Over the past few weeks I have met with both the Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA) in Minneapolis and the meeting arrangements staff of the Office of the General Assembly. and while those do not sound like thrilling meetings, I must say, the sweet aroma of our bi-annual gathering is beginning to fill the air. Sure . . . it is just one giant presby geek-fest and one could argue that it is one more way that we can pretend that we are more influential than we really are or use to be . . . but, gosh darn-it, I do loves me some General Assembly.
Yes, there will always be ways we can improve the ways in which we discern and decide, but I do think that this gathering helps us to experience one more manifestation what we claim as Presbyterians: we discern the mind of Christ and the will of God, together.
So while there will be plenty of opportunities to debate some of the structures and logistics, let me just give you some updates and teasers.
ONE: Gradye's Hopes . . . At a recent meeting of the OGA, Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk expressed his hopes by sharing these words, "By the end of the 219th GA it is my hope that . . .
- Commissioners and advisory delegates will have a deep sense that what they have done will further the mission of Christ in the world.
- Those who were in any way a part of the assembly will be the first in line of Presbyterians who talk about their faith with a contagious enthusiasm.
- The spirit in which decisions were made at the assembly will be a prayerful and careful witness of decision-making for the whole church.
- Commissioners and advisory delegates will return home from the assembly with a deepened awareness of the length and breadth of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); that they are a part of something much larger than themselves.
- A clearer, common calling to a changing “church” will have begun to come into focus, along with a desire across our church to look beyond ourselves to a world in great need, and busy ourselves with the mission of the gospel: making disciples, feeding the hungry, welcoming the outcast, encouraging the fainthearted, working for peace – all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
I have greatly appreciated Gradye's thoughtful, deliberate and faithful ways he has approached his first couple years as Stated Clerk and look forward to the ways he will help to guide the future movement and transformation of our General Assembly.
TWO: Worship Theme and Preachers . . . as some may know the Moderator is mandated to preach at the opening worship service and to choose the preachers for all but one of the daily worship services. I have selected and confirmed the four preachers that I am mandated to choose. And while there will be a fuller press release to come, their names are: Hakeem Jerome Jefferson, Taylor Lewis Guthrie, Ruth-Aimée Belonni-Rosario and G. Christopher Scruggs.* Feel free to check out the Facebook Announcement for more info.
In addition to the scripture for the General Assembly, Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water. – John 7:38 and each preacher's supporting texts, I have also given the following as a general theme for the worship services:
Nurtured by our past, Embracing the future: Our worship time will honor and lift up the great theological and liturgical movements that have grounded us over the centuries as well as allow us opportunities to experience the many manifestations of worship experiences that are being born out of our rich heritage.
I am looking forward to the work of the various local worship committees as they help to create a joyful and worshipful space for the people of God.
THREE: Social Media . . . I have been encouraged by the conversations that we have been having about the use of Social Media during General Assembly by commissioners, those attending on behalf of groups and those simply observing the work of the church. While one response to the dramatic rise of Social Networking activity in the church certainly could be to try and stop it, it looks like we'll be taking the posture of helping folks to use it well. I know there are conversations going on about helping folks to use these technologies in ways that enhance the the GA experience rather than distract or take away from it.
There has already been some preliminary work being done on this so if you are interested in the process at this early stage, I would encourage you to check out the GA 219 Website. And if you are a twitter-type, be sure to follow @presbyGA for updates as well as OGA tech/web staff person, Randy Hobson.** Also be sure to tag your tweets with #ga219 to stay part of the conversation. Needless to say, I think this is a good move on our part as we lead and model healthy and compelling ways to engage in ministry.
FOUR: Minnesota . . . I spent a little time in Minneapolis with the COLA, toured the convention center and walked the downtown neighborhood. Except for all the crazy Vikings and Packers fans wandering the streets – jokes people, jokes – it should be a great location for General Assembly. Everything seems fairly accessible, there is a variety of food options and most housing seems to be walking distance. There will certainly be more info coming, but until then, please be sure to lift up in prayer all those good Presbyterians in the Twin Cities area who are preparing for our arrival.
FIVE: I'll be done . . . While this has certainly been a tiring adventure, my spirit is filled with joy as I hold this office on your behalf. There are still eight more months of conversations to have, but I have noticed that some of the questions and interactions have shifted in tone as we move towards the final stages of my term. I will say that I am excited and eager to move on to the next steps in my life and ministry, but before then, there are still many conversations to have, dreams to flesh out and coffee to drink. You can't get rid of me that quickly!
I think that is it for now. Please pray for the movement of Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of the myriad of people who are preparing for our gathering . . . just about eight months away: staff, commissioners, advisory delegates, advocacy groups, observers, presenters and everyone else.
Peace – Bruce
*The preacher for the ecumenical service who is invited by the Office of the General Assembly has not been confirmed as of this date.
** If you ARE a Presbyterian twitter type, here are two docs you might be interested in: one, a list of self-identified Presbyterians on Twitter and, two, an Open Source list of Presbyterian Ministries on Twitter.