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.
“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.”
— Karl A. Menninger
Henry was way past 80 when I first met him. He had not attended our congregation for many years because of his wife’s illness. Although I tried to visit with them often, it was not till she was hospitalized that Henry and I had regular conversations. Henry had been a deacon in this congregation almost thirty years previously. One of our conversations led to the solution for a maintenance issue that had puzzled us for a long time.
Renee was a vivacious young girl who wanted to marry me when she grew up. She actually sort of let me off the hook a few years ago when she got married. Renee had great insights into the Bible and what it meant to be good people.
I can’t promise you that I am always a good listener. But I do know it is a very important part of being church. The life of the church is focused around words spoken, heard, and sung. We hear and bear each other’s stories of hope and fear, success and struggle, love and abandonment. We dream dreams about our congregations. We experience hurt from some failure of trust broken. Our hope gets dashed. Our zeal squashed. Yes, all these things happen in the life of the church.
But where do we go from there? This has always been the issue of the struggling church. Is it possible that folks who have hurts and folks who have hopes can be in conversation together? Can people who believe in their church and people who aren’t sure anymore talk together?
There is an effort to create a listening moment in the life of this church. You can find information about that moment at this web address: oga.pcusa.org/section/ga/join-conversation/. I am asking you to get with some sisters and brothers in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and discuss the questions at pcusa.org/identity together. Then, in your own reflection on that conversation, respond on the online form. It is important that your words get a full hearing.
As I write this the airplane carrying Pope Francis is probably in its final approach into Rome. In the United States it is Monday, with all of the start-of-the-week chores waiting for us. The analysis of the impact of the Pope’s visit continues. It continues in the media and in the minds of the people who heard him speak or enjoyed an individual encounter. The Pope used his influence to talk about many of the important issues of the day. Immigration, climate change, and the death penalty were directly addressed, just to name a few.
We are making a generational shift in our family this year. My wife, Kathy, is not teaching school for the first time in thirty-three years. Our grandson, Dylan, started preschool. So there is at least someone in the family in a classroom this fall.
My grandson is at the age where my and mine can become rather loud. He also is very committed that whatever he is eating is shared by everyone else. If you don’t mind the sticky hand that is offering goldfish crackers to you, it can be a sweet learning moment.
As I look over the monthly columns that I have written in the past twelve months, I realize that a fourth of them have been about racism. The latest public incident is the murders at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church (Mother Emanuel) in Charleston, South Carolina. Mother Emanuel is another in a long tragic list of African American churches that have been bombed, burned, shot up, and defaced.