Every time the larger church gathers at General Assembly, it celebrates a variety of the good things happening within our denomination. As we are a church headed by our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who has over death and offered us grace, that really isn’t hard to do. However, we are also in a seismic shift in the way our larger culture reacts to Christianity, a shift that has undercut the importance of Christianity in our public dialogue. Therefore, when we gather, we also wring our hands at the loss of influence of the PC(USA) and the loss of members and especially the loss of young people.
But Jesus is still head of our church and Jesus is still alive within the denomination and within our churches. As part of the Theological Issues and Church Growth committee while at the General Assembly, I heard the report of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities initiative our denomination started several years ago. Perhaps my favorite of the new initiatives is one called Serious Juju, a church in rural Montana that created a skate park and started doing ministry with the kids who had been considered juvenile delinquents before. It not only changed the lives of these kids who many came from abusive homes, it also changed the lives of prosecutors who worshiped in the church.
You can see the video here if you want a glimpse of what God is doing in our new communities of faith:
My name is Tai Dixon and I am an observer at the 223rd General Assembly in St. Louis Missouri. My time at GA has been phenomenal. I have learned so much, met so many people, and enjoyed delicious meals.
One thing that impressed me the most has been watching people from all different places and nationalities embracing, talking, and listening to each other. Commissioners in their committees and plenary sessions shared their views and opinions while others listened and responded until decisions were made.
It has been great watching how our church comes together to discover Gods will. This week has taught me that people coming together for a common cause can achieve so much for the Kingdom of God.
Tai Dixon, observer of GA (Cedar Park)
*Tai Dixon is a youth from Cedar Park who received a Great Ends Grant to attend GA as he explores the larger church for a project for his congregation.
It has been a joy and a privilege to serve as the TSAD (Theological Student Advisory Delegate: representing Princeton Theological Seminary from the Presbytery of Philadelphia) this week at GA. This is my first GA and it has been fascinating to learn about its work and see the process in action. I entered this week with one predominant question on my mind: how does the work at GA affect the local church? In other words, should the local church be bothered caring about what happens at GA? While there are still two days remaining, my answer now would be a resounding, yes! My reasons for this response are multiple and I will elaborate on just a few.
First, the people gathered together at GA set an example for the type of social action that can be done in local churches and communities. Check out Rev. Chris Holland’s piece from yesterday on GA’s march to #endcashbail and consider ways your local community might similarly advocate for social change.
Second, GA is a tangible example of disagreement and unity in practice. Very few votes are unanimous; many are heavily contested. Yet, following debate and vote people get together to share their GA experience, pray together, and even salsa! It has been a beautiful and encouraging thing to see constructive disagreement in action.
Third and finally, the local church is supported by a wide range of people who care immensely about the PCUSA and its future. GA has been a beautiful time to learn about the myriad of resources and tools made available to the local church by GA and the ways the local church can get more involved. From the Presbyterian Foundation and PMA to social activism and theological accuracy, the GA has a vast expanse of resources that make being the church in our hometowns more feasible and fruitful.
I encourage you to check out the work done at GA or ask one of your commissioners from the Presbytery of Philadelphia (myself included)!
The days are long here at GA. Yesterday (Wednesday) we started at 9:30am and finished about 10:00pm. Today we started an hour earlier. Sometimes the meetings are tedious but there have been highlights, mostly unexpected, that more than make up for that. Here are a few of them:
The incredible worship services, always with a band and, for the opening one, with a 200-voice choir. At yesterday’s service, the Lord’s Prayer was simultaneously recited in multiple languages by nearly 800 worshipers. Wow.
The recommendation by the General Assembly to study Martin Luther King Jr.’s, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and explore its p;ossible inclusion into our Book of Confessions. The letter provides a stark reminder that the PC (USA) has, at times, not done all that it should to promote civil rights.
Learning about the Reclaiming Jesus Statement. Google this!
Watching one of the youth advisors come out as bisexual in front of his father and the full assembly during a discussion regarding PC (USA) support for the LGBTQIA+ community.
But above all was helping to craft a resolution protesting the separation of families. I served on the committee that handles immigration matters and this resolution was passed on to the full body of commissioners by a committee vote of 60 to 0. Once in front of the full assembly it was strengthened to condemn the President’s executive order…the one that continues the zero tolerance policy and fails to reunite separated children with their parents…and then passed 484 to 34. The PCUSA stands with the children.
Now there is more to do so I’m heading back to the meeting.
We marched as one. One Body, One Voice, One Church
Yesterday was a first in the life of the Presbyterian Church USA. At our national conference, the 223rd General Assembly, many paused from their committee business and work of the Church, broke away from all the overtures and resolutions, and stepped out to BE THE CHURCH. We gathered as a body taking social action to end cash bail in St. Louis. We do not often have opportunities to gather in this way and stand side by side in the face of oppressive and unjust laws with the proclamation of Jesus to set the captives free. Oh and by the way brining money to help that along to the tune of $47,000 doesn’t hurt either. During our time of worship on Saturday morning this offering was taken and designated for this purpose. Not only did we make moves with our feet but also delivered cash in hand. It was an invigorating move of God among those gathered and watching with a sense of denominational revival to stand together in this way.
Rev. Chris Holland, New Spirit Community Presbyterian Church
Please also check out my footage below.
I had the pleasure to serve on of The Way Forward Committee led by Rev. Cindy Jarvis. Our agenda was quite long and intensive. The reading of motions alone had me second guessing myself and why I desired to be more connected to the national church. But watching first hand and even lending my voice at times, I knew I was at the right place. It was amazing to watch as we worked together to do God’s work. I was so honored that I had this opportunity and look forward to other opportunities such as this.
Being at GA has been an incredible whirlwind so far. The days have all sort of become one, with all this busy work with committee, bonding with other YAADS, and plenary sessions. Coming here, I was not sure what to expect. I was impressed with the breadth of issues the church was in the process of developing statements on- some of which include the committee that I was on, Middle East Issues, and the committee that my roommate was on, Social Justice. The issues discussed in both of these committees are not really discussed at my home church. I found the issues discussed relevant as they affect people outside of our church. I like the idea of the church taking a stand on many different current events. I think this stand helps to keep the church relevant and draws people in.
In my committee, all of the overtures had the maximum amount of people come in to speak on every overture that we were to vote on, including people from the non- church public. In fact, some people had to be turned away because there were so many people who desired to speak. This not only shows how the issues are important, but also shows the church is leading people and getting people in to speak.They care how the Presbyterian Church acts and views issues.
While I have been caught up in the election of new Co-Moderators and other events, perhaps the most inspirational moment for me will end up being an inspiring talk by Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis. She is an ordained Presbyterian Minister and Co-Chair of the Poor People’s campaign going on right now around the country. Just before she spoke Saturday she had been arrested in Washington, DC for protesting in what has become the largest moment of civil disobedience and direct action since the Civil Rights movement.
She challenged us as follows: “What sermon on the Mount did you hear? Because justice for the poor, justice for the immigrant, justice for everybody is at the heart of our Gospel.” Justice is at the heart of our Bible and charity and hypocrisy won’t end poverty, but will keep it with us. Unjust times need a revolution of values and a moral revival. Our denomination has joined the Poor People’s campaign and Theoharis closed by stating, “I have never in my life been so proud to be a Presbyterian.”
Elder Jim Ballengee (Arch Street Presbyterian Church)