As moderator of Salem Presbytery, I recently had the honor of serving as a commissioner to the General Assembly (our recently-adopted manual makes this part of the moderator’s service). This year’s GA was less drama-filled than some in recent years, but a number of events merited notice, such as the election of a team of two women, Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston as co-moderators, the election of J. Herbert Nelson as stated clerk - the first African-American to hold the office - and the addition of the Belhar Confession to The Book of Confessions. Besides these we enjoyed moving moments of worship, and we met people from all over the country - around the world, in fact - and from many walks of life.
I served on the Immigration and Environmental Issues Committee, which dealt with the question of divestment from fossil fuels. Many Presbyterians believe faithfulness in our stewardship of creation requires this step. Our presbytery concurred in an overture to this effect. At the same time there were commissioners from Texas, for example, who expressed concern that many members of their congregations would feel personally blamed if the Assembly took such measures. More than one of these presbyteries is already reeling because of steep membership losses in recent years. Another member of the committee was herself the spouse of a coal miner. The committee did recommend divestment, though the Assembly adopted the committee's minority report, which I signed, calling for limited divestment and targeted reinvestment in alternatives to fossil fuels.
When the Assembly resumed plenary sessions, hearing and acting on committee reports, the pace was grueling, with business on the longest day lasting from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. Interesting as so much of the business was, it grew to be too much.
When I returned to Statesville and to our church office, I felt as if I had stepped from one world into another. I faced immediate pastoral concerns, something of a backlog from my time away, and we were dealing with details and inconveniences of major renovation of parts of our physical plant. What was the connection between these concerns and the life of the larger church, with its highlighting change, increasing diversity, A Thousand and One Worshiping Communities, a new way forward - under the impact of losses in membership and resources - and Vision 2020? Indeed, during the Assembly itself I had sometimes wondered about the connection between these matters and congregational life in places where we still feel challenges in recruiting volunteer leaders - elders, teachers, youth advisors, and mission volunteers - as well as paying bills and keeping the doors open. I will say outgoing moderator Heath Rada stressed the importance of our church’s congregations, the need to support them and provide resources for them, the locus of mission on the ground.
Our stated Session meeting early that very week helped me think further about these things: one of our elders, Sloan Goforth, unprompted, had planned a devotion on the Belhar Confession. David Parker, an elder from our congregation who, endorsed by Salem Presbytery, had stood as a candidate for co-moderator of the Assembly, shared something of his experience. We found deeper interest in our experience than I might have anticipated. I realized many commissioners in one way or another must have been experiencing the same thing, trying to share the experience and to bridge whatever distance there is between the highest and lowest councils of our church. We plan to continue sharing the experience as an adult track of our Vacation Bible School next week.
What's worth sharing?
- Steve Scott, Pastor, First Presbyterian, Statesville, NC
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
~ 1 Corinthians 12: 27
In our small but mighty church, we are committed to worshipping as whole body—young and old, silent and speaking, calm and fidgeting. We try to welcome and engage everyone because we believe we worship more fully together.
We have a vision of lips singing as only lips can sing while hands lift, grasp, and carry as is their strength. We imagine minds blossoming with wisdom and ears straining for understanding. We see wild, unkempt hair bouncing in the wind of the Spirit and hearts beating in time, pumping the life-blood through this fully engaged body of worship. And it is unspeakably beautiful. And it is terribly hard.
We don’t always enjoy the gifts of other members of the body – especially when they differ so vastly from our own. An ear is not made for dancing, so when she listens to the soft thuds and heavy breathing of a body in motion, she doesn’t grasp its joy. A foot is not designed to see, so he doesn’t recognize the glorious interplay of light and shadow through which he walks. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need each other. It doesn’t mean we aren’t part of the same body. It just means we are different—and that’s okay!
If the whole body were an elder with a penchant for tradition, where would the sense of adventure be? If the whole body were a frazzled family just trying to get it all done, where would the sense of peace and patience reside? If the whole body were a toddler waving his arms in joy one minute and weeping with frustration the other, God save us.
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as GOD chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Cor 12:18-20)
We are the Body of Christ and sometimes part of the body has to take a bathroom break in the middle of the service, but that does not make her worthless. Sometimes part of the body can no longer climb the stairs to the sanctuary, but that does not make him obsolete. Sometimes parts of the body might need an oxygen mask, or a hearing aid, or translation, or crayons, or an extra explanation, but that does not make them a nuisance and it certainly shouldn’t keep them out of worship.
In a healthy body, all the parts work together towards a common goal. Shouldn’t we begin by uniting all the members of our church body in common worship? Here are some ideas to get your started:
Encourage families to bring children to worship - out loud, every Sunday. Our words have power. When we say, “we love and you and want you here” it matters. Children cannot love worship if they aren’t there. Kids learn liturgy, songs, and prayers from within the community. It also helps to point out the rest rooms, the coloring sheets, the family worship area, the assisted listening devices, and any accommodations you’ve made to welcome the various members of the body.
Get an induction hearing loop for your sanctuary. This is life-changing technology for folks with assisted hearing devices. It transmits the sound from your sound system directly into the hearing aid or cochlear implant. (And it’s surprisingly affordable).
Offer tools to help active, movement oriented folks of all ages engage worship - like coloring prayers (not just for kids anymore), outlines to take notes, play-dough, or even ribbon sticks to wave during music.
Karen Ware Jackson pastors and leads worship accessible for all ages at Faith Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), a small, dynamic congregation in Greensboro, NC. As the mother of two preschoolers who worship front and center, she knows firsthand the joys and challenges of parenting a child while leading an inter-generational congregation. She blogs about parenting, pastoring, and engaging all ages in worship at www.karenwarejackson.com.