Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

A picture is worth a thousand words

APCE preacher pulls out ‘a mental photo album’ of her family of faith

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, preached during opening worship Wednesday during the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators’ event. (Screenshot)

LOUISVILLE — During opening worship at the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators annual gathering, the Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner asked some 500 participants gathered in person and 200 joining online to put on “their glasses of Imagination.”

Preaching from Hebrews 11, the pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago confessed that even though she rarely take pictures — she’s always too late to capture the moment — she had a  few she wanted to share with the gathering.

“So let me pull out my mental photo album,” she said.

Then she began to describe the photos on the first page, the faces of homelessness in Chicago, taken by a retired professor of photography.

  • Thomas, now middle aged, first experienced homeless at 14 when his uncle kicked him out of the house when his father died.
  • Cecelia with two young children. Leaving an abusive marriage, she had nowhere to go — no one trust.
  • A Bulgarian refuge with health issues, which led to him losing his job and an eventual eviction.

“Now imagine the next snapshot,” she said. “The 2021 gathering for APCE, in this very space, the room and streets [in the background] are empty.”

For Kershner, the emptiness and loneliness of each of these images express long and deep grief, which can still be all-encompassing in this third year of the pandemic.

“But something is missing from my photo album,” she said. “The text in Hebrews might give us a clue. For the preacher is giving hearers visual pictures.  Jesus as a reflection of God’s glory. Jesus as the head of God’s house. Jesus as our high priest.”

And then at APCE’s “Circle of Faith: 50 +1” gathering — a celebration of the organization’s 50th anniversary — Kershner showed “snapshots from her family faith album” of Abraham and Sarah, the parents of our faith.

In Hebrews, there’s an impressive shot of them, showing how they left everything to follow God’s command to get up and go, she said.  But look back in Genesis.  There’s one of Abram, as he’s known then, telling everyone in Egypt that Sarai is his sister to avoid being killed. And another of  Sarah standing in front of Hagar and Hagar’s child Ishmael, sending them to the desert where they could die.

“Her cruelty and indifference were fueled by mistrust that God was not going to do as God promised,” Kershner said. “These older pictures are of doubt, fear and brokenness.”

Referring to Hebrews 11:11, which states that “faith is the reality of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen,” she said,

“We’ve only been looking at things the world can see.”

What would it look like, she wondered, if we considered things unseen in these pictures?

“What would happen if we let our holy hope define reality, instead of only our eyes?” she asked.

Then there were more pictures to show, to remind those gathered of their connections to the circle of faith — and to their larger shared story.

For Kershner, these snapshots remind us to frame our lives in God’s promises and mercy, and show us that God can still be God in the midst of our doubt and fear.

This photo depicts the construction of the Community Center at Friendship Presbyterian Church in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Friendship Presbyterian Church)

Kershner’s final picture was of  Friendship Presbyterian Church in Chicago’s Northwest Side — of a building under construction, with big colorful letters making up the word W-E-L-C-O-M-E outside of the first floor.

Friendship Presbyterian Church has never had its own building. The faith community first met in a train depot and then a theatre. Now the church is creating space, but it’s not just for members and friends to worship.

‘May you be living counter-testimonies to the injustice, limited vision, and fear which we all encounter every day.’

Friendship is creating a community center with their most vulnerable members and neighbors in mind, to share resources, build community and develop skills and knowledge.

The Rev. Shawna Bowman is pastor of Friendship Presbyterian Church in Chicago. (Contributed photo)

“It’s for those experiencing housing and food insecurities, for those with physical disabilities or experiencing mental illness, for veterans and LGBTQIA+ folks,” Kershner said.

Affordable and mixed-income housing are also being built above the first floor, with space to share with other community organizations. A food pantry is already open, with classes for performing arts and sessions for antiracism training being planned.

“Even in the face of continued inequity and the world’s fear of scarcity, God is still moving and working,” Kershner said. “May you be living counter-testimonies to the injustice, limited vision, and fear which we all encounter every day, so that every person we see is a part of God’s larger family, deserving of compassion, respect and beauty.”

APCE’s “Circle of Faith: 50+ 1 gathering” continues through Saturday, Feb. 12.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.