The New Church
For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls. Acts 2:39
Yesterday was Pentecost, sometimes called the birthday of the Christian church, when the followers of Jesus Christ were empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak all the languages of the earth, so that they can proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world.
After the rush of the Holy Spirit comes over the disciples and they get attention with their instant linguistic abilities, the first converts hear Peter’s message, then ask, “what should we do?” Peter tells them to repent, and assures them that when they are baptized, their sins are forgiven and they too will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. They will receive the promise, as well as their children and even people who are far away, and in Acts 2:40, Peter suggests that the people “save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
Certainly we are living in a corrupt generation; maybe it even feels like a lost generation. So as we celebrate another Pentecost, it’s like another birthday, an opportunity to recommit and start over for another year. How do we as a church start anew, and provide this hurting world a glimpse into God’s promise of salvation?
Just this last week, I have seen some hopeful signs within our Presbytery family. Even as we continue to be burdened by continuing threats of violence here and abroad, and an upsurge in COVID infections, there is hope, and we have the opportunity to share that hope with others who so need it.
In June 2019, Grace Presbyterian Church in Highland Park closed. There was special concern for Grace’s Spanish-speaking fellowship, and they moved as a group to Iglesia de la Comunidad. For the last three years they worshiped separately, while finding ways to connect in mission, fellowship, and worship.
Yesterday, the members of Grace’s Latino fellowship became members of Iglesia de la Comunidad in a most joyous Pentecost celebration, as the people became truly one in Christ. Thanks go to Roberto Ramírez and Edgardo Cedeño Diaz, as well as Dave Tomlinson, Pat Martinez-Miller, and Judie Evers, who all worked sensitively and patiently to bring the churches together.
As it happens, I was able to worship with three of our churches yesterday: Westminster Temple City, Mideast Evangelical, and Interwoven. The three are quite different from each other, but they all showed good energy, love for each other and for God, and a desire to deepen their faith and receive the power of the Holy Spirit in their church families. In the absence of a pastor, the people of Westminster are showing great resourcefulness as the session considers future leadership options. Mideast Evangelical continues to celebrate the gifted commitment of their young people, and Pastor Maher Makar arranged for a great scholar and teacher to preach as he takes a sabbatical. And Interwoven offers profoundly moving opportunities for people to connect with each other in all the complexities of life. Sometimes their music leader Astyn Turrentine will offer a new interpretation of an old hymn, and it brings tears to my eyes, as I witness the old traditions continuing to live in new ways for a new generation of disciples.
Indeed, I have been able to see this old Presbyterian Church in new ways, thanks to several close colleagues who came to this church in recent years. My love for this church is matched by my awareness of our shortcomings, so I am thankful to hear how, in spite of our faults, we are offering welcome, compassion, opportunity, and new awareness to friends who are faithful but seeking a new home where they can be more fully engaged in ministry.
Also, I have heard recently from folks who are LGBTQIA+, or who have family members who are. One long-time leader mentioned a confrontation at a presbytery meeting many years ago, when another commissioner told her and a gay elder that they were going to hell. (This is extremely
troubling to me. Even at the height of controversy over LGBT inclusion, there was always one point of agreement from all sides, that there is no tolerance in the PCUSA for hostility or condemnation of persons, including for their sexual orientation.) And yet, this leader has stayed faithful in serving the presbytery, and has shown unusual grace and sensitivity to those who are not in agreement about LGBT inclusion in the church.
I have also heard stories of new ministries that are starting up in our presbytery. One is an innovative “dinner church” outreach to the community which has been led by one of our pastors who happens to be gay. The other is a potential new worshiping community that offers welcome and support for LGBT Christians who have experienced rejection by their home churches and even their families.
Separately, another presbytery member shared that their relationship with a gay relative was marked with healing and joy because he feels seen and accepted, knowing that the PCUSA is now a place of welcome for him.
I strongly believe that we Presbyterians do best as a “Big Tent” church, meaning that we seek to be a church where people are gathered in mission and fellowship not because we agree on everything, but because we understand that God has chosen to bring us together. Perhaps the strongest witness we can offer to this hurting, violent, broken, divided world is to be a community of people bound together not by purity tests or exclusivist doctrine, but by our humble appreciation for the life-giving love that Jesus Christ has given to us, and his command that we love each other.
As we live into this renewed church this Pentecost season, may we be a church where we can honor the work God does for us, in us, and through us, regardless of how we are seen by others. May our commitment to unity and mutual respect, even if we don’t understand or don’t agree, be a beacon of hope for all who are weary of the fighting. I confess there have been moments when my hope has become quite thin, and I give thanks for being in community with a diversity of experiences, and we can be buoyed by those who are rejoicing, even as we also share in the grief that has marked our world these days and years. Personally, I do not have the energy to be angry or hateful, nor do I believe God has given us God’s role as judge. So all I can do is pray, and care, and be thankful.
Holding out for hope,