A Seminarian’s Journey | Lynn Hasselbarth
Becoming Presbyterian at General Assembly
During my first year of college, I didn’t step foot inside a church. This wasn’t rebellion or intentional distancing from my Presbyterian roots. I was simply finding spiritual nourishment in new places and among new friends. Although that year of college was a profound time of personal growth and spiritual exploration, I soon realized that the church, which I had quietly avoided, had something to say.
When I returned home for Christmas, a beloved mentor and the matriarch of my home congregation told me she had nominated me as a youth advisory delegate (now referred to as a young adult advisory delegate) to the 214th General Assembly (2002). To my surprise, I was selected to represent our presbytery that June in Columbus, Ohio.
I had no concept of what I was facing. When I returned home for the summer, I was met with a two-foot pile of thick envelopes filled with resolutions and background reports from the GA’s Committee on National Issues.
As a political science major, the committee was a perfect fit. But I had no idea that the issues discussed, the discernment applied, and the prayer involved would drastically alter my faith and my understanding of church.
As I pored over the committee’s resolution on restorative justice, I was stunned. “My church has a stand on this?” I thought to myself. “My denomination cares about the legal system and the faces of the incarcerated?” I had no idea that my growing passion for justice was echoed by my own faith community.
It was at this General Assembly that the Committee on National Issues urged the church to boycott Taco Bell because of unfair labor practices. I learned firsthand from tomato farmers from Immokalee, Florida, what modern slavery looks and feels like. I saw one of the crumpled cardboard boxes that seasonal workers live in while they pick tomatoes for our fast-food lunches.
I was proud of my church for taking a stand in such a public way. The depth of debate seemed so different from the quiet suburban congregation in which I had grown up. But then again, it was a member of that very congregation who had made it possible for me to participate in GA.
During an especially long day, our committee developed a statement on nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation. We also carefully drafted a response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001. With each discussion, my mind searched and stretched to allow my own convictions to develop.
Just as I reached my limit, the executive presbyter of my presbytery snuck in with orange juice and a bag of pretzels. “I thought you might need this,” she whispered with a smile, knowing how mentally exhausted I was. That night, she took me out for dinner. She knew that when your faith is being transformed, it helps to be well fed.
I also was fed in other, unexpected ways. Meeting young people who had served the church in other countries later inspired me to become a Young Adult Volunteer in Peru. Singing familiar hymns with Presbyterians from across the country made me feel like I was at a reunion with family members I never knew I had. And ending each day with drooping eyelids yet staying up to talk with my roommate about God helped me identify a passion that would later become a call to ministry.
The five days I spent at General Assembly in 2002 changed my perception of what it means to be Presbyterian. I didn’t know our denomination took positions on such important issues. I didn’t know that people’s lives could be improved by the policies we made. I didn’t know that to be Presbyterian means to live our faith publicly, passionately, and courageously.
I was baptized as an infant and confirmed as a teenager in the same congregation where I remain a member. But I became Presbyterian at General Assembly.
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