With drumming to drive them and preaching by a Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly to inspire them, mid council moderators from around the country joined both in person in the Chapel at the Presbyterian Center and online for the 2022 Moderators’ Conference, which began Friday with worship pointing to the Co-Moderators’ “Unbounded We Thrive” theme.
About 145 presbytery or synod moderators and vice moderators worshiped in person or online. Co-Moderator the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis offered up a sermon based on the Beatitudes, while Co-Moderator the Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace also led worship. Musicians including the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, the Rev. Marissa Galván-Valle and Dr. William McConnell lent their gifts, and the moderators present in the Chapel responded with full-throated singing, clapping — even some dancing, which one doesn’t often see during Presbyterian worship.
Worship innovation abounded. When he wasn’t drumming, Johnson — coordinator of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People — invited the moderators worshiping in person forward to break off a paper chain and dissolve it in a font placed on the Communion Table. The liturgy included fresh takes on the traditional Beatitudes, including “We forget that you have taught us that those who scrape the pots and pans of desperation — the hungry and the thirsty — will be filled and nourished.”
In her sermon, Starling-Louis — pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina — took the opportunity to thank the gathered moderators for saying yes to God’s call.
“We can reconnect in ways we have not imagined before” as effects of the Covid pandemic continue to wane. “Siblings, thank you for saying yes to leading God’s people in these days.”
Trust “that the people who came before you are with you,” she said, calling our PC(USA) forebears “these ancestors, these saints from before, our God-given gift of community.”
Beatitudes “confer and declare blessings,” Starling-Louis said, adding with a grin, “it’s not a word I use every day.”
If those in worship heard nothing else, Starling-Louis wanted them to take away one assurance: “Unbounded by the Holy Spirit, we can be reminded that a gift of being the church is we can participate in the blessing of each other. … It’s a world-changing thing to realize that you can bless people, and at the same time you will be blessed. This journey we are invited to — to follow the one who treks with us, who chooses to sit with us on mountains and in meetings — it’s a game-changer to realize that one allows us to participate in holy work.”
Starling-Louis offered up a caveat to people who misinterpret Jesus’ words in Matthew 5. “In our humanness we can twist things,” she said, and that twisting goes something like this: “You just deal with this bad stuff now because you’re going to be OK in the by and by.”
“We are not alone. God has not abandoned us,” Starling-Louis said. To those who mourn, Jesus “is not absent in those spaces. In our mid councils we have people we miss and mourn.” God’s kingdom, or kin-dom, she reminded worshipers, is both “the now and the not yet.”
Through prayer, Starling-Louis offered up to moderators their own set of beatitudes: “As we live into our Reformed identity … may it be you are blessed this day, in this time of learning and connecting, in the real context of home, ministry and love of this church … as you draw on skills you didn’t know you have, as you recognize there are skills and gifts you do not have, but that God’s creativity and communion and compassion are ever faithful.”
“You are claimed in the waters of baptism by the God of all Creation,” Starling-Louis told those gathered for worship. “Blessed are you as you wade into the waters,” starting the chorus and being immediately joined by those in worship, “Wade in the Water.”