It’s not every day that the moderators for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) lead the General Assembly in a five-minute salsa break. And it’s not every day that you see a Scotsman in a kilt in St. Louis, Missouri. But, seeing both at the same time? That’s unheard of.
“Oh, nooo! What are they doing?” John Brewster is a General Assembly veteran (this 223rdGeneral Assembly is the sixth he’s attended) and an unofficial ambassador from the Church of Scotland. “In Scotland you bow before the moderator before going into the room, and again before going out. So, seeing this is just … .” He was lingering just outside the assembly hall, watching the indecorous salsa dancing unfold on a television livestreaming the assembly.
Brewster is a pastor at Greenhills Parish Church in East Kilbride, Scotland, a few miles south of Glasgow. He has gentle eyes, and a gentle brogue and air of contentment that seems like a Victorian ideal.
“I wear my kilt so everybody sees me, everybody sees me, and I get a lot of pictures. But it’s very warm, really, because there are some people who are deeply involved in the General Assembly, and they’ll wave to me and say things like, ‘I saw you four years ago,’ or, ‘I saw you two years ago.’… They think I’m kind of crazy, but I have a great time,” Brewster said.
Giving insight into what sets this General Assembly apart, Brewster spoke of the 222ndassembly in 2016: “In Portland, the church was just pulling apart … So, it was like we were all holding our breath because we were afraid that something was going to snap. This year, at the opening [worship of the] assembly, it was like that stress and strain and tightness from two years ago had gone, and we were breathing again. And your two moderators are saying things [about] … justice, and children in cages, and people in prison having to pay money to get out … gives the church purpose, and redefines what the gospel means in my view. … And I hope you feel proud to belong to the PC(USA).”
Concluding our conversation with an infectious cheeriness, Brewster added: “I’ve since met Cindy and Vilmarie [the co-moderators of the 223rdGeneral Assembly], and I just think, watching them leading the chants and dancing … oh gosh, it’s really refreshing.”