Greg: As you lean into the history of these three congregations, the history of these churches is one of innovation and improvisation. How does that speak into the current energy and vibes of what is happening there?
Eustacia: At this point and this time, we have really leveraged the history to move ourselves forward as opposed to getting stuck…We are using [history] to help spur us on to something new. All three of these churches have histories of activism in the world. Particularly First African, being the first black Presbyterian church. A history of abolition with one of their first pastor, John Gloucester. He was actually a freed slave, who came out of Tennessee. His particular witness is incredible because not only did he pastor this church, but he also went back into the South to free his wife, to pay for the freedom of his wife and his four kids.
William Catto, who is another historic pastor and abolitionist, an activist. His son, Octavius Catto, who is a well-known Civil Rights leader in Philadelphia. He tells the story of how tenacious and how much grit John Gloucester had. And when money ran out, he traveled to England and overseas to secure the funds to free his family. That is one story of many stories that can be told, but it tells you this is a people with a whole lot of perseverance and a whole lot of boldness. I see that often showing up in the work that we are doing today.
Ruth Faith Santana-Grace: From the time I arrived in this Presbytery, I think what Kevin and I identified was this spirit of courage and determination grounded on a history that allowed them to keep on keeping on as a people of faith. With what the world might identify as limited resources…I think Eustacia used a beautiful imagery [in worship on Sunday] of how you went to the waters of baptism with stones to help them claim this moment tactically.
Eustacia: After our congregational meeting, we had a milestone ceremony and created a little baptismal vessel. Inside was water and stones. Each person in the congregation was also given a stone. We were holding the stones and I was sharing that in many ways we are all living stones. Our lives are built on the chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ. This act of coming together is really an act of rooting ourselves in Christ and also coming together, being baptized as one in Christ…
Each person was able to take their stone, drop it into those baptismal waters [and] see what happens when all those stones come together. The beauty of it, the stones were also diverse, because we are coming from different places and spaces and yet we are all in this together. Baptized as one in Christ. It was also communion Sunday. So we intentionally draped our communion table with a beautiful fabric that was multicolored and all of that. So when they came to drop their stone, they were actually coming to the communion table where there was this baptismal vessel. I will tell you- there were tears. Tears of joy and tears of grief. It is an all mix of just really living into the moment and even knowing that in the midst of knowing that we are turning this corner and some still wrestling with that grief. There is a joy set before us.
The one special moment for me is when Mother Winder, who is 99….[she] put the stone in the vessel. So I came, and then another member came, and together we locked hands to help her put the stone in the waters. It was just a moment for me. It symbolized multiple generations. Really in that moment was three. I happened to be the youngest in that. But three generations of putting the stone in the water. That really speaks to the continuity of what has been, and also spurs us onto what shall be.
Ruth: So just hearing this story right now, this is such an affirmation…[In 2014] we really were prayerfully considering how to make this a new thing. And the one thing I can say for [Kevin and me] was that, as we started meeting monthly with the sessions of these three churches, it had become one of our greatest privileges. Because the relationships of trust kept forming incarnational dependability…So we would have these candid conversations, and even though we were uncertain as to what it completely would look like, we were convinced and convicted that God was before us in the cloud and the fire. We knew that, and that’s what kept the conversation going…So for me, my heart is so full that we’re here.