church with his roommate.
After attending a seminar led by Drs. Francis Schaefer and C. Everett Koop called, “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” Donahoe got involved in pro-life work. When he was transferred to an Air Force base near Tacoma, Washington, he looked for a church in a pro-life, protestant denomination. He attended Faith Tacoma (PCA), and never left.
Under the teaching of Dr. Rob Rayburn at Faith Tacoma, Donahoe discovered Reformed covenantal theology, the doctrines of grace, and Presbyterian polity. He was a founding board member of a crisis pregnancy center that has grown into Care Net of Puget Sound, a pregnancy center that now has seven locations in the Tacoma-Seattle area.
From Tacoma, Donahoe moved to Virginia and then to Pittsburgh, where he worshipped at Providence PCA for 11 years. It was while serving as a ruling elder at Providence that Donahoe attended his first presbytery meeting.
“I was fascinated with the interactions among people who disagree but still get along,” he said. And as someone who always wanted to be a lawyer, Donahoe was interested in the procedural and judicial aspects in particular. He looked forward to the next meeting and soon was serving on Pittsburgh Presbytery’s Credentials Committee.
Because of the flexibility of his work schedule, Donahoe started requesting vacation for the week of General Assembly. His first Committee of Commissioners experience was on the old Bills & Overtures Committee. He later volunteered for multiple terms on the Review of Presbytery Records Committee (RPR), which meets three days each May. He sees RPR as a microcosm of the dynamics at work in the General Assembly.
“You have such differences of opinion and people can argue about it, but at some point you take a vote, and the minority is, per one of the ordination vows, subject to the brethren in the Lord,” he said.
Donahoe and his wife, Debbie, have been married for 34 years. They have five adult children who are all involved in local churches. They have one grandson, and another due in July.