Guest commentary by Jody Mask
As I write this, people all over America are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first steps taken on the moon. Neil Armstrong is immortalized for having taken those steps, and for marking it with one of the most well-known statements of the current age: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
In the week leading up to this celebration, over 4,000 Presbyterian youth, adult advisors, small group leaders, work crews, invited preachers and other musical and worship leaders landed on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, for the Presbyterian Youth Triennium 2019. I arrived as an adult advisor for Central Florida Presbytery for my second consecutive Triennium.
Though most of us came from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), we met with a small-but-mighty contingent from our siblings in the Cumberland Presbyterian churches. Our theme this year, “Here’s My Heart,” comes from the beloved hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and its line: “Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”
If you have ever been to this event, which by definition is held every third year, you know how large the campus of Purdue is, and how much walking is involved. We walk to the Elliott Hall of Music for worship daily. We walk 10 to 15 minutes or more to the cafeteria three times a day. We walk all over campus to find our small group spaces and our delegation group spaces. We walk to Memorial Mall for evening recreation, and to nearby buildings to pick up our conference T-shirts and soak up time in the prayer space. We mark our time at Triennium by the step counters on our watches and apps.
My conservative estimate is that collectively, in the four to five days that all these folks gathered for strengthening our communal ties as the body of Christ, we took 60 million steps! That’s 60 million steps for the strength of Presbyterian identity and witness. Sixty million steps dedicated to offering our hearts to God on behalf of God’s people. Sixty million steps that help us grow in faith, shape our communities and bear witness to the ways in which we still fall short of becoming the beloved kin-dom of God.
I am a runner. Even in these days of so much walking, I draw energy for the day from a morning run. During a couple of runs around Purdue, I passed a building whose name sounds like it could be on any college campus: Armstrong Hall. On the first run, the name didn’t click. But on the second run, I paid more attention to the statue out front, and it finally dawned on me that the hall was named for none other than Neil Armstrong, a Purdue alum. Neil graduated in 1955 with a degree in aeronautical engineering.
Purdue happened to be celebrating an auspicious anniversary of its own: 150 years since its founding as a land grant college focusing on science and engineering in 1869. The university has signs all over campus celebrating this milestone, even as new buildings are popping up.
This month, America celebrated the moon landing of July 20, 1969, a remarkable achievement that continues to benefit the human race through technological advancement in space. Also this month, at Triennium, Presbyterians from America and countries around the planet celebrated the beautiful words of the past, contemplated and reflected together on the words and work of Jesus and realized that we all are called by God to take small steps of our own. Individually, we took thousands of small steps towards Jesus and justice for all of his people. Together as Presbyterians who are both proud of our spiritual heritage and eager to forge a future of stronger witness, we took one giant leap for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
JODY MASK is the associate pastor of Markham Woods Presbyterian Church in Lake Mary, Florida, a suburb of Orlando. When not knee-deep in ministry to others, he ministers to himself by running, hiking and spending time with his wife, Ellen.