First a grateful ecumenical community showered blessings and gifts on Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), who is retiring shortly after the 222nd General Assembly ends.

Next on the agenda for Tuesday’s Stated Clerk’s Ecumenical Dinner was the PC(USA)’s recognition of two individuals and two groups who have made important contributions to the cause of Christian unity and interreligious relations.

From churches including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Presbyterian Church of Korea and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Parsons accepted best wishes, handshakes, hugs and gifts, including a book, cufflinks and a stole he wore for the remainder of the dinner.

“I’m just honored,” he said afterward, “to be representing Presbyterians’ long ecumenical commitment.”

Recognized for their ecumenical work were:

  • Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, a popular and prolific hymn writer from New Castle Presbytery. “Hymns are prayers that we sing,” she said. One of hers, “O God, in Christ You Call Us,” concluded the dinner. Gillette said hymns help worshipers “lift up our deepest concerns for this world God loves.”
  • Burns Stanfield, a pastor in South Boston recognized for his work with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. Working with partners of other faiths “has been a grace-filled thing for me, particularly after the Boston Marathon bombings,” he said. “I am a better Christian because of my Jewish and Muslim friends.”
  • NorthPark Presbyterian Church in Dallas. Ruling Elder David Haynes said church members have been visiting Kenya for years, but as recently as last year he realized that he – like 70 percent of Americans – knew no Muslims. So the church started a regular ice-cream social where Muslims and Christians could get to know each other.
  • The Presbytery of Chicago’s Interfaith Solidarity Network. Accepting the award, Brian Paulson called Chicago “a rich place to do ecumenical and interfaith work. It’s a rich tapestry of people from all over the world, and they bring their faith with them.”

With the awards dispensed, Parsons teamed up with General Assembly co-moderators Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston to circle the banquet hall several times, greeting and welcoming the dozens of ecumenical partners attending the dinner.

“May God meet you where you are,” Anderson said during the benediction, “and take you where you need to be.”