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Attendees of the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 Summit report the gathering’s positive impact

One participant: ‘This Summit has strengthened my faith in other people, the Presbyterian Church and our gracious, loving God!’

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

The 350 or so people attending last week’s Matthew 25 Summit filled the sanctuary of New Life Presbyterian Church in South Fulton, Georgia. (Photo by Rich Copley)

SOUTH FULTON, Georgia —  “So much that was said went straight to my heart, and I am left inspired and dedicated to the work of Matthew 25 for months to come,” said Jennifer Morgan, ruling elder at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Madison, Wisconsin. “This Summit has strengthened my faith in other people, the Presbyterian Church as a whole, and our gracious, loving God!” said Morgan, who attended the Matthew 25 Summit with two other church members and a member of the staff at Covenant.

Morgan currently serves on session and works with the Adult Education Committee. She runs an antiracism group for the church modeled on the 12-Step program. “I became seriously interested in racial justice issues a number of years ago,” said Morgan. “I didn’t want Covenant to just ‘check the box’ by becoming a Matthew 25 church, but really do something in our community,” said Morgan, who expressed gratitude to have the Matthew 25 Summit as a “shot in the arm to keep me going, as progress and finding ways forward have been slow.”

Jennifer Morgan (Photo by Beth Waltemath)

Participants from across the country, representing 15 of the 16 synods of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), traveled to the Atlanta area the week of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. The Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, Presbytery of Baltimore and Denver Presbytery drew the greatest number of participants, but 93 of the 166 presbyteries of the PC(USA) — 56% — were represented at the Summit. The event was fully booked with a waiting list of 30 by the time it commenced on the campus of New Life Presbyterian Church in South Fulton and online.

The Rev. Michelle Hwang (Photo by Beth Waltemath)

“Dr. Moffett always knew that this conference was gonna be a big hit,” said the Rev. Michelle Hwang, who co-chairs the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, referring to the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, the PMA’s president and executive director. “It was great to see how many people registered and how many were on the waiting list. Next time, we’ll get a bigger venue, but it was also wonderful for us to come together in a local congregation, and I was blown away in the hospitality of this church and the faithful discipleship of these people who welcomed us.”

A ruling elder and volunteer for the host church’s hospitality team, Cynthia Roberts, said the gathering was “a moving experience of bringing Matthew 25 to life” and appreciated meeting people from all over the United States who were committed to addressing the struggles of the marginalized. “All the believers here believe we need to see everyone, to know their struggle and what they are going through — not just praying but being in community and serving others.”

Cynthia Roberts, left, and Gail Parker were among the many volunteers from New Life Presbyterian Church. (Photo by Beth Waltemath)

“This was good tired,” said Gail Parker, another elder at New Life, who managed more than a dozen volunteers on the New Life volunteer team. “Whatever we came across, it was solvable. It was great. It was fun,” said Parker, who said the team of volunteers “all feel like this was good tired because it was a service.”

Roxie Holder, a ruling elder at New Horizons Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, Virginia,  felt energized by the content and community of the Summit and wants to bring along even more churches. “More importantly, I want to bring along our presbytery, because it really is biblical,” said Holder, who just rotated off the Committee on Ministry in  the Presbytery of Eastern Virginia and who also serves on the Advisory Committee on the Constitution for the Office of the General Assembly.

Roxie Holder (Photo by Beth Waltemath)

The three-day conference featured plenary talks from Presbyterian leaders, the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis and Dr. William Yoo, with music from Dr. Tony McNeill and The Many and additional preaching from New Life’s team leader, the Rev. Hodari Williams and from Moffett. Videos of keynote speakers and preachers are here.

Yoo’s talk, which invited the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to repent and repair the historic harms of its complicity in the United States’ treatment of Indigenous people and African Americans, was a highlight for Hwang. She explained how the PMA Board had studied Yoo’s  2022 book, “What Kind of Christianity: A History of Slavery and Anti-Black Racism in the Presbyterian Church.” “His scholarship and message show how important it is for us as people of color to tell each other’s stories, to give it validation and to lift each other up. Matthew 25 helps us to be equipped to do that,” said Hwang, “to see how we are interlocked and interconnected and how we can join together to overcome oppressive systems.”

The Rev. Anders Edstrom from Greenfield Presbyterian Church in Berkley, Michigan, outside of Detroit, said the Summit has been “great for connections and for looking for ways for us to grow.” Edstrom described his congregation as being committed to racial justice “especially in the Detroit area, which is very racially stratified.”

The Rev. Anders Edstrom (Photo by Rich Copley)

Edstrom said Greenfield Presbyterian Church is active in campaigns to end mass incarceration and cash bail and has recently partnered with the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund. He echoed a desire of other conference participants whose churches have been engaged in feeding programs and direct service to people in poverty to learn more about and address directly the factors that keep people poor. “I keep quoting to my congregation a quote from Bishop Desmond Tutu: ‘There comes a point where you need to just stop pulling people out of the river and go upstream to figure out why they’re falling in.’”

Of the 349 registrants for the conference, 97 people responded right away to a survey measuring the Summit’s impact. 99% of the respondents felt the Matthew 25 Summit achieved its stated purpose. 17.5% were not yet a part of a Matthew 25-affiliated church, presbytery, synod or group. 93% of the respondents gave the highest marks for the worship and the plenaries while several commented on the depth offered by the workshop facilitators. One person praised the “great workshops and workshop presenters” while another one noted that the “workshops could have been plenaries.” 91% of the respondents said they’d be interested in attending a future Matthew 25 Summit with one anonymous commenter saying, “This conference should happen twice a year.”

The results from the survey, which closes Friday, and other qualitative feedback from participant interviews will be used “to discern how the Presbyterian Mission Agency can best resource and support our constituents living into the Matthew 25 movement going forward,” said the Rev. DeEtte Decker, the PMA’s Vision Integration and Constituent Services Manager. “Two main themes we heard from participants included facilitating connections and conversations with those in similar contexts and assisting in identifying and navigating funding streams to support Matthew 25 ministries in local contexts.”

Consider what next steps your organization may take in the Matthew 25 movement. Sign up your church, presbytery, synod or group to join the movement. Share the story of how your church, presbytery, synod or PC(USA) group is living into Matthew 25.

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