Even locked doors can’t keep the presence of our Living Christ out. Even when we cower in fear and forget all the promises of our faith, the Living Christ breaks through with words of peace.
Our Executive Presbyter, Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace reminded us of this truth, shown so explicitly in John 20 when those first disciples shuttered themselves behind a locked door: fearful, confused, and afraid.
In her report to the presbytery during our stated November 18 meeting, Rev. Santana-Grace assured us, that as we as a body embark upon important decisions, the presence of the Living Christ was moving and working among us. This was not because of our own doing, but a sure and certain gift to be received and acknowledged.
For those of us in attendance, this presence was unmistakable. As over 400 presbyters converged upon Carmel Presbyterian Church in Glenside, we were each greeted with a hospitality of Biblical proportions. From parking attendants to be sure we crossed a busy road safely, to folks pointing us in the right direction for registration or pre-Presbytery gatherings, to those registering commissioners for the meeting, we were welcomed home in this sacred space with warmth and accommodation. The Living Christ was evidenced in the simplest of acts that are at times the deepest – a cup of cold water, a place to hang your coat, a welcoming smile.
Our time together began with pre-Presbytery gatherings; a time to join as a body to discuss those things that impact our lives together. Folks met to ask questions of our General Assembly Commissioners and Stated Clerk to better prepare themselves to vote on the proposed amendments to the Constitution. Rev. Janel Dixon moderated a crucial conversation on race relations in light of the events that took place and continue to take place in Ferguson and in our own city. Others gathered to be better informed of the changes taking place in our benefits plan from the Board of Pensions.
The Living Christ was present in our fellowship, discussion, and information gathering as we became better informed disciples, wanting to live out our faith in the best way possible. Moderator Rev. Wonjae Choi called our meeting to order, and we began making important decisions for the life of the presbytery. We approved the joining of our camping ministry with that of Lehigh Presbytery, creating a transition team and releasing the current board of Kirkwood Camp with our greatest gratitude and thanks. Each board member was recognized for his or her faithful, diligent service.
We approved the 2015 budget, with hopeful anticipation for all the faithful ministry that is yet to come in the next year. We spent time with Shannon Waite, a candidate for ordination who was approved and sent forth with our prayers and blessings. The Living Christ was working even amid our institutional structure, showing hope for the future of the presbytery through a new camping ministry, plans for the year to come, and the welcoming of a new colleague in ministry.
After our initial business was complete, a unique challenge was before us: an hour until our docketed time for worship. Rather than moans of wasted time, the sanctuary was abuzz as colleagues reconnected, new friends were introduced, and conversations bound our lives together further. In perhaps our most important act of the evening, then, we worshipped. With song and prayer, with scripture and sermon, with conviction and humility: we worshipped as one body, the gathered believers of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.
Rev. Deborah McKinley spoke an impassioned word, asking us, “Who do you serve?” We remembered the Amorites from the book of Joshua and searched our own souls for those seductive sirens that call for our allegiance. The Living Christ filled the sacred space in a way that was palpable, as we heard the Carmel Sanctuary Choir, as we remembered the saints who died this past year, as we paused from the business and busyness of our work to remember why we were here.
The hospitality of the Carmel Church meant a delicious dinner around tables in their fellowship hall. Over 200 meals were served on dishware as church members circulated with coffee and hot water. After nourishing food and engaging fellowship, entertainment came in the form of light-hearted comedy, as three of our ministers summarized the Bible in 50 words. (God made, Adam bit, Noah arked, Abraham split…) The Living Christ was made known to us in the breaking of bread together and in the laughter and conversations of kindred spirits.
By 7 o’clock we had shared information, made decisions that encouraged our great future together as a presbytery, worshipped as the gathered body of believers, and were fed with physical and spiritual nourishment. Now, we were ready to discuss and vote on the proposed amendments to the Constitution. With a packed sanctuary, there was no doubt that the weightiness of our vote rested upon each of our souls. As we looked across the aisle and down the pew at our brothers and sisters in Christ, we were well aware that we held differing beliefs. We were well aware that some of our votes would be opposing.
But there was also a deep awareness of our unity: that we were still one in Christ; one body with many members. There was a deep awareness that we would remain colleagues, determined to forge ahead with this at times confusing and difficult calling to be a leader in the church. There was a deep awareness that we were all in this together, resolved to be the best, most faithful, Scripture-led Christians we could be. There was a deep awareness that we needed one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of our opposing votes.
Our discussion was filled with conviction, as strong opinions were voiced at the microphone. Our discussion was filled with compassion, as we knew that we did not all agree. After less than an hour of debate on the amendment to change the definition of marriage, we continued with less-divisive amendments as the counters added the ballots. After sharing together in the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps the most binding of our acts together, the paper ballot tally revealed our vote in favor of the amendment. We exchanged the peace of Christ with one another – that same peace Christ shared with his disciples in John 20, and headed into the night, for another day of ministry was beckoning. The Living Christ scattered us back out into the world to engage in the important work of shining light into darkness and life into death.