ST. LOUIS – “Frozen chosen, it’s time to make noise.”
J. Herbert Nelson, the stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), preached a message of faithfulness and action – not despair – during opening worship of the Mid Council Leaders Gathering Oct. 15 in St. Louis.
That gathering, co-sponsored by the Office of the General Assembly and the Board of Pensions (and formerly known as the Fall Polity Conference), is being held Oct. 15-17, drawing about 350 people to St. Louis to discuss the state of the church – from the congregational to the denominational level.
“Let’s make some noise” in the name of God, Nelson said. “If we make enough noise, nobody knows that we’ve lost members.” With enough noise in the name of justice and compassion and hope, people outside the church will hear and want to join in.
Nelson urged Presbyterians not to sing a “some kind of sad lullaby,” but to work for and witness to the kingdom of God.
“Our congregations are not poor. We have more than we need to do the work of faith,” he said. “We don’t have what we used to, but we are not poor people.”
Preaching from Matthew 6:25-34 and from the account of creation in Genesis, in a sermon titled “Reflecting the Power of the Kingdom,” Nelson urged Presbyterians not to be a “denomination of depression.”
Some Presbyterians say “that our work is to fix the church,” but it’s not, Nelson said. It’s to work faithfully for God’s kingdom, and to believe that God has provided what is needed. “And if we are faithful, God will fix the church.”
Christians follow a transformative God, a God who says that if you follow me, “things will change in your life,” Nelson said. The faithful answer when God calls “is to just say ‘Yes. Yes, Lord.’ Yes, Lord, take me to the place of the greatest potential,” the places where people are crying, where no one else wants to go, to places of unrest, “because I know a Jesus who can calm the storm.”
Nelson said some started texting, emailing “and badgering me” when protests broke out in St. Louis after the Sept. 15 acquittal of Jason Stockley, a white police officer charged with murder after shooting a black driver, Lamar Smith – with some of those correspondents suggesting that the PC(USA) should not hold the 2018 General Assembly as planned June 16-23 in St. Louis. But the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly voted Sept. 21 to reaffirm its decision to hold the assembly in St. Louis – the protests are ongoing, and Nelson preached that “we are here because the need is here.”
Elsewhere, through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the PC(USA) is working to bring relief and hope in Houston and Puerto Rico after the hurricanes; in Las Vegas following the mass shooting; in northern California after the wildfires, Nelson said.
Presbyterians witness to God’s power through work in education, in feeding the hungry, in helping those with mental illness, through sharing stories of faith.
Many Presbyterians worry about churches departing, about having fewer members and less money and influence, but the message of the gospel is that God provides what is needed, Nelson said.
“It may not be as much as we want, it may not be as much as we had, it may not be as much as we pray for, but it will be what we need. … Let’s stop complaining about what we don’t have, and use what we’ve got.”
Christians follow a triune God and “a mysterious calling,” Nelson said. “It is a call to the mystery of life, a path we do not know, a God we do not see, a calling we cannot always nail down.” But “we serve a God who knows it all,” he said in his closing benediction.
The offering collected during opening worship will be split between relief work in Puerto Rico and justice work in St. Louis.