“Here it is, the opening day of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 220th General Assembly (2012), and we have come to this gathering from north, south, east and west to share stories,” said Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Mission Council. Valentine and the Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, proceeded to share stories from across the church during one of the Riverside Conversations on Saturday morning, June 30.

Building on the theme of the Assembly, Valentine and Parsons shared examples of walking, running and soaring in hope throughout the PC(USA).

They talked about the rebuilding taking place in Joplin, Mo. The Bethany Church and Peace Lutheran Church have been in the community for years. When Peace Church was destroyed by the EF-5 tornado in 2011, Bethany opened its doors for joint worship and sharing of fellowship space. They now have merged seamlessly and may decide to stay together permanently and not rebuild.

A foundational part of Parsons and Valentine’s reports was the churchwide initiative to start 1001 new worshipping communities over the next decade. Those who attended the Riverside Conversation were asked to express their hope for the church. Some of their responses:

The small town of Front Royal, Va., in Shenandoah Presbytery has three Presbyterian churches – Buckton, Front Royal and Nineveh. Ruling elder commissioner Jim Johnston told a story of hope from their presbytery’s committee on ministry. They have been given hope because members at Buckton have started a quilt club, a woodworking club and a crafting group. There are signs that the groups are fostering growth in the congregation.

In South Carolina, a 40-member church has hope because of Girl Scouts in their congregation. These 18 girls, who meet in the church, have begun projects within the community and extended it to the congregation. One of their projects has been to revitalize the church playground.

In Detroit, a church that began 93 years is experiencing renewed hope. Elaine Terrel Ellis, ruling elder commissioner from Detroit Presbytery, told the story of a 12-year-old girl who would come to church by herself on Sundays because it is located across the street from where she lives. She was hungry for attention and had told Ellis that she wanted to dance. “Our older graying members listened and it played on my heart,” Ellis said. The members began a dance group and “it’s a hit with everyone, young and old alike.”

“It’s about building relationships and giving hope to families,” said Ellis.