Some Presbyterians believe that if they put on their Sunday best and wear a smiley face to church, their differences will melt away.

That’s not necessarily the case, of course. But God does supply the gifts we need to bridge the gaps that divide, Vera K. White, associate for 1001 New Worshiping Communities for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) said during morning worship Friday (Aug. 2) at Big Tent.

Big Tent, Aug. 1-3, is a celebration of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission and ministry organized around the theme “Putting God’s First Things First.” It’s composed of 10 national Presbyterian conferences, more than 160 workshops and special events to mark the 30th anniversary of the formation of the PC(USA) and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Presbyterian Center here.

The vision for unity “is so compelling that God does not leave it to human ingenuity or our good intentions or chance,” White said. “Instead, God supplies gifts needed for unity.” Its work that requires “all hands on deck,” she said, including pastors and evangelists, apostles and teachers.

The denomination’s 123 new worshiping communities that have popped up over the past year are in gymnasiums, tattoo parlors, parks, breweries ― even under bridges. “People are leaving the comfort of home in order to go out and live among people who have never felt comfortable in church,” White said. “The Holy Spirit is up to something.”

Meg and kids at worship

Meg Flannagan and some Big Tent kids add hand gestures to the prayers of the people during Friday's worship. —Danny Bolin

One example: there’s an RV park ministry in Southern California, a ministry begun by the Rev. Tamara John “to people who are lost, lonely, on the verge of homelessness, suffering from addictions and all kinds of brokenness,” White said.

Then there’s the work of the Revs. Erica Liu and Mark Edson, a clergy couple who have worked to revitalize Presbyterian ministry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

White said she was delighted to be part of “one thing that can bridge gaps by unifying the denomination around making disciples.” When she identified members of the new worshiping communities ― young adults, racial/ethnic people and immigrants and the under-represented ― the congregation applauded.

“What about you?” White asked. “Are you stuck in the gap, or jumping on that train that is soaring into an unknown but exciting future? Perhaps God is calling your congregation to send forth people into the unchurched community to start a new worshiping community.”

We live in a time of uncertainty “when everyone is pulling us into a morass of brokenness and division,” she said, “everyone, that is, except our triune God. Thanks be to God.”