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A Pentecost Assembly?

This space has been devoted in recent weeks to the shape of a new church which is arising in our midst as a consequence of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the Holy Spirit is the active agent in everything that happens in the church — indeed, in the world.

Our eyes are accustomed to seeing things as they have always been — or, at least, have been within our span of memory — and it is so difficult to perceive and to understand new shapes and forms of divine activity that are right in front of our face.

The Presbyterian Church changed significantly when two streams — UPCUSA and PCUS — merged in 1983 to become the PC(USA) after 122 years of separation. If we had any illusions that the coming together would be quick and without pain and cost, they have long since been disabused. Reunion has been painful, costly, and, add to these, the pain of living through the last two decades of the last century during a profound and far-reaching cultural revolution of unprecedented proportions. No wonder the relatively newly formed Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is constantly threatening to come apart at the seams. No wonder.

This bring us to the 214th General Assembly and the opportunities for seeing the new things God is doing in our midst for the first time. It will be very difficult, however, for that to happen if this GA goes completely according to script.

This editor has been to at least 15 General Assemblies and the similarities are so much greater than the differences that they all tend to merge together in one’s memory. There have been some changes, but mostly sameness: electing a moderator (must be done), opening worship and Communion, daily worship, going into standing committees considering upwards of 1,000 separate items of mostly routine business, plenary sessions, several big issues debated and voted upon, and the rush to get out after closing worship on the last day (Saturday).

Occasionally there have been outbreaks of the unexpected, and these will not be listed, because each one who has attended in the same time span would have his or her own list, but the point is: occasionally there is an outbreak of the unexpected, such as a sudden sense of the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit which brings tears and a moment of unity, a decisive vote that no one expected, a person elected to be moderator who was not thought to have a chance.

Most of what happens at a GA is scripted and entirely predictable, but occasionally — infrequent enough in 15 years to count on one hand — something truly significant happens.

If there is to be a new Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) God may cause something to happen this year that no one is expecting. Pray that that thing that no one is expecting, that God has generated in God’s own heart, will come and grasp the 214th General Assembly in a unique and profound way.


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