“All creatures of our God and King … lift up your voice and with us sing … ‘Alleluia! Alleluia!’”
And so thousands of Presbyterians were called to worship Sunday morning at the 219th General Assembly (2010). With bright colors, liturgical dancers and tall Lion King-esque puppets – literally, all creatures worshiped. Kites, streamers and banners waved through the air as missionaries and pastors processed into the large hall.
Music in worship spanned the gamut of styles and cultures: Hispanic, negro spiritual call-and-response, contemporary “praise” songs, and old favorites were all included. Congregants were encouraged to dance as the spirit moved, to sing and shout to the Lord. Hand drums, drum sets, violin, ukulele, organ, vocal soloists, and a 250-plus person choir participated in the joyful noise of the assembly. The diversityin the colorful process was just as vibrant in the variety of music selections.
The leadership of commissioned lay pastor Fern Cloud, as well as a local musical group gave worship a specific Native American context through sight and sound. Flute and drum, colors of the four winds, and traditional dress infused the Reformed order of worship.
Former Moderator, the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, preached from Isaiah 64, and, to no one’s surprise, spoke about the absence of young adult members in the denomination. He wondered how God might move “the mountain” of the denomination, and whether members are ready to embrace that movement.
“We say to a generation of people every day, by the ways that we engage in church and community, ‘I don’t care [about your needs or yearnings],’” Reyes-Chow said. “‘I sort of like this mountain I’m living on.’” He challenged the congregation to celebrate the ways that “God is going to surprise us.” His candor about the denomination’s future both engaged and worried the congregation.
“Bruce said in the sermon that God is pissed [at us], and that might be true in general,” said the Rev. Jill Tolbert, campus minister at Emory University, “but surely God is pleased with our worship this morning – beautiful, diverse, intentional and creative, colorful, faithful. My hope and prayer is that we can leave here and live as we have worshipped!”
In response to the Word, the congregation celebrated the Sacrament of Communion, as well as the Sacrament of Baptism, which was a first-time event for a General Assembly. Jason and Melissa Sanders, a couple from a local congregation, Kwanzaa Community Church, presented their daughter, Alexis Renee Sanders, for baptism. Just like a smaller congregation, worshippers leaned forward to see her dress, watch her clap, and eagerly embraced the young toddler into the community. The congregation, many with tear-stained cheeks, joyfully stood and sang to mark Alexis’s identity as a child of God.