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Becoming Presbyterian again

Guest Outpost blog by Alex Becker

Ten years ago this week, I decided to be Presbyterian. I knew, at that point, that I was called into ministry. I was going to college for a biblical studies degree, and I was a cradle Presbyterian, but I felt restless. I had attended church after church, convinced that being raised in a denomination was a terrible reason to serve the church in that same denomination.

Then, I attended General Assembly. It was the 217th General Assembly in Birmingham, Alabama, and I had the privilege of serving Muskingum Valley Presbytery as a Youth Advisory Delegate. I saw thousands of Presbyterians come together in an amazing worship service together with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America, and many ecumenical participants – my first real introduction to Presbyterian ecumenism. I wandered through the exhibit hall and learned about issues I’d never considered, but I also saw Presbyterians caring deeply about issues that I, too, cared deeply about. And I sat through meeting after meeting – both plenary sessions and the Social Justice Issues committee meetings. You would think a college kid would be bored, but I had a spiritual experience. Where others might have seen frozen Presbyterians in boring meetings, I saw the Holy Spirit moving right through Robert’s Rules of Order. I saw us find the Spirit’s voice in animated debates, and I saw the face of Jesus, over and over again, in the faces of all the people around me. I found that God was, in fact, alive and moving within the Presbyterian Church, and I wanted to be a part of that.

Alex talks with others gathered at the Assembly
Alex talks with others gathered at the Assembly

This week I came to Portland experiencing no small amount of anxiety. Now serving as a teaching elder commissioner for Lackawanna Presbytery, I worried: Would I find the same Spirit at General Assembly 10 years after that amazing experience at Birmingham? I was off to a good start when I spent two days with Sweaty Sheep, bicycling from Yachats on the coast of Oregon through Newport, Corvallis, Salem and Tualatin, enjoying the beauty of Oregon from the nice, slow pace of a bike. And when I walked into the Oregon Convention Center for the first time, I received the confirmation I was looking for.

Walking into a room full of round tables set up for the opening Riverside Conversations, I was paralyzed. Discussion had already started, and I was too late. But amazing volunteers told me that I was, in fact, welcome. I found a seat and joined a group of Presbyterians who were speaking passionately about division and connection in the church. They disagreed deeply about the nature and cause of our divisions: Did we spend too much time on social justice? Was social justice integral to our theology? Ought we to be on the same path, ought we to be in the same place in our theology, worship and life together? Yet every other statement began with “my sister,” “my brother” or “my friend.” In our differences over how different we are, we affirmed our commitment to each other, to hold each other accountable, to serve Christ, to honor God.

I have not found the General Assembly to be the same this year as it was 10 years ago. I have found it to be more compassionate, more caring and more full of love. I know that I will butt heads with people while we are gathered, and I know I will be infuriated more than once about something someone says that I profoundly disagree with. But I will leave here challenged, informed, inspired and more in touch with the Holy Spirit than I was when I came. The Spirit is moving here: through conversations, through overtures, through worship, through meetings, and yes, even through Robert’s Rules of order. God’s power and presence truly knows no bounds.

Alex BeckerALEX BECKER serves as the pastor of Langcliffe Presbyterian Church just outside of Scranton in the wonderful town of Avoca, Pennsylvania, where you might catch him out for a run, or more likely a walk.