Guest blog from Michael Kirby
As I came down the stone steps that led from the Renaissance Center to the River Walk and started towards the Cobo Center the Friday morning of General Assembly, I fell in step behind them: three women, apparently Detroit natives, out on a regular exercise walk along the river. Their conversation had that casual directness that spoke of years of relationship. They were all what my mother would describe as “women of a certain age,” but the conversation wasn’t dominated by any one of them.
It felt awkward eavesdropping (however unintentionally) as we walked along, but they were walking fast, and since I was wanting to get my registration materials and get on with my day of Overture Advocate preparation, I was walking fairly quickly too, always within earshot, but a few paces behind them.
So I took out my earbuds and starting listening to some music, anything to not seem to be intruding. It was in this enforced silence that I observed them for the next quarter mile or so. They never stopped talking, arms pumping away, faces turning right and left to make fleeting eye contact with the others from time to time. The older woman in the center, every now and then placed a hand on the forearm or shoulder of one of the other women as she was making a point or responding to something, though their pace never slowed. In an odd way in the moment, I remember thinking: this is a holy time for them.
It seemed like their conversation was fairly intense, and those fleeting gestures of connection reinforced that feeling, though there was occasional laughter. I marveled at how they kept moving, tending to the task that had brought them to the river’s edge that morning, while also maintaining communication that was clearly meaningful, with actions that demonstrated compassion and connection with occasional doses of laughter thrown in.
I looked through the docket – one of the items that brought me to the assembly as an overture advocate (09-11, concerning maternal and infant nutrition) was almost certain to pass on the consent docket (it did), and the other, the proposed authoritative interpretation concerning marriage and pastoral discretion, was going to be more controversial for many, involving deeply held convictions, expectations and theologies (it did, though it passed by a large margin).
That morning I could not help but hope and pray that as my sisters and brothers in the plenary did the work the committees brought to them, their conversations and deliberations would be like that walk along the river I witnessed last week – direct and trusting, empowered by longstanding relations and marked by compassion – all happening as we strengthen ourselves while moving forward to the destination to which God is calling us. A holy time, indeed. I have the same hopes as we now seek to live into the decisions we have made as a denomination. More holy time to come.
Michael D. Kirby is pastor of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Chicago. He served as an overture advocate for items before the social justice committee and the civil unions and marriage committee at General Assembly last week.