General Assemblies can be tough, even for folks who have experienced many. Some of the issues challenge your faith; some of the people challenge your patience; some of the locations challenge your body.
It all can challenge your psyche, especially since it is all on top of the normal course of one’s life. The General Assembly prayer room offers some quiet and solace, and it is staffed by spiritual directors.
“Sometimes people just need to decompress,” said Jill Holseth, one of the three spiritual directors on hand during the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Portland assembly. “We have had quite a few conversations,” she said, noting that people have come with “a full-range of issues related to grief, loss, processing some of the GA business items.”
Others say they want to use “a different part of my brain,” said Holseth, a graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary.
The prayer rooms, located at B111-112 in the Oregon Convention Center, are designed to bring in the natural element of the region.
As described in the assembly program, “As individuals enter, they are welcomed into rooms that reflect the Pacific Northwest with a woodland setting, native plants, and Pendleton fabrics. They are encouraged to explore various prayer resources which include prayer prompts and examples of various types of prayer, poetry, and the opportunity to ‘pray with color.’”
The small wood logs have a special story. They come from a recent lumber harvest on land on the lower west slopes of the Cascade Mountains owned and cared for by the Shibley family since 1864.
The family were founding members in 1889 of the Springwater Presbyterian Church in Estacada, and various family members have been ruling elders for six generations. Everett Shibley was a commissioner to the 1953 assembly, also held in Portland.
There also are labyrinths in the prayer room, one large one on the floor and several small “finger labyrinths.”
Another part of the area is devoted to “private space where people can be to themselves,” Brown said.
But there’s more than just the two rooms.
“One of the things we were asked to do is to walk the whole convention center and pray for what’s happening in the different rooms and spaces,” Holseth said. She said they often begin each morning walking around the cavernous center “praying into spaces before business gets started.”
Brown added: “We’re praying for people’s conversations.” An unseen part of the ministry began weeks ago, Holseth said. “Each commissioner was assigned prayer partners, someone praying for them up to two weeks in advance,” she said.
The benefit has been two-fold: it has allowed many people in the presbytery who could not attend the assembly itself to become involved, and helped them connect with Presbyterians from around the world.
And, when commissioners have discovered they have been the subject of these prayers, Holseth said, “That has been very profound.”
The prayer room will be open Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and on Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.