On being Presbyterian

It's the messy, holy work of community.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I remember my very first experience of a large Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) gathering like it was yesterday. It’s one of my core memories. It was 1998. I was 17. My presbytery had chosen me through an application process to attend that year’s Presbyterian Youth Triennium.

Generations of Presbyterians have been able to have the same experience I did that first day: walking into a large auditorium filled to the brim with Presbyterian teens from across the world. I got goosebumps. Here were 6,000 other teens like me. We all looked different, but we had our faith in common. For me, it was the first time I realized that I wasn’t the only weird kid in the world who loved the Presbyterian church. There were thousands of others. For the first time, I felt welcomed, seen and understood. I was not alone.

I vividly remember the closing sermon that week. The preacher inspired us to make the most of our lives in God’s eyes. He described his experience of visiting the gravesite of Martin Luther King Jr. and pontificated that this great man’s entire life was contained in the dash between his year of birth and his year of death. The dash is your whole life, the preacher told us. He said that MLK’s dash wasn’t just a straight line, it was stylized, wavy, a bit sideways. The 6,000 teens gathered were invited to consider what our dash would look like. What would our whole life contain? From that moment forward, I’ve tried to live a wavy life — one that followed the Holy Spirit’s leading, through all of life’s ups and downs.

I cannot remember what I preached last year, but I remember that sermon from 24 years ago. I sheepishly admit that my 17-year-old brain did not retain the name of the preacher, but I will forever remember what he said. (If you know him, please thank him for me).

We are not alone. We are in this work together. We have a great call on our lives. We follow that call together through the leading of the Holy Spirit. This is the power of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), which I first experienced all those years ago, and to which I have vowed to serve, as the Book of Order says, with “energy, intelligence, imagination, and love” as a minister of Word and Sacrament.

We might even say that our work together is wavy and a bit sideways sometimes. We have all been a part of difficult discussions at session meetings, contentious debates at Presbytery meetings and controversial conversations at General Assembly. While these can be difficult and heart-wrenching, our commitment to deep grappling and inclusion of many voices is why I am forever committed to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).

When I teach elder training and new member classes, I always lift shared leadership as a beloved gift of our denomination. Our belief in ordaining God’s leaders to “function, not status” is beautiful, faithful, and continually inspiring. In our church, we acknowledge what I felt on that first day of Triennium: that each of us are welcomed, honored and included; that our voices matter; and that we cannot do anything unless we do it together, through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

I am committed to this messy work, as we prayerfully walk together, stumble through Robert’s Rules of Order together, disagree together and listen for God’s leading together. For this reason, I took new vows to the work of the PC(USA) this week, as I was installed as moderator-elect of the Presbytery for Southern New Jersey. I pray as I step into a new role, that I can live into what God began in me (and in all of us) all those years ago: to lead the wavy, Spirit-led life together as siblings in Christ.