Guest commentary by Lauren Deming
I love my job marketing for the Menucha Retreat & Conference Center, located here in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, just 45 minutes away from the convention center. Menucha isn’t nearly as well known as centers like Montreat, Stony Point and Ghost Ranch; it’s my job to remedy that (while spending as little money as possible), so several colleagues and I have been in the camp and conference ministries area around that whimsical faux campfire in the exhibit hall throughout General Assembly. Having talked and listened and hugged and handed out chocolate for several days, I’ve noticed God in lots of places. Here are a few:
God in little things. Shortly before GA, I mailed colorful flyers about upcoming Menucha programs (Tom Long in October! Practical Church Leadership Seminars!) to every clerk of session in Cascades Presbytery. I told them that Menucha is trying to be helpful to pastors and lay leaders and asked them to include these programs on their next session meeting’s agenda. Normally we count on email and our website for communications, so this “snail mail” took more time and much more money. I wondered if anyone would pay attention to it. The first day in our GA exhibition booth, a woman named Linnea walked up and introduced herself. She is clerk of session at First Presbyterian Church in Ashland, Oregon; she said she received my letter and did, indeed, pass along the colorful flyers and put Menucha’s programs on the session docket. I was delighted! I know this is a small thing, but at that moment it felt as if God had patted me on the head, saying, “See? Trust me! People will read and respond.”
God in big things: One of the benefits of coming together as Presbyterians is that you get to see some you haven’t seen in ages. I witnessed my colleague, Scott, learning of a way God had used him many years ago at an important time in another person’s life. When he was a student at Union Seminary, Scott helped lead a chapel service where a young woman who was considering seminary happened to be present. During that chapel service, she felt a very clear call to the ministry; she enrolled, studied, graduated, was ordained and now serves a church as a solo pastor. Until this week, when they saw each other for the first time since that service, Scott had no idea what an impact he had made in her life. It was such a blessing to him to hear her story and to reflect on how God uses us even when we are unaware.
In 1988-89, I lived in San Francisco and worshipped at Old First Church. At that time, one of their older members told me that their small congregation knew it had a ministry to “orphans and strays.” I suppose I was one of their strays – just out of college, far away from my family and friends. They recruited me to help in an afternoon tutoring program that supported Chinese kids and into their young adult group. That church was a friendly place during a time when I was very lonely. After I moved back to Memphis, I didn’t keep up with Old First so when I met Maggi Henderson, their current pastor, it was wonderful to hear about the people I remembered. Maggi promised to pass along my thanks to those folks who welcomed me when I was a stranger.
LAUREN WELLFORD DEMING is an elder at First Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon, and the director of marketing at Menucha Retreat & Conference Center.