Since being elected moderator, I have experienced much grace as I have gone about the church. Presbyterians are gracious people. I have been on the receiving end of more graciousness and hospitality than I can shake a stick at. God also has been very gracious to give me the spiritual, mental, and physical gifts I have needed to enter into this work and be faithful. I have been delivered many times from anxiety, exhaustion, and frustration and given gifts of love, wisdom, and perseverance that I know did not come from me, but rather through me from Jesus, the Lord and head of the church. I believe that this provision for the task is a result of the prayers many have prayed and are praying for me as we go forward. Thank you from the depths of my heart!
I wish I could say that I have experienced as much peace in the church as I have experienced grace. The sad fact is that since I was elected in June, I have spent the majority of my time listening to and being with people who in one way or another are very disturbed about what they think happened in Birmingham. I have been surprised at how much misinformation there is floating around out there about what was decided by the Assembly. I have done my best to put forward what the actions really were and to honor the commissioners’ integrity and hard work by making sure people understand what was decided.
Over and over again I have been asked “What is going to happen in our church?” I have had to say in all honesty, “I don’t know.” I have been asked, “Is the church going to split?” My answer to that question is the same as when members of a conflicted congregation worry about a possible congregational schism: “If we decide to split, then we will split; if we decide not to split, then we won’t split.” In other words we have some control over this! I am relieved that we have not seen a wholesale exodus from our denomination. I do grieve over those who have decided they can no longer be part of the PC(USA.)
I recently spent time with a group of seminary students at San Francisco Seminary. During a question and answer session I was asked where my hope was for the denomination. My answer to them was that my hope ultimately is in God who called the church into being and who promises never to leave us or forsake us. In the midst of all the battles over property, sexuality, and per capita, let’s be sure to keep our focus on the MAIN THING! Our first commandment is to love God with heart, mind, soul and strength. The second is to love each other. Let us do this, and as Jesus said, “you shall live.” Sound simplistic? If it does I would suggest that you don’t really understand what this great commandment really means. We need to be letting this impossible commandment drive us to our knees before our sovereign God daily, asking for the power and grace to love as Jesus loved. If we do this our lives and our churches will be filled with new life and Jesus will be pleased with us.
Joan Gray is moderator of the 217th General Assembly and a pastor from Atlanta, Ga.