Doing and being church

The editorial from "Gathering as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): General Assembly 2022."

One of the best alternative spring break trips I led during my college chaplaincy was to Washington, D.C., where we visited The Church of the Saviour. With a long history in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, the church describes itself as a “scattered community” of small independent churches whose mission is lay led and invested locally. They have never owned a traditional church building. A member gave our group a tour of the neighborhood and the church’s local ministries — the Potter’s House coffee shop, where the homeless can get a free meal and customers are surrounded by shelves of theological books; Joseph’s House, a hospice for people with AIDS; Jubilee Housing and Jubilee Jobs, affordable housing and employment programs; Samaritans Inn, an addiction recovery home. This church’s investment in local real estate, businesses and people is a unique and inspiring ministry.

Next, we visited the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, three blocks from the White House, and met with Roger Gench, then senior pastor. Roger gave us a tour of the church’s grand sanctuary where Lincoln rented a pew and Peter Marshall preached that the church was more than a place for Sunday worship. We learned of the church’s extraordinary ministries, the hospitality offered from its prime location, and the prophetic words preached to presidents and politicians in its pews. From the heart of D.C., the historic witness of this church left our group in awe.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness (OPW) was our final stop. In preparation for our D.C. experience, our group had chosen to study and discuss the topic of criminal justice reform. The Office of Public Witness guided us in learning about the criminal justice bills being considered by Congress and planning to advocate for the decisions we, as a group, discerned to be just. The OPW staff had scheduled appointments for us with the offices of our state’s representatives. They escorted us to our meetings where we anxiously fidgeted in our politicians’ fancy chairs, advocated for our position, then took excited selfies outside their flag-framed office doors.

Great discussions emerged during this trip about the different ways of doing and being church. From small, diverse local missions to a prominent downtown church to the influence a denomination can have at the highest level of our government, our trip was full and rich. The most memorable lesson for me was learning that when people of faith organize and advocate for political action, our representatives listen. The more organized we are, the more people advocating, the more we are heard. Not all my students on the trip were Presbyterian. The ones who were witnessed the power of our connectional church and became more devoted Presbyterians because of the experience.

As we approach this summer’s 225th General Assembly, many Presbyterians will likely tune out the tedium of three full weeks of committee meetings and policy debate. But we are the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) together. I love our representative governance that places power in the hands of the people. I love the good we can do, collectively, in the world. And I love our theology that keeps us humble, reminding us that we are a work in process, that we are Reformed and always reforming.

In this issue, John M. Buchanan, moderator of the 208th General Assembly, writes about how he fell
in love with Presbyterianism. Young Adult Volunteer Victoria Alexander tells her story as well. We are a part of a church tradition that has inspired and continues to inspire generations. We are a part of something much bigger than ourselves as individual Christians, bigger than our local churches and communities. We are a powerful collective, a denomination following the Spirit to see where she leads us in this new day, full of challenge … and opportunity. May God bless our work at this summer’s General Assembly that it might bear good and faithful fruit.