Pastor Bob's GA Blog #4: June 23, 2016
It was a chilly, wet day in Portland - high in the 60s, rain. It reminded me of something Mark Twain said: The coldest winter he ever spent was June in San Francisco. Here up the coast it isn't much different.
But the Spirit was warm in the Assembly hall. In the morning we heard about the various entities that are quasi-independent but serve the Presbyterian Church (USA). I was particularly interested in the presentation about the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program (PILP), since it included Discovery Presbyterian Church in Omaha and our friend Sarah Dickinson. PILP talked about the low-interest rate offered for improving energy efficiency, which will be of use to us in our improvements to the heating and cooling system. Maybe we also ought (someday) to consider solar panels, wind turbines… The Presbyterian Foundation did a program about a church that sold its buildings and started holding services in a train station. One member said, "Now we are not quite so constrained by the fear of not having finances." On work days they serve coffee and doughnuts to commuters using the station. The Holy Spirit does some fascinating things.
My friend Leslie texted me early this morning that word was going out on the Twittersphere that the GA was praying to other gods. From what she said and what I've read on Twitter feed (#GA222), and from something the Stated Clerk said yesterday, I gather that this is what happened. During worship Saturday, an Arabic-speaking person (who was Muslim) called God "Allah," which was not in the script. When an Arabic-speaking Christian says "Allah," it is exactly the same as a Spanish-speaking Christian saying "Dios" or an English-speaking Christian saying "God." But, of course, those who enjoy finding fault announced that the General Assembly was praying to other gods. I spent some time this morning on the website of the Presbyterian Layman, and that confirmed for me that is what happened. The Layman itself was very measured in its coverage, but the bulk of users' comments were hateful.
One fun feature of Assembly meetings is energizers (Triennium participants know about these too). Mid-morning we stood and Young Adult Advisory Delegates led us in an energizer to the song "Revolution" (from the conclusion of the Book of Revelation). Folks, there is very little like the experience of being one of a couple of thousand Presbyterians (from ages 16 to 90) stomping and waving our hands and whooping. I was having so much fun I didn't think to take out my phone and record it until it was over. Sorry. Maybe there will be a video on the PCUSA website.
The Assembly dealt with a lot of business today, but not much to tell you about. At least not while I was watching; I will skip the evening session for another event. If tomorrow I learn that there's anything to tell you about business I didn't see, well, I'll tell you tomorrow! It is very difficult to manage procedure for a body this big: remember that the Assembly is larger than the United States House of Representatives. Indeed, I've been told that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is the oldest and largest legislative body in North America. I don't know if that's true. But to apply parliamentary procedure fairly and gently, to enable the body to make faithful decisions, is very difficult. Especially since any two persons can force them to talk about something (make a motion and get it seconded), and that discussion can lead them far away from discovering what they really want to do. That happened this afternoon, and Moderator Anderson stopped everything, wiped the slate clean, and started over with the Committee's recommendation, which is what the Assembly wanted to do. And so they did.
I'll finish with a couple of reflections on worship. We were blessed. The preacher today was the Rev. Alice Ridgill, Pastor of New Faith Presbyterian Church in West Greenwood, South Carolina. She preached on the Parable of the Good Samaritan; it was beautiful and poetic and faithful and encouraging. She did something I've never heard before. She masterfully used alliteration; that isn't new, and particularly not among African American preachers (as she is). But with one series of thoughts she went through the entire alphabet. When she got to about D or E, I realized what she was doing, and I whispered to Deborah Boucher-Payne (seated next to me), "What will she do with X?" The preacher said, "Xenophobia is excised." Wow.
My other reflection: back in the day, the Assembly would have one communion service. Now, every time the Assembly gathers for worship communion is part of it. We sing, we pray, we hear the word, we share the Bread and the Cup. Every service takes longer than it used to; every service is filled with the presence of Jesus Christ. It reminded me how much I loved the days when I received the Lord's Supper weekly, as a more frequent part of my spiritual nourishment. I mentioned above the wonder of all those Presbyterians sharing an energizer; watching all those Presbyterians stream to the stations to take the Bread and the Cup moved me to tears.
Okay, I'm still grateful to be a Presbyterian. Even more, I'm grateful that God has called me to be part of God's Church, summoned and energized by the Holy Spirit, fed by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.