Lost somewhere in the Renaissance Center, Detroit – What is the theme of the 221st General Assembly? I’m pretty sure it’s my fault that I don’t know. With this being my first GA, getting here late and a personal simmering discombobulation, it’s no wonder I don’t know what’s going on here. Do they tell you what the theme is when you go get your nametag? I haven’t done that yet either. I feel like I’ve been ricocheting all around this immensely confusing (and clammy) hotel and slightly less confusing (and freezing) conference center for the last 36 hours. Maybe my personal theme for General Assembly is this, “Divine Whiplash: Let The Spirit Toss You Around.”
It’s early in the week still, but I feel utterly whipped around by GA. I’ve gone from the steady, if a little chaotic, routine of church life in Chicago to the obscuring haze of anti-routine I’ve got going so far here in Detroit. From the smooth open road of my drive out of Chicago to the pothole construction zone Armageddon of the last half mile of my drive into downtown Detroit. (I cannot confirm nor deny if that was my green Subaru driving through a construction zone to get to the More Light dinner on time.) It’s a lot. I don’t know if I’m overwhelmed yet, but I am definitely whelmed.
I showed up at the More Light Presbyterians Award dinner just in time to shove a bunch of falafel in my face and then accept an award on behalf of my community, Lake View Presbyterian Church. I want to say a special thanks to the parking attendant who let me park in what I think was a handicap parking spot. It was such an honor to be recognized, but my head was spinning a little bit the whole time. I’m glad they took pictures because I didn’t really get to absorb much of it.
I then proceeded to get lost in a parking lot (the wrong parking lot.) Then, I got lost in my hotel. At least I think I was in my hotel. I might have wound up in a mall or a car dealership. Maybe in Detroit every big building has a car dealership in the lobby? At this very moment, I am typing this suspended over a gleaming Chevy Silverado somewhere in the Renaissance Center and I only 40% think I can find my room again.
The plenary hall is, I was surprised to find out, really, really big. I don’t know why, but I was expecting something church basement-ish. That’s the mode I always just assume the PC(USA) is in. I need to reorganize my PC(USA) assumptions to take Jumbotrons and social media into account.
If it were possible to only experience the PC(USA) by way of the immensity our General Assembly plenary hall, you’d have no idea that many of our congregations are dwindling. It was pretty jarring to start GA at the More Light podium, briefly the center of attention, trying my best to be charming and posing for pictures and then to find myself in the back row of a crazy huge plenary hall, amidst the lack of WiFi and voting machine problems, worrying about my iPhone battery dying. I did my best to pay attention to the tiny ant-sized moderator candidates, briefly the center of attention, doing their best to be charming and posing for pictures. I felt so connected to other Presbyterians at the intimate More Light dinner, but I felt a jumbo screen away from everyone in the back row of the plenary hall.
I fell off my skateboard on my way home from the COBO center last night. (Don’t worry; I’m fine.) Just a minor biff from failing to properly traverse a crack in the RiverWalk. No damage done. But, the whiplash from all this GA craziness has got me a little sore. I hope things settle down or that I can settle into them.
If you see me walking purposefully somewhere, I’m faking it. Please stop me and offer to help. Thanks.
Alex Wirth is an ordained teaching elder doing building maintenance and social justice work at Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago. He buys vinyl albums more than mp3s, tries to ride his bike more than drive a car, make/bake things more than buy them, and generally stick to a punk rock, do-it-yourself mindset like Jesus did.