by guest blogger Sara Sutter
I learned a lot my first year in seminary. I took classes in Greek, exegesis, Old and New Testament, church history, worship, and Calvin. It’s only Tuesday, but ask me on Friday, and I bet by then I’ll have learned just as much from being a Theological Student Advisory Delegate at the 221st General Assembly.
I embraced my nerdiness during the academic year. I realized it was weird to freak out about beauty in the Reformed understanding of communion. (Seriously, we’re lifted up with Christ!?) I learned quickly that not everyone is amused and smitten with John Calvin’s theology. Only my cat seemed as excited as I was to play with my Greek flashcards. I was eager to soak up all the ideas and knowledge.
I have the same enthusiasm towards being at GA. My mind is spinning and my keyboard cannot keep up. I collect quotes and there have been so many brilliant observations. Some things I’ve overheard, like the woman on the shuttle from the airport that insisted “Every Presbyterian should get to experience General Assembly at least once in their lifetime.” Other things I’ve just lucked into seeing: I looked up in time to catch Landon Whitsitt spitting out his gum before taking communion during our opening worship. I laughed at the metaphor of spitting out non-nourishing, infinitely chewy gum in order to come to the Lord’s Table with the bread of life.
And then I find myself sitting between Rev. Tracie Martin and Elder Ellaree Hampton during the first few meetings of Committee 12, also known as the acronym committee. The acronym committee’s responsibilities include the BOP, PPC, PILP, and the Presbyterian Foundation, none of which I’ve learned about in class, but all of which are fascinating in what they do for the church.
Tracie, Ellaree and I ate lunch together and I wanted to write down almost every word of our conversation so I’d remember. Tracie shared her love for the Book of Order, told me a little about her philosophy on preaching and, in general, inspired me with her joyful description of the church she loves. Ellaree loves her church, too. She shared the history of her congregation and a bit about New Hope Presbytery. I’m soaking it up because the way their enthusiasm inhabits the stories they bring to General Assembly can’t be found in a textbook. There’s no ordination exam given on attitude or having a heart for God, but I intend to study both anyway.
I could – and have – griped about voting mishaps during plenary sessions. I have yawned at parts of the committee meeting. I fight to stay fully present in mind and body during some of the business parts of this assembly. But taking all of that into account, I promise you that I am not taking a moment of this TSAD experience for granted. We have talked in so many classes about the decline of mainline Protestantism. I know rural churches are being closed and I know the demographics show aging congregations. There are legitimate reasons for concern. But, God has worked through the Presbyterian Church and that work continues today. I’m not sure the Holy Spirit is paying attention to the statistics.
Sara Sutter, a rising middler student at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, is attending the 221st General Assembly as a Theological Student Advisory Delegate.