Good biscuits and the bread of life: General Assembly worship with Floretta Barbee-Watkins

ST. LOUIS – Water remained a central theme of worship General Assembly worship on Thursday, June 21. The opening hymn, “Take Me to the Water” set the tone for a worship service that incorporated water, children and reflections on table fellowship.

The prayer of confession used the theme of bread and the mustard seed, which would be echoed in the assurance of forgiveness, Scripture and sermon.

The Scripture for the service, the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven from Luke 13, were presented by video in the form of a children’s message from the book “Young Children and Worship.”

Floretta Barbee-Watkins, pastor of The Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, preached a sermon that challenged the assembly. She noted that the purpose of preaching is to “distress the comfortable and to comfort the distressed.” Barbee-Watkins opened her sermon with an illustration about homemade biscuits and family dynamics, connecting immediately with those gathered. She reminded the assembly that Jesus’ ministry was not done “decently and in order,” but was messy and incarnational.

Barbee-Watkins said that it’s easy to get tired and discouraged in the messiness of the Christian journey, but Jesus, faith and love are the radical difference that moves people forward even when they are tired. She connected this to the Presbyterian Church’s positions on immigration and racial reconciliation, offering a reminder of all the overtures that have been passed in past and present General Assemblies — but that those overtures must be converted into action. She pointed to the challenges in our current context related to sexism, racism, LGBTQIA+ issues and poverty. “We as a denomination have made some bad biscuits because of our participation in sinful systems.” But she believes there is hope, the radical difference of faith. “We know how to make good biscuits y’all” Barbee-Watkins stated. “We must start by making the biscuits of radical confession to deal with the urgent needs of our siblings and the church. … We need to confess and repent of the structural sins we have participated in. … We have depended on our resources more than our reason. … The way forward isn’t a commission, it’s a commitment. … Beloved, rise up, let’s make some new biscuits.”

The anthem, “Faithful Over a Few Things” was shared by the Cote Brilliante Presbyterian Church Community Men’s Chorus. One of the children participating in the communion liturgy danced down the aisle to the communion table while other children processed in the communion elements.

The celebration of communion was led by Joshua Noah, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Crystal City, Missouri, and  Barbee-Watkins. The Great Thanksgiving liturgy was from the newly revised “Book of Common Worship” with an invitation written by Noah. Noah and Barbee-Watkins were accompanied by four children who participated in the communion liturgy, declaring “Jesus welcomes everyone!” and asking questions as part of the liturgy that led those assembled: “Why do we give thanks and praise before this table? Why do we eat bread at this table? Why do we drink from the cup at this table? What do we remember at this table?” Prior to the service, Noah noted, “This liturgy with the kids is a little crazy chaotic, just like a real family meal.”

While communion was served, a video (“Embodied”) was played with images of bread making. The communion music included hymns and spirituals sung by the Cote Brilliante Presbyterian Church Community Men’s Chorus including “Jesus Paid It All,” “I’m Building Me a Home” and “There Is a Balm in Gilead.”