Guest commentary by Jerry Andrews
Relationships. Theology. Addressing divisions. These issues were at the forefront of sermons and discussions at the National Gathering of The Fellowship Community.
The gathering was hosted by Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta Feb. 20-22 and drew about 225 participants from across the country. The annual gathering accomplished what it determined to do: attend to some of the matters of theological importance and develop the relationships of the evangelical community within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), while advancing the missional work to which we are called and committed — announcing to the world that a loving God sent a crucified Savior to reconcile humanity to the Triune God.
There is a problem in God’s world which needs attention and needs it now. It is neither new nor surprising; it is very present and persistent, even long standing and deep: division. When we came together for the national gathering, we hoped to help understand it better and attend to it with more grace and effect.
Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, helped us early with this task. Having led congregations and now leading an evangelical institution, Labberton has attended to these matters with a rare thoughtfulness. Combining analysis with application, in both the opening lecture and opening sermon, he challenged all, for the sake of the gospel and the Savior, to no longer be content with leading churches in the middle of the block but to reposition them at the crossroads of the divisions of humanity. There Jesus is to be found; there Jesus is to be presented.
One of those crossroads is where the races and peoples of ethnic identities intersect. Harvey Drake, pastor of Emerald City Bible Fellowship in Seattle, lectured and preached with delight and determination on fully engaging the other — the different one. Another crossroad is where the genders cross (or should I say collide? crash?). Hope Lee, pastor of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church and The Well in Bradenton, Florida, challenged us in a sermon to do this with no uncertain terms. Mark Hong, synod executive for the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii, used his sermon to return us to the broad themes of reconciling every alienation and restoring all that is broken within and between.
On the final day of the gathering, Chad Pecknold, a Roman Catholic writer, presented a profound and timely lecture on Augustine’s “The City of God.” The matters of heavenly citizenship, with a humanity at one with its God and thus with each other, is to be lived out well and for the sake of all – now.
What I will be remembered longest will be the visit of all gathering participants to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. (Thank you to the Presbyterian Foundation for sponsoring this.) The national park and private foundation shows the home of King’s birth, a truly grand visitor’s center and a precious museum with personal artifacts and family memorabilia. (Was I the only one that wondered if it would be worth it to get arrested for trying on his black preaching robe?)
But where I witnessed the participants gather and sit silently for the longest time was in the sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church. As pastor there, King had preached, as had his father before him, for so many years. While there, we listened to recordings of his sermons play continuously, the choir singing in the background. If the National Park Service knew how to give an altar call, we evangelicals would have walked forward. We prayed. We listened for God. God was not hard to hear that day.
We, like Martin Luther King Jr., following Jesus who moves us all, will now move ourselves and our churches nearer the crossroads of human division. There we will embrace the cross more dearly. There we can show the cross more clearly.
JERRY ANDREWS is pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in San Diego and president of the board of the Fellowship Community.