During opening worship at Big Tent in Baltimore this week, the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann and Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri told the group they would come away from the three-day gathering “spiritually uncomfortable.” The attendees who gathered for the final plenary on Saturday afternoon confirmed that prediction.

The Co-Moderators of the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) held a debriefing with more than 170 people, giving them an opportunity to digest what they’d heard during the plenaries, worship and learning opportunities and share that with others.

Sitting in groups of 10, participants were asked a series of questions that they would discuss at their tables. The first was, "Where is your heart?" The answers were across the board, from the opioid crisis to international struggles in places like Cameroon and Korea, as well as the immigration crisis and under-served sisters and brothers in the U.S.

“People are leaving this Big Tent 2019 gathering with heartfelt questions. Someone said they didn’t have many answers, they had a lot of questions,” said Kohlmann. “That’s exactly right. That’s where God moves us, that’s when the Spirit begins to glow and takes us to a new place. The fact that our speakers, preachers, and workshop leaders asked us questions and we leave with questions, we will look back on this and mark it as an important event in the church today.”

Kohlmann says she believes attendees are leaving Big Tent “very uncomfortable,” including her.

Cintrón-Olivieri says she was amazed and “happily surprised” at the turnout in the closing plenary.

 “I think we leave here with many more questions than we had, but these are good questions,” she said. “They make us think critically about what is happening in our local communities and congregations and make us think about what we are going to do about what is happening.”

Among the questions the groups came up with include:

  • — Can we be neighbors?
  • — Will we be ready when God answers our prayers?
  • — What do we do when we get back to our churches?
  • — Am I compromising?

Cintrón-Olivieri said people were having very profound discussions and were respectful about each other’s stories.

Toward the end of the one-hour debriefing, Cintrón-Olivieri and Kohlmann distributed postcards asking them what they would want to remind themselves of three months from now.

“We hope that sending these back will remind attendees of their time here. It may still make them a bit uncomfortable, but that’s OK,” Cintrón-Olivieri said. “Sometimes you get home and get busy, you forget what you experienced. This provides a reminder of where the Holy Spirit was speaking to that particular person at this time.”

The cards were collected and will be sent out by the Office of the General Assembly later this fall.

Nearly 800 people attended Big Tent in Baltimore this week. The city will also host the 224th General Assembly of the PC(USA) June 20-27, 2020.