A tapestry of faces and personalities gathered here Thursday, October 24, to fellowship, eat, and study the Bible as part of the opening gathering of the General Assembly Committee on Representation (GACOR) 2013 Synod Training Event.

Brought together under the theme “There’s Power in the Patchwork: Unity in Diversity,” about sixty people opened the event designed to empower and instruct those serving on committees on representation at the synod level of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

“There is certainly power in the patchwork as I look out at this room,” said GACOR Moderator Deborah Fair, of Dearborn, Mich. “I am so encouraged and so pleased that you chose to ... spend time with us at this biennial training by GACOR.”

The General Assembly Committee on Representation (GACOR) advises, consults with, and guides the General Assembly of the PC(USA) and its constituent parts on matters of inclusion, participation, and representation at all levels of church leadership and decision making. Its mission supports Book of Order mandate (G-3.0103).

“This is going to be an exciting, interesting, and empowering time of knowledge-sharing,” said Fair, a member of the Synod of the Covenant. “The goal is for the information communicated to be used to empower local congregations, presbyteries, synods, the denomination, and the world,” she said.

That certainly was the aim of the Contextual Bible Study participants took part in over dinner Thursday night. Led by Margaret Aymer, associate professor of New Testament at the Interdenominational Theological Center, the study guided attendees in a dialogue about Acts 6.

Contextual Bible Study, which comes out of communities in South Africa, is “‘a grassroots form of Bible study’ engaged in by a group who looks at Scripture in a context for a context,” Aymer said. The process includes choosing a theme the group wants to address; selecting a passage to study; reading and questioning the text; articulating a local theology; and developing an action plan.

Aymer led training event participants, who were divided into small groups, through an abbreviated version of a Contextual Bible Study, asking them to contemplate questions like, “What is this story about, and what is our faithful response?”

When you ask what the story is about, “you find out who is at the table,” she told the group. “It empowers the voices in the room.” A true contextual study asks everyone to answer that question, and “the whole community is participating in the answers.”

Ultimately, the Bible study process urges those studying to do something. “It turns it into a call to ministry—a call to action,” Aymer said. Given the study just done, she asked the COR group, “What specific plans do you need to make as a synod-wide committee on representation? What specific actions do you need to take as a presbytery COR? What specific actions do each of our churches need to take? What one action could we take right now?”

Aymer encouraged the group to use Contextual Bible Study as a tool on their own contexts, but also to remember that the studies are “sacred spaces.”

The 2013 Synod Training Event continues today with worship, plenary sessions, and workshops.