More than 120 mid council moderators have gathered in Louisville for the annual Moderators’ Conference of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Moderators and moderators-elect from across the country are meeting for worship, workshops and sharing.
The Co-Moderators of the 223rd General Assembly of the PC(USA), Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri and Reverend Cindy Kohlmann, are hosting the event, which began Friday morning with a bi-lingual service.
Cintrón-Olivieri preached from Luke 10: 25 – 37, the story of the Good Samaritan.
“Even though this parable is well-known, when we look around and listen to the news, even when traveling or waiting to get on plane or waiting to pay for groceries, on a normal day when you listen to conversations and look at how people talk and treat each other, it occurs to me, either we don’t understand the parable well or we have forgotten its meaning,” she said. “In this hustle and bustle of life, I can forget, so going deep into this text again is worth our time.”
Cintrón-Olivieri told worshipers that the one who stopped to help the injured man was the least-expected person to do so, adding that centuries of fighting made it clear that the two men should not get along.
“Nevertheless, when the moment of need came, he had to save the life of the traveler. This Samaritan was moved to mercy and acted with compassion. He had no time to think about consequences. There was no time to wonder what other people would do. This Samaritan recognized that,” she said. “He not only recognized it but looked after the immediate need. He took care of this man. He invested in the short- and long-term recovery. He went further than he needed to.”
Cintrón-Olivieri asked the attendees, “Who is your neighbor?”
“The definition of neighbor does not focus on the value of the other person. It doesn’t depend on characteristics, ethnicity, origin, nationality, color of skin, schooling, socio-economic status, or any other value or brand that we use to marginalize and to reject other human beings,” she said. “When we encounter those who suffer, those left along the way, what will we do and who will we be? Would we be like the Levite or priest, seeing this need and suffering, and just pass along?”
Cintrón-Olivieri referred to the visit she made with a PC(USA) delegation last year to the U.S./Mexico border in McAllen and Brownsville, Texas. During the visit, members of the delegation crossed into Mexico to “see the situation with our own eyes versus what we saw on the news.”
“I saw a large number of people waiting for their turn to plead their case before border authorities. These are difficult to assimilate: people with histories of persecution, fear, kidnapping, economic instability, human trafficking and extreme poverty,” she said. “They came from different countries and told us of their journeys of difficult and risky roads, going to the border. Crossing the border, they were sustained by faith and hope of new beginnings away from things that attacked their lives and livelihoods.”
Cintrón-Olivieri says it was difficult to imagine how hard it was for families to make the long journey to the U.S. border.
“I wondered what I would I have done if I found myself in the stories I was hearing. If I had no work, or living in deep poverty, if my life was in danger and at risk of rape or living with the death of a loved one or risk the death of myself, would I take this risk, start this journey by foot, crossing countries to find hope for my life?” she asked. “I saw men, women, fathers, mothers, children, youth and young adults. Seeing human pain so close, it changes you, or at least changed me.”
Cintrón-Olivieri says she was particularly moved by a grandmother she met who was bringing her children and grandchildren to the U.S.
“I couldn’t help but look in the eyes of this grandmother and not think of my own grandmother. When I asked about food and clothing that volunteers were giving them, her answer was, ‘I have all that I need. I only need your prayers.’ She had nothing,” she said. “This grandmother was in extreme need, but the only thing she asked me for was prayer. I prayed for her and embraced her. We prayed for strength, wisdom and protection. We prayed together.”
Cintrón-Olivieri challenged the attendees to consider how they would react when they see human need. “Will we see the need of the suffering or just pass along? Will we be the neighbor of that person in need?” she asked.
Following worship, attendees participated in tours of the PC(USA) offices and participated in afternoon training.
Later Friday evening, the co-moderators will host a dinner and conversation. Tomorrow will include several workshops as well as a plenary session with the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA) and the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, President and Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
The conference ends on Saturday evening.