A major part of my GA experience has been attending special meal presentations on various topics. Every morning I’ve awakened at the crack of dawn to attend breakfast meetings that begin at 7:00 a.m. It has been well worth the effort. On Day #1 my soul resonated with this statement of Lilian Daniels, who said,”If we can’t talk about our experience of God, we have no business existing.”
In a book called, “When Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough,”Lillian has written about people who have been wounded by Christianity, about hurting and struggling people without community, about people who check the box “none” when asked to declare their religious affiliation. She urges congregations who want to reach “nones” to make a priority of relearning how to talk about their experiences of the divine.
‘We have an excellent youth program’ is not going to do it. Having an outstanding choir is not enough. People who are really nice will not make a difference for those who are not comfortable with church. What matters is your capacity to articulate, in your own words, what difference it makes that you are created in the image of God, that you are baptized in Christ, and that all are precious to God.
Similar themes were articulated during the Evangelism and Church Growth breakfast. Speaker Brian Clark reminded us that there is no manual for making disciples. All that is required is following Jesus. He named four principles to guide churches in this endeavor: 1. Challenge people to be born from above in concrete and real ways….without fear that they’ll say no and without attachment to attracting crowds.
2. Focus more on the week and less on Sunday; Worship is a by-product of discipleship and doesn’t have to be perfect, just authentic; we need to make our work about 7 days of the week. 3. Do only the ministries others are doing with you. Brian told the powerful story of his session’s decision to cancel Christmas Eve service when it became clear that it was becoming a show put on by the clergy. Instead, members of the congregation were asked to celebrate Christmas Eve in their homes, invite friends and neighbors and tell them the story. One family invited Muslim friends. Brian asserted that no flyer would have brought them to church, but personal invitations and preparation of the congregation brought the story to those beyond the church. 4. Provide people the space to grow. Give them on-ramps…Simple ways to rest (receive God’s grace, in community), eat (experience and share spiritual nourishment) and exercise (express our gifts in the world).
At a luncheon sponsored by Presbyterians for Earth Care, the conversation was all about the growing impact of global climate change, especially for the poor and those most vulnerable. Divestment from fossil fuels was identified as an important strategy in an ethic of survival. Divestment from fossil fuels is a topic under consideration by the General Assembly. The committee that was asked to consider it defeated the recommendation. It remains to be seen what the full assembly will do with it.
The Peace Breakfast focused on drones, a topic about which I know very little. Medea Benjamin, author of “Code Pink,” talked about the use of technology through which drones are being used as implements of warfare and law enforcement. The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, sponsor of the breakfast, is strong and growing, considering many avenues for furthering the peace of Christ in our world.
At a Multi-cultural Dinner and Celebration, Roger Nishioka offered the sobering statistic that in 2004 our denomination was 92% white, in 2012 we were 90% white, while our nation as a whole is now 63% white. He issued a powerful call for churches to move toward inter-cultural, not just multi-cultural experiences.
Multicultural means we live alongside one another, value tolerance, and celebrate cultural differences in ways that require superficial and polite social interactions.
In a multicultural church distinct cultural groups co-exist, with equal status but often in isolation from one another. Often there is superficial celebration of folk and food without deep learning; power differentials are not addressed.
In contrast, becoming an inter-cultural church means comprehensive mutuality, reciprocity,and equality. Church social structures and systems are defined by justice righteousness, mutuality, respect, equality, understanding. There are mutually reciprocal relationships among and between cultures. People from different cultural groups interact with one another, learn and grow together. There is a focus on relationship building, not survival, deep connections, interactions, and mutual gifting.
All are changed in intercultural process.
We also heard from Victor Aloyo, pastor at Nuevas Fronteras and United, who promoted the denomination’s Multi-cultural conference to take place July 31- August 3 in Fort Worth TX.
These special meals have given windows of insight related to topics under consideration in the work of the General Assembly, with engaging speakers. The Assembly is now moving through its business in plenary. The Spirit of Christ is among us. Thanks be to God.