Opening the Gathering
By Jessica Reid
“Oh God, we welcome you into this place, into our hearts, into our minds. We are your children.”
Those and other words of faith faded across two giant video screens during the official opening of the 2012 Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women. The plenary took place on the evening of Wednesday, July 18. It followed an afternoon of registration for participants and happy reunions for friends who traveled from across the country and around the world for the event.
Powerful music served as a soundtrack for the video which played in a massive ballroom at the Gaylord Palms Hotel and Convention Center. The music ended in a crescendo with the lights dimmed, leaving the nearly 2,000 Presbyterian Women and their families, friends and ecumenical guests in darkness for several heartbeats. The silence was broken by a solitary bagpipe player as a spotlight shone on Samantha Reyes, a member of the Churchwide Coordinating Team and representative of Racial Ethnic Young Women Together. Samantha carried a single, lit candle and began the procession.
As the pair walked toward the stage, Pipe Major Reginald Lyle kept about 10 paces behind Samantha. With every step, his playing strengthened until the music filled the room.
The two took the stage, which was decorated with a waterfall flowing into a small river. The scene reaffirmed the theme for the Gathering—“River of Hope”—as did the procession of faithful that flowed through the crowd.
From the back of the room, representatives of 12 areas began to walk up three pathways toward the stage. They included synod moderators and representatives; the PW Churchwide Coordinating Team; ecumenical guests; PW and PC(USA) staff; Global Partners; Indian Global Exchange guests; Dakotas USA Mission Experience Participants; Gathering Leadership; and many more. Many wore sashes or clothing that represented their home presbytery or country.
The participants crossed each other at the front of the room before taking their seats. About two dozen members carrying chalices continued forward onto the stage. Some filled them in the waterfall while others emptied the contents of their chalice into the waters.
As the last of the procession came to a close, the bagpiper went through a final verse of his song. The moment the bagpipe music ended the crowd sent up a rousing cheer of thanks. Moments later, Kathy Randall, Chair of the Gathering Planning Team, addressed the crowd and offered words of welcome.
“Thank you for coming and I greet you in the name of Christ. This is a moment of incredible joy. Thank you for supporting this 2012 Churchwide Gathering.”
Kathy then led the Call to Community, calling for “justice to be done on Earth” and that “the eyes of the unseeing are opened, the poor hear good news, the broken-hearted healed, and the captives are brought out from the darkness.”
“God has called us to lead change,” she said. “The hour is coming and is now here.”
I was entirely inspired throughout the Gathering. I firmly believe that each person who attended came home with increased hope, encouragement, and enthusiasm which we can use as we work toward achieving many of the goals so well-presented at this Gathering. Thank all of you who have worked so hard to make this event possible for so many of us. Jaunita Coddington