GA News: Powerful worship unites Assembly in two sites

SAN JOSE — Thousands of Presbyterians gathered Sunday, June 22 for the opening worship service of the 218th General Assembly, summoned out of the sunny morning by two bagpipes acting as Shofar. Simultaneous services for commissioners and visitors ensued at buildings a mile apart with a satellite link connecting them.


Worship occurred at both the San Jose State University (SJSU) Event Center and the San Jose Civic Auditorium, with preacher the Rev. Joan S. Gray, moderator of the 217th General Assembly, at the former and the denomination’s dozens of mission workers, chaplains, young adult volunteers and ecumenical guests from around the world at the latter.  Keeping the venues connected were two large screens in front.

With only two rehearsals “and an hour’s warm-up before worship ˜ to prepare for the two-hour experience, the service was lead by two 225-member choirs, two full brass sections and 25 liturgists representing 41 churches in three presbyteries.

Artist Vincent Arishvara provided liturgical banners reflecting the Micah 6:8 theme of justice, kindness and humility, while weaving elements of the Presbyterian seal into the work. Originally from east Java in Indonesia, he has been in youth ministry at Trinity Church in San Jose since 2002 where he incorporates the arts into the life of the congregation.

The banners displayed above the platform at each location attracted worshipers‚ eyes. From two multi-media presentations to rip-roaring postludes at each facility, worship and Communion left two large crowds inspired and spiritually fed.

Music set the tone for worship. The grand procession was accompanied by the triumphal sounds of the brass ensemble joined by the lilting and joyous voices of the choir, their faces radiant as they sang projected on the large screen. “It wasn’t easy Sunday morning music,” said music director Charlene Archibeque, who directed the music at one venue. Music director LeRoy Kromm said that in planning they drew on their years of experience to find music to fit the themes for the morning.

Preaching at the SJSU Event Center and simulcast at the Civic Auditorium, the Rev. Gray used John 13:34-35; 15:9-17 as her text. She emphasized that Jesus commands us to love one another as he loved us. Reminding the congregation that this kind of love goes against human nature, she declared that in loving as Jesus did „we are to be engaged in a superhuman enterprise.” Continuing, she said, “The church is not meant to be an endeavor that is powered by human nature, the church is meant to be a God-powered institution.”

After referring to the troubled times the church is experiencing, she

declared, “God can do it! The question is: Do we want it?” and with that a man from the congregation shouted out, “Yes!” Gray replied, “Thanks be to God, and amen.”

The offering for the morning will support church growth for immigrant groups with presbytery partners to cover pastors‚ salaries, regional training for leadership development and transportation for mission and ministry among new immigrants.

Following the offertory, 11-year-old Drew Keller, who attends First Church in Palo Alto, Calif., confidently, clearly and commandingly issued the invitation to the table for Communion. As Communion was served the choir and brass ensemble played, Henry Mollicone’s “A Mass for the Homeless,” which has raised over $70,000 for area homeless ministries.

Composer Mollicone, pianist for the day at the SJSU site, was supposed to be away but cancelled his plans when he discovered that two of his works would be a part of the General Assembly worship. He decided to stay ˜ and play.

Once Communion had been served at each locale, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the General Assembly, and Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Council, honored what Kirkpatrick called “special people with a special commission on behalf of us all,” the

denomination’s 27 newest chaplains, 18 mission co-workers, seven long-term mission volunteers and 109 young adult volunteers.

The assemblies honored six retiring mission personnel who have served God and their church for a combined 139 years.

“I hope you sense, from the bottom of our hearts, that we thank you for your service,” Kirkpatrick said to all those being honored.

Applause of thanks erupted at both venues, creating a stirring and profound connection despite the mile that separated the two sites. The themes of forgiveness and reconciliation in Gray‚s sermon offered a profound symbolism for the day in a denomination separated by a mile and many differences, yet united for worship and mission in a powerful way.

The closing hymn, “O God We Raise Our Voices,” captured this spirit with its musing, “we live with vast divisions, let us seek a pathway that leads us, toward your light.”

Newly-elected moderator the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow gave the benediction at the SJSU center, commending those gathered that God “loves each of you as if there was but one of you.”