The lone person without a nametag in the crowded elevator looked around and asked with exasperation, “What are you doing here?” He added, “This used to be my favorite hotel.” I told him we were in St. Louis for the biennial national meeting of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) making decisions for the church. I don’t believe my answer made him feel any better. But, really, what were we doing there in St. Louis at the 223rd General Assembly?
We spent many hours in committee meetings. We spent many hours in plenary. We debated a plethora of issues from fossil fuels to funding. We had a lot of breakfasts, lunches and dinners where awards were given, speeches made and information shared. But really, what were we doing there?
We marched to the St. Louis justice center with a check for $47,000 to be used to bail people out of jail, a tangible expression of our belief that being poor is not a crime. We rallied in a park to be explicit in our stance that no human is illegal and that those crossing our borders should not have their children taken from them. Some walked from Louisville to St. Louis, putting legs on a commitment to a fossil free PC(USA). We had Bible study. We prayed. We worshipped. But really, what were we doing there?
If I had a second chance to answer that frustrated man in the elevator I would say, “We’re here to show and share the love of Jesus Christ.” That is why we are here, wherever “here” may be. Sometimes that looks like a big check, and sometimes it looks like an older man embracing the Young Adult Advisory Delegate from his presbytery who just said into the mic: “I am bisexual. I’ve never said that publicly before.”
Sometimes that looks like advocating for policy or writing a position paper, and sometimes it looks like tipping the person well who cleaned your bathroom all week. Sometimes it means marching, and sometimes it means listening. Sometimes it means shouting, and sometimes it calls for silent prayer.
We are here to show and share the love of Jesus Christ with our hands and feet, hearts and minds, money and will, our whole selves and our whole lives. That is what we are doing here. We do that through confessions of faith and personal repentance, corporate worship and individual accountability, small acts of kindness and large ones of civil disobedience and a daily commitment to follow the One who came not to be served but to serve. That is what we are doing here.
I don’t know what impact our overtures and words, our affirmations and repudiations, our amendments and task forces will have. But I will no longer expend energy on cynicism about them or anything else done in hope and sincerity by the Body of Christ. When mental illness and gun violence and war and racism and xenophobia and natural disasters are crushing our neighbors, aloof cynicism is a luxury of the privileged and Jesus was a poor man.
Time and time again in St. Louis I saw vulnerable siblings in Christ speaking to issues from places of deep personal pain. “My son was shot and killed.” “My father was murdered and his killer executed, now I have two people to mourn.” “My country is decimated due to climate change.” “My child is transgender.” “My pastor didn’t know what to do when we were facing a mental illness and needed support.” “The church where I grew up had to close.” “We marched because the people in those jails mostly look like me and my sons.” “Our community was devastated by an ICE raid.”
These stories, and countless others, are why we went to St. Louis. These stories, and countless others, call on us to show and share the love of Jesus, so that the world will know what we are doing here. We won’t have to tell them, they won’t have to ask, they will see: We are here to share and show the love of Jesus Christ, however we can, wherever we are, and we won’t waste any energy being cynical about it.
Grace and peace,