LOUISVILLE – J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), took it back to the basics as he preached Feb. 3 during closing worship of the 2018 national gathering of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE).
In a world that triumphs self-sufficiency, money, power, dominance and control, “we have to teach people that in this world and in the next world to come, judgment is left to God. Simple,” Nelson told the educators, who have been meeting in Louisville Jan. 31-Feb. 3. “We all belong to the Lord. Simple. This world doesn’t belong to us. Simple. The Lord gave it and the Lord can take it away. Simple. In life and in death, we belong to God. Simple. One day we will have to give an account for our living. Simple.”
Nelson urged the more than 675 educators attending the conference to go home, and put what they have learned about “boundless hospitality” – the conference theme – to work in their own congregations and communities, in working with refugees and immigrants and those in need.
“God is waiting on you and you and you and you and me to shake up the world and make a difference this side of heaven,” Nelson said, pointing to the Christian educators filling the conference room. “Teach, my friends. Teach. Teach. Teach the love of God … assured that you don’t walk alone.”
Nelson preached from the 13th chapter of Hebrews – “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” – and the account in the 24th chapter of Luke’s Gospel of Jesus’ appearing to his followers on the road to Emmaus. They did not recognize Jesus at first, Nelson said, urging the educators to keep looking for the hope, the resolve, the glimpse of what lies ahead (“the way forward”) that God offers.
He spoke of the reality that “we know not what the next minute will bring” – telling of how, early in his career in ministry, on the cusp of leaving his church to apply for a new call, he traveled to a presbytery meeting alone instead of with the elders as he typically did. He looked for the elders at lunch, but couldn’t spot them. He drove back home alone, then got a call that one of those elders – a beloved saint, a pastor’s friend, “a person I could talk to in the midnight hour” – had died in the church fellowship hall shortly after returning from the presbytery meeting.
“My friends, we are mortal, and life is precious,” Nelson said, urging the educators not to forget that the church can be a vessel of healing, hope and possibility for those willing to extend God’s love and “to embrace the otherness” – to give and receive God’s love.
“The very essence of God is love,” Nelson said. “To know God means to know love. And anything that is oppositional to love is oppositional to God.”
During closing worship, APCE also installed Ken McFayden, the academic dean of Union Presbyterian Seminary at its Richmond campus and a professor of ministry and leadership development, as its new president. McFayden put on a new stole he purchased at this event – “my APCE stole,” he called it – and said he would wear it to preach and speak on behalf of the organization through the year.
Anne Wilson, a former APCE president who will serve as co-chair of the APCE 2019 national gathering Feb. 6-9, 2019 in Galveston, Texas, offered a theological reflection just before closing worship on the conference theme of “boundless hospitality.”
Wilson said she’d made an effort during the conference to sit with people she did not know, and found it “so enjoyable,” although harder work than sitting with her friends. “Hospitality takes effort, doesn’t it?” Wilson said.
She described some of the building blocks of hospitality, among them:
- Knowing and claiming our true selves;
- Offering space where change can take place;
- Showing to others the welcome that God shows to us.
To reach people who need the gospel, “we will need to loosen our grasp on our churches,” on the programs and buildings. Wilson said. “We clutch the familiar tightly and protect ourselves from anything or anyone who is unlike us.”
In showing hospitality, “good intentions are not enough,” she said. “Too many churches want more young people as long as they act like old people,” newcomers who act like old-timers, children who will be quiet as adults, ethnic families who act like the majority. “Amazing things will happen if we stop protecting ourselves and become available to others, radically available.”
Wilson also spoke of the ripple effects of kindness – the impact when we show welcome to a stranger; the cost when we don’t. “Even small things count.”