Saturday was one of those good days—you know the kind that you don’t really want to end. It was the convening of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and I have to tell you: I have a pretty good seat.
Seriously. I don’t know what my presbytery did to deserve these seats, but we’re right smack in the middle, almost in the front.
Being in front for the opening worship, and subsequent business was nothing short of amazing for me. As soon as I heard the resounding strains of “Holy, Holy, Holy,” our opening hymn, I had a knot in my throat. At one point, I turned around to see the thousands of people who were singing along with me, and it was overwhelming.
The second half of the worship service was spent celebrating communion and being led in dynamic worship by the Winter Street worship band from First Presbyterian Church in Salem, Oregon. It’s rare that I get the chance to simply worship on Sundays. Most of the time I am thinking about what I have to do next in the service, so just being able to get lost in the music, and partaking of Holy Communion was life-giving to me.
Some people seem to be fairly anxious about this assembly. The truth is, I understand how they feel. I’ve been there. I went back and read some of the things I wrote four years ago during the 220th GA, and it saddened me that I was so filled with fear.
What I feel right now, however, is quite the opposite. I feel connected. I feel a sense of belonging. I also feel the hope of my calling—to riff on the theme of the GA this year. I am not naive. There may be some challenging moments ahead during this assembly. I am sure that my fellow commissioners and I will not agree on everything.
But I do not — in any uncertain terms — feel afraid.
We have an opportunity in this General Assembly to heal together as a church. I believe that the divisions and conflicts in previous years have served not to harden us, but to make us more thoughtful, less prideful and open to transformation.
I believe the first step in this direction was the way in which the assembly elected Jan Edmiston and Denise Anderson as co-moderators in an historic and landslide vote. I was so pleased that the whole process was peaceful, uplifting and completely devoid of acrimony or controversy.
For the first time in PC(USA) history we elected co-moderators, both of whom happened to be women – one white, one African-American. It was clear they had different theological leanings on some issues, but were united in purpose, in spirit and in hope for our denomination. I see in them a reflection of sorts of the hopes of this assembly.
I know that there will be long nights ahead. There will be endless reports, and I am sure that I will fight sleep more than once during plenary. But the thrill that ran through me during opening worship hasn’t worn off. With God’s help, it will still be with me come Saturday… and beyond.
Leon Bloder is a preacher, a poet, a would-be writer, a husband, a father, a son, a dreamer, a sinner, a pastor, a fellow-traveler and a failed artist. He is talentless, but well-connected. He stumbles after Jesus, but hopes beyond hope that he is stumbling in the right direction. Leon has been married to Merideth for 22 years, is the father of three awesome boys, and serves in ministry at the First Presbyterian Church of Eustis in Eustis, Florida