LOUISVILLE — Former General Assembly moderator Susan Andrews, during the opening plenary of Presbyterian Women’s Churchwide Gathering July 7, spoke of God being at work in the chaotic places — in the messiness, in the disorder, in so many Bible stories where people were curious or defiant or reckless or brave.
With Mary, God spoke “out of the turbulent confusion of a maiden’s womb,” Andrews said. In his ministry Jesus entered chaos joyfully, creatively — turning water into wine, healing the sick, welcoming questions, bringing new hope out of the “chaos of crucifixion.”
Jesus, she said, “was recreating the cosmos.”
So Andrews invited the 3,000 women at the Gathering to become “companions in chaos,” in trying to create a world of peace and justice and dignity that God will bless.
She said that creative Christian chaos always involves three elements: defiance, delight and discipleship.
Defiance, Andrews said, involves defiance of darkness, of injustice, of complacency and violence and hatred. She told of the joy and delight she found in Alexandria, the black township outside Johannesburg in South Africa, where surrounded by shanties and garbage, she was greeted by Presbyterian women in crisp white shirts and black skirts, who cooked her food, who sang hymns with joy and fervor, who encouraged her to drop her prepared text and to speak solely from the heart.
(That came, Andrews said, after her translator — Makei Masongo, the congregation’s pastor — got everyone laughing with what he said. But Andrews knew she hadn’t said anything funny at all — which meant he’d begun adding his own words. So she set aside what she’d planned to say to match his rhythm and energy — and together the two preached better than she would have preached alone.)
Andrews also told of her impressions at the recent General Assembly, where she followed the work of the assembly’s Peacemaking Committee, which considered the controversial matter of divestment.
She told of watching consensus and a sense of community come
“out of dizzying diversity,” and said, “nobody came out of that assembly getting exactly what he or she wanted. But I believe we came out with what the church needed.”
Battling laryngitis, Andrews dedicated her remarks to her mother, Gladys Elizabeth Glendening Andrews, who died this past spring. Andrews said her mother would delight the family by disappearing every three years for a week — to go off to the national family reunion of Presbyterian women.
The next day, on July 8, Andrews answered questions from a small group in the exhibit hall. She described what she sees as the contextual nature of the church — how the life of each congregation is distinct, how worship in a multicultural congregation in the Southwest is different from that at her church in Bethesda, which is full of scientists and shares space with a Jewish congregation. (Later this summer, Andrews will leave that congregation to become the executive presbyter of Hudson River presbytery).
Andrews said she’s been jolted by the multicultural ministries she’s encountered, such as First Church in Pasadena, where each Sunday worship services are held in English, Korean, Spanish, and Arabic. The congregation has one session and one Sunday school. And periodically the whole congregation worships together, with the words translated into all four languages.
“I find all of these developments frightening, exciting, mystifying,” Andrews said. “And frankly I don’t know how to be the church in the midst of them,” except to move forward, tentatively, stepping willingly into the chaos.