By Ruth Faith Santana-Grace
Jesus said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
On Grace and Gathering
So here we are – our first presbytery gathering since my arrival where the values of who we claim to be as a covenant community will be tested in a way that is “up close and personal.” In my early conversations regarding my joining you in Philadelphia, one of the many hopes expressed was that when we would next vote on difficult questions, we would do so with integrity, honesty, and above all – with a tone of respect and grace. I heard a deep desire for an affirmation that – regardless of our views, we are all wrestling to faithfully understand the Biblical and theological framework that informs our faith. I must say I have come to believe true theology – the theology that shapes our daily lives – is simply that: ‘faith seeking understanding.’
As a people of faith throughout history, that “seeking of understanding” has been shaped by centuries of conversations and debates. Our Book of Confessions speaks clearly to this reality – as confession after confession was historically written in response to the challenges amidst the collision of church and culture. This is part of our heritage as Presbyterians. We believe that through these conversations, we as a people of faith, continue to be open to where God’s Holy Spirit is leading us next. We believe that conversations within a covenant people serve as safeguards from the temptation of assuming that we (as humans) know God better than God. How we engage these conversations however, has often been challenging – often denying a spirit of grace to those with whom we disagree.
In the brief time we have walked together, I have gratefully experienced our commitment to this spirit of grace – in our conversations around tables and small groups. We have resisted the temptation to demonize and vilify one another. Most of us have even resisted the temptation to refer to those with whom we disagree as “those people.” This has been true in our regional meetings as well as in our presbytery-wide gatherings as we have come together to discuss the amendments coming from the 221st General Assembly. I believe this spirit of grace reflects our corporate understanding of Jesus’ second commandment – loving neighbor as self; or as I would say “seeing one another as we would want to be seen.”
It is this spirit of grace that I believe will shape the tone of our gathering next week. There is no question, next Tuesday will have its challenges – but it will also have its moments of celebration and fellowship. So as we prepare to come together, I remind us that we are gathering for more than a debate and vote. We are gathering as a people of faith on a pilgrimage together. We are gathering to hear of a renewal in Christian camping as we partner with another presbytery. We are gathering to examine one among us for ordination. We are gathering to affirm the nomination of a new moderator and vice moderator. We are gathering to worship and hear the Word proclaimed by one who once served among us. We are gathering to hear how we might respond faithfully in the face of racism and violence. We are gathering to remember the saints whose lives have touched our own. We are gathering to break bread together. Oh, and yes, we are gathering to vote on recommended amendments to our constitution.
I imagine we will have some visitors with us next Tuesday – curious about how a people of faith express their views. I imagine there will be lots of people in attendance I have not yet met – after all, it’s only been nine months. May they feel the embrace of who we are. Of equal importance, may they leave our presbytery meeting with the observation – “Oh how they disagreed, but oh how they respected and loved one another.”
May the gathering before us be entrusted to our Lord in prayer and may the peace of Christ be with us all! I look forward to seeing you at Carmel Presbyterian Church.