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Thinking Out Loud

Falling in Love All Over Again

by Michael Jinkins | Jul 05, 2016

Editor’s note: Today’s blog post is guest-written by Melanie Hardison (pictured), a dual-degree Master of Divinity/Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Have you ever fallen in love? Have you ever fallen in love a second time? As church-nerd as it sounds, I have fallen in love with the wider denominational church all over again – hook, line, and sinker. Now, I’m a seminary student, you say. Shouldn’t I already be in love with the church? Yes. I have been part of and in love with the church all of my life. And yet, sometimes you experience love in a way that makes you fall hard, all over again, and that is what happened to me at the June 2016 meeting of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in Portland, Oregon.

I remember attending my very first GA, more than 20 years ago. As a YAD (youth advisory delegate), I remember feeling absolutely enamored as I walked around the assembly, explored the exhibit hall, and engaged in dialogue and debate in committee meetings and plenary sessions. It was painful at times and uplifting at times, a tangible example that what we so often do in ministry is hold both pain and joy in tension together. That first GA sparked my journey of more fully understanding the breadth and depth of our national and global church. Later, after college, I found my way to the national church and served with the Presbyterian Mission Agency for 15 years.

So I’ve had an entire career in the church. How and why do I find myself falling in love with it all over again? Maybe it’s because I was away from the national church for a few years. Maybe it’s because we were in lovely, spirited Portland. Maybe it’s because the church is experiencing a time of renewal. Maybe it’s because I was there in a purely learning and helping capacity.1 Maybe it’s because I reconnected with long-lost friends and made new ones. Maybe God is ready for me to be in a new place. Whatever the reason, I found a surprising amount of hope and inspiration and grace at General Assembly, and it is giving me life!

For starters, this General Assembly made history several times, which was deeply moving to witness in person. The assembly adopted of the Confession of Belhar, adding to our Book of Confessions for the first time a confession that grew out of the Global South – particularly apartheid South Africa.2 The assembly elected our first Co-Moderators, two women (on the 60th anniversary of the ordination of women) who are modeling not only leadership in partnership but leadership in interracial partnership (one is African-American and one is white). And the assembly elected the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II as our new Stated Clerk, a Louisville Seminary alum and the first African-American elected to this position. So many other stories inspired me, too, including the story of the woman who took a bus for three days to attend General Assembly, and the story of the Hispanic/Latino-a Caucus which served meals in a Portland homeless shelter rather than planning a banquet for its own constituents. The list of stories goes on.

While I was inspired by stories and historic moments, I’m also aware that what I brought to GA made a difference in my experience. As a student and a volunteer, I detached myself from overtures, issues, and outcomes and adopted a posture of pure learning and discovery. I allowed myself to simply be there as a learner and a helper. And in doing so I found the Spirit moving in surprising and unexpected places.

In the Presbyterian church, our corporate process is designed for democratic participation, our communal life together is designed for sharing and fellowship, our common purpose is discerning the mind of the Spirit – and yet, in all of their intentionality, in what ways are these thwarted by individual attitudes, attachments, and agendas? For me, adopting a posture of openness and hope paved the way for a deeply meaningful experience, a falling in love all over again with our big, wide church, in the way we love those closest to us, in the way we are called to love all of God’s people: fully accepting of brokenness and wounds, “warts and all.”

I sense a fresh spirit of new life moving in our church, even though we have been hearing for years that the church is in decline. The strong yet simple pronouncement of our new Stated Clerk, Dr. Nelson, continues to ring in my ears: "We are not dead, we are reforming, we are alive, and we are well."

We are alive, and we are well. Thanks be to God.

1I attended as part of a course entitled “Presbyterianism: Principles and Practices,” taught by Cliff Kirkpatrick (Louisville Seminary), Paul Hooker (Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary), and Jerry van Marter (San Francisco Theological Seminary). I also served as a Student Assistant with the Office of the General Assembly.

2For a study guide, see Race and Reconciliation: Confessions of 1967 and Belhar, by Cliff Kirkpatrick, LPTS Professor of World Christianity and Ecumenical Studies and former Stated Clerk of the PC(USA).

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