Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
There are eighty-nine years of living between my mother and my grandson. Yet they are experiencing similar journeys of self-discovery. My mother lives with dementia. It would be inaccurate to say she suffers from it. She treats it more like a traveling partner. While she has forgotten a lot of good things, she also has forgotten a lot of hurts and angers.
My grandson is acquiring knowledge by the minute. He is the proverbial mental vacuum cleaner. His imagination churns at warp speed. On a recent trip to a children’s museum he created whole worlds to enjoy. Not very long ago he finally put it together that the little boy in the mirror was him. Those blue eyes and that smile looking at him was what the world sees.
On a recent visit with my mother I showed her a photo of her and me. It took her a while to fully accept that it was her. Yes she does look like her mother. Yes your hair really is gray. And, yes, the son sitting next to you has gray hair too.
The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly commissioned a study of how the PC(USA) sees itself these days. It was an open-ended study in which anyone could participate. In combing through the 21,000 answers, a distinct family portrait emerges. That portrait reveals a church that cares about healthy congregations—healthy congregations that thrive, that faithfully live out the gospel, and that care about their community. The portrait reveals a people who set helping others as a priority. Helping others covers a variety of activities from food pantries to advocacy for justice. The strength of the answers shows the strong link between being a Christian and being God’s hands to the world.
A photo is a snapshot in time. If you look at old photos of yourself you might lament your youth. But if you look at current photos of yourself you can discover who you have become. The distinct family portrait of the PC(USA) shows us who we have become in our 310 years of life. I think we are looking pretty good at 310. Please have a look for yourself (PDF).
One of the great aspects of my time as Stated Clerk is hearing about the mission and ministry of Presbyterians and their congregations. Sometimes it is ministry in its own community. Other times it is a mission trip to some spot in the world. Universally I hear how these experiences are transformative.
There appears to be a math equation in this quote from John Calvin. Toleration plus pardon plus mercy equals freedom—the freedom defined as children being able to ask their parents anything. I wonder if this formula cannot be applied to our life as community.
Sustainability is a word that is used in many contexts. We talk about it with farms that have found the balance between what the soil can give up and what the soil needs to be healthy. It is used to refer to communities who have the resources they need to maintain a healthy economic life. Energy sources that are renewable also are viewed in terms of their sustainability.
There were many of us who went to see the new Stars Wars movie, The Force Awakens. Kathy and I always think back on our first Stars Wars movie when we took our six-week-old son to the $2 theater in Saugus, Massachusetts. We were struck at the kind of imagination it took George Lucas to create the movie.
The church and imagination have always been uncertain dance partners. They have stepped on each other’s toes and fought over who leads. We have witnessed the trouble a poor soul encounters when they imagine a piece of church furniture can be moved or a tradition changed. While no one wants to hear the same sermon every Sunday, whoa to the preacher who lets their imagination get beyond the congregation’s.