As their final piece of business, the Congregational Vitality Committee of the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) sent its commissioners two-by-two into the streets of Detroit on Tuesday morning.
“Go with a listening posture,” said Shannon Kiser, a 1001 Catalyst for the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “Pray to see whom God desires for you to see.”
The committee’s final work was an experiment in Missional Living —an initiative that the committee recommended the Assembly approve—which encourages Presbyterians to reach out to those in their communities in service in the name of Christ.
When the commissioners returned two hours later they had stories to tell.
Alice Tondora of the Presbytery of Redstone and Summer Bower of the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina went to a coffee shop and then a jewelry store. “A 26-year-old woman from Liberia owned the store,” said Bower. “She was excited to talk with me about Detroit, how it is coming back.”
As the two began walking back to the Assembly they had an encounter with Mitch.
“For some reason I was drawn to him, so I said ‘hello’ and asked him how he was,” Tondora said.
Mitch started talking and eventually he brought up his faith, talking about how good God is, she said. And then the conversation took a turn.
“He began to describe how angry he was at God because his mother had died,” Tondora said, choking back tears. “He was ministering to us.”
Bower and Tondora told Mitch they were in town for a church conference, that they believed God had ordained this moment — for the three of them to be together.
“He was speechless,” said Tondora. “Then he grabbed my hand and kissed it.”
Others weighed in joyfully. “Until today I thought this was my swan song,” said Alice Taylor of the Presbytery of Eastern Virginia. “But now I’m energized for ministry.”
“At one point, I began to feel like I was part of the most important committee at General Assembly,” said Linda Rutkosky of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.
Forest Claassen, the stated clerk of the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, said this is the first time that Congregational Vitality didn’t get rolled into something else.
“My understanding is they didn’t want these initiatives – “Living Missionally,” “Educate a Child, Transform the World,” and “1001 New Worshiping Communities” – to get diluted with other stuff,” said Claassen.
Tom Hay, the Office of General Assembly’s associate for Assembly operations, confirmed this. “We knew it had the opportunity to be very different. We wanted to see how the commissioners would respond to this experience and challenge of doing vital ministry together.”