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.
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.
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.
I can count on one hand the number of times I have spent Christmas in my own home as an adult. We have shared that day with grandparents and other family. In a pre-Amazon era, we hid presents among the luggage and spent those days on the road just like Joseph and Mary. But of course I knew that my bed was there to welcome me when it was all over.
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.
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.
Sometime in November after this little column is posted the grand jury in St. Louis County will present its judgment of the Michael Brown shooting by Officer Darren Wilson. Unless King Solomon is the foreman of the jury it is hard to imagine that its’ decision will satisfy everyone. However, I think we might want to reflect on this moment of chaos and what it calls the church to be about.
We are studying the Belhar Confession as a possible addition to The Book of Confessions. This could not be a more Kairos moment. The confession …