I attended General Assembly for the first time in 1981 when the denomination met in Houston. The planners were looking for elders to assist with communion and, having been ordained to the office at the tender age of 16, I fit the age-diversity bill. I don’t remember a lot, except that there were lots of people and I didn’t drop or spill anything. Still, I know much has changed since 1981.
For the 222nd GA in 2016, when the meeting was held in Portland, I had the privilege of serving as co-chair of the Committee of Local Arrangements (COLA). The work began in 2014, lasted a few months after GA222 ended, and it was a good experience. The Louisville staff was professional, smart and organized. Plus I loved to hear them laugh or swap stories from GAs past.
When COLA was in the thick of our work for GA222, someone asked us what our tote bags would be. Tote bags! By the time GA came to Portland, tote bags were already a thing of the past. Budget constraints eliminated that option, but if you’re looking for a water bottle or COLA peddler’s apron from GA222, I can fix you up.
And now, because of the pandemic and finances and a thousand other things, the 225th GA will look different once more. Much has changed. For GA junkies, this is hard. For those of us who treasured the family reunion feel of the meeting, this is hard. Then again, putting on any General Assembly is hard.
Is it a comfort that we can still hold on to our Presbyterian identity and our way of doing things? As long as I have been anything, I have been a Presbyterian. I know we aren’t perfect; no denomination is. But this is home for me, and I am grateful to have had this home for most of my life. In so many ways the body of Christ looks like so many of the Presbyterians I have known and argued with and loved over the years.
Is it a comfort to be blessedly assured that all our business will be conducted decently and in order? I love order. I do. There is a beauty when everything is in its correct place and we move from A to B. But that’s not how life works. I’m pretty sure that’s not how God works either. There is also beauty in the mess, fruition in the struggle, and you can find yourself in some pretty marvelous places when you wander off the beaten bath. There might not be comfort in chaos, but there might be exhilaration.
Is it a comfort to say that God’s Spirit is still present at all of these meetings? If we could map out the travels of the Spirit, we might understand that God has been present through it all — in meetings; in decision making; in our pews and chairs; in cheery volunteers passing out tote bags and water bottles to grateful commissioners.
I have no idea what will happen to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) I don’t know what will happen at GA this year. I have learned during this pandemic that I don’t really know what will happen next week.
When I was a teenager at that Presbyterian church in Houston four decades ago, one of my favorite songs was “The Love of God” by Gary Ault. It had the line, “I know nothing of tomorrow, except the love of God will rise before the sun.” That I know. That, and that the Spirit will lead us in all the rest.