At the end of a very long day during the evening General Assembly plenary session on Wednesday, I had exhausted all of the coffee left in my the cup in front of me, and had started feeling the effects of sitting in one place for several hours.
The assembly had struggled through multiple close votes on an overture — hampered all the more by some failures in technology. Each time we had to re-vote, there were groans and grumbling. It felt like a cloud had settled over us, to be honest.
And then, the cloud lifted, and the Spirit filled the room and history was made.
For the first time in over 30 years, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a new confession of faith. The assembly overwhelmingly (94 percent) approved the addition of the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions. Belhar is the first confession of faith adopted by the PC(USA) with origins in the global south: South Africa, to be precise.
When the results were posted on the large monitors above us, the assembly burst into applause and cheers. The worship band on stage began to play a spiritual song (“Oh, Freedom”), a song with origins in South Africa, and we all began to clap along.
After a stirring address by Godfrey Betha, vice moderator of the Uniting Reformed Church of Southern Africa, we were given the incredible opportunity to hear from Allan Boesak, a drafter of the confession, which was adopted by the URCSC in 1986.
Boesak was visibly moved as he told the story about when the Belhar Confession was adopted in South Africa during apartheid. He said that many of the youth that were gathered in their assembly that day spontaneously began singing “We Shall Overcome.”
Almost immediately, from the back of the room, we heard the strains of the song, and soon the entire assembly was singing along, holding hands and swaying together.
As I stood there, with tears in my eyes, the import of our actions began to wash over me, and I felt the Spirit around us, in us and through us. History, as it turns out, is often made in surprising Spirit-filled moments — when our strength is waning and our hearts are weary.
The work we do together as a denomination is sometimes hard, to be sure. The challenges we face in our presbyteries can be daunting. The issues our churches struggle with can be overwhelming. And sometimes we are tempted to give in to the weariness.
But if we do not grow weary, we will be awake when the all-too rare, historic moments arrive. And we will stand, and perhaps we will also dance and sing.
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.