We’ve been here before. Sort of. I had the privilege of being a first-time teaching elder commissioner (TEC) at the first-of-its-kind virtual 224th General Assembly in 2020, and now I am surprised and honored to serve once again as a TEC at a first-of-its-kind hybrid 225th GA in 2022.
The circumstances leading to the 224th GA were unprecedented. No previous GA manual or planning could have prepared us for a GA in that context — and yet with God’s guidance, and the wisdom and perseverance of amazing denominational staff and elected officers, commissioners, advisory delegates, volunteers, etc., the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was able to meet and do God’s work. Though it wasn’t what we had been used to, though there were items of business we had to delegate to a future assembly, we understood the 224th GA to be a “once in a lifetime” kind of GA. Well, turns out, it’s twice in a lifetime. Sort of.
As I look forward to this 225th GA (and think back to the 224th), I see a metaphor emerging of what I hope for our time together in Louisville and online. God is calling us to be the church in the 21st century, which entails the faithful reimagining of this communion of saints we hold so dear. The PC(USA) was faced, for example, with the need to pivot for GA225 and hold a hybrid assembly in response to the challenges of COVID. This isn’t about our use of technology, really, though that certainly is a part of it. I see our call to be the church in the 21st century as God daring us to look deep into our identity as believers during social, political and theological turmoil, daring us to be grounded yet flexible enough to thrive in a rapidly changing context. And the most faithful thing we can do is run to catch up with the Holy Spirit, who leads far ahead of us, showing us the way with prophetic clarity, enabling us to emulate Jesus, to be in solidarity with people on the margins — people who suffer injustice, whose voices are silenced. The Spirit reminds us that she has equipped us already with an abundance of gifts and talents (community-building, compassion, inclusion, discernment) that we can use to the glory of God in that journey.
Being this Spirit-led church in this not-so-new 21st century immerses us in the stubborn challenges of earlier and future centuries, as the church is reckoning with the structural racism that has been foundational to a sinful context disguising itself as “the ways things are.” The church is calling out the idolatry of economic theories which require systemic poverty. The church is confessing humanity’s arrogantly mismanaged stewardship of God’s creation, now pushed past the threshold of irreparable damage. Being the church in the 21st century hearkens back to the challenges of the ancient church at a crossroads: stand up to empire or walk hand in hand with it. We’ve been here before. Sort of.