Christ United Presbyterian Church
Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:38)
In the home of 10,000 lakes and even more flowing water, a few thousand of my dearest friends and fellow Presbyterians from around the country were blessed to experience Minnesota hospitality. July 3-10 in Minneapolis, our 219th Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly took over the Convention Center and, it seemed, most of the downtown.
I was happy to be a part of COLA hospitality volunteer (Committee on Local Arrangements - we really like acronyms...) Over and over, I heard from visitors how delighted they were by overflowing Minnesota niceness! The city even threw the Presbyterians a spectacular party - thrilling fireworks over Harriet Island on the 4th of July.
The Assembly theme "Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38) streamed throughout the event. However, observing the media reporting - instead of demonstrations of vibrant faith flowing into loving action - one could wrongly believe that the experience was more like shooting the rapids!
National denominational church meetings have become an increasingly contentious part of summer. Once more like a national church family reunion - assemblies now tend to be covered more as political campaigns, complete with sound bites by the most partisan voices, spin and opinionated analysis of vote tallies. Regrettably, the old saying is still true - bad news sells.
Consequently, the aspects reported concern only the most controversial and divisive headlines. The celebrations of inspirational evangelism, discipleship, diversity and stewardship are overlooked. Neither enthusiastic sharing of new, creative and innovative ways to be the Church nor the hope and joy, which the vast majority finds in their local congregation, make the cut. Most destructive to our local communities however is the total disregard for the faithful manner in which the work is done.
At the 219th Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly, commissioners and advisory delegates debated, but they did not fight. They tackled tough issues while refraining from tackling each other. They sought the will of God within their actions, rather than regarding their decisions as the will of God. They covenanted to pray and work together with hopeful expectation. One commissioner called the experience of seeking and finding common ground in the midst of divisive issues truly "miraculous."
For Presbyterians, significant actions approved by our every other year General Assembly must be ratified at the regional level. Only after a majority of representatives have studied and approved any recommendation, will it become practice two years later. We can and will continue to discern together.
We know that faithful people will not always agree about policies and directions, but after all, those are not what unite us. We have experienced the transforming love of God through Jesus Christ. Our words and our deeds should reflect that great gift. Can we even envision the impact, if respectful, earnest and gracious engagement became the new standard in our churches and in our nation?
Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water. For the sake of the gospel, now and in the days to come - May it be so!