Love God, Love One Another
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 1 John 4:7
I am writing from Macon, Georgia. I am spending a long weekend here, mostly to re-connect with my cohort of fellow presbytery leaders. Starting in 2015, we began a 3-year training course for new presbytery executives. We bonded very well—so well that we continued to meet every year after the course ended. We were also very clear to the faculty that their training was designed for an audience
that no longer existed; to this day we are considered the “rebels”—and in true Presbyterian fashion, several of us are now faculty in that same program, and have made a full-scale redesign of it.
We intended to meet every May, and did until COVID hit. Like so many other activities, even activities we dearly love like attending worship, we didn’t get around to planning a post-COVID reunion—until two of our colleagues gave us an excellent reason to reconnect: they got married!
So we came from Wilmington, Delaware and Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Orange County and Pasadena to join with our Georgia friends (from Kathleen and Macon). I came on Thursday so I could see Ally Lee; she is looking very pregnant and rested, but she’s connecting with folks in the Greater Atlanta area for possible calls after her baby is born. We ate a lot, caught up with each other, went to a pre- wedding gala in a historic home, attended the wedding, ate more, went to see the movie “Barbie,” ate more, and caught up more. We enjoyed local specialties like H&H Soul Food, Chico and Chang’s Korean-Mexican-Taiwanese fusion cuisine (yes, in Macon, and they’re popular), and delicacies from the couple’s roots: red beans and rice from New Orleans and shoo-fly pie from Pennsylvania.
The wedding day was unusually Presbyterian. There was a Presbytery meeting in the morning, at the home church of the groom, and the wedding followed, with all the pastors of the presbytery seated in the chancel. This church, Northminster in Macon, was in the news last year because a violent windstorm toppled the steeple from the church building. They had hoped to get the steeple back in place by the wedding, but as the groom said, they decided to embrace the fact that it didn’t happen for the PCT.
Even when the steeple fell, the sanctuary interior was totally intact, so the setting for the meeting and the wedding was perfect. The Presbyterian Church is much bigger and more rooted in the Southeast especially, so the sanctuary is very traditional, the congregation was full, and the sound of the singing was glorious. It was a vision of the PC(USA) as it has historically been—large, faithful, self-assured, well-mannered, and over 90% White. While this is not the vision we aspire to in San Gabriel, the vision gave a calming sense of a church that is strong, happy, and healthy.
But of all the feelings I got during this day’s activities, by far the strongest feeling in the sanctuary was love. The couple showed love for each other, of course, and overflowing love for their young adult children (both husband and wife had experienced very difficult divorces, but loved their children through it all). And there was love for the networks of people who came to the wedding out of love for the couple, and the love shared in the presbytery.
In the wedding program were two photos. One was a photo of the new blended family. On the back was a photo of our cohort! We were given this special attention because the couple met through the cohort; we were witnesses to the beginning of their love. Some people even commented when they met us that they had “heard all about” us, and were happy to see us in person!
Because I’m a more traditional family type, I was a bit embarrassed to have been given so much attention in this very important event in the life of this family and Flint River Presbytery. It reminded me of another cohort member, Cindy Kohlmann, who was Co-Moderator of the General Assembly 2018-2020. When she was elected, she could bring a few people on stage, and she invited her husband, a couple of close friends, and the cohort. I remember then another member asking, “Why were we invited up here?,” because we didn’t do much at all to bring about her election. She thought otherwise, apparently—she said that we were the first group she fielded the idea with, and we helped her discern the call to stand for co-moderator.
This group of seven individuals are not at all alike; though we initially came together as nine new presbytery executives, only three of us remain in the positions we were in eight years ago.
Occasionally little hints of friction come up between individuals, and we span at least two generations and the full continent. One of the members is a ruling elder, and another was on the board of the Fellowship Community of Presbyterians, which is the group of conservative leaders in the PC(USA). But we have loved each other through difficult family crises, ministry discernment, and we’ve been the seedbed for significant new life ventures.
All this was made possible because of God’s providence. God called us into the PC(USA), God gifted us with a call to midcouncil leadership, and God put us in this cohort together. We could not ask to be put together; we were brought together simply because we were the ones who showed up in that training in 2015. And yet, out of this God-created, seemingly random, small group has come a GA Co- Moderator, a loving couple getting a new lease on life, and faithful support for multiple presbyteries and hundreds of congregations. And in God’s grand design, more is to come.
Occasionally people question the PC(USA)’s structure which is based on geographic presbyteries.
For some of us, this model has direct links to our understanding of the sovereignty of God. God put us together in a particular place for a particular time, and it is our job to learn how to work together to
serve God’s mission for the particular community that has been formed here at this moment. God has a plan to care for this community, and has brought us together, with our varied gifts and backgrounds and perspectives, to connect with our neighbors. In the case of my cohort, God put us together to love each other, so that we can love and serve our respective presbyteries.
God has infinite wisdom and foresight, so I have always believed that God had clear intentions in bringing us together as the one body of Christ, a body that we never could have formed by ourselves. This weekend I am constantly reminded of the blessings God has given me, in the people God has brought into my life. And that includes the Presbytery of San Gabriel.
Thanks be to God!