Presbyterian Border Region Outreach conference concludes with binational Communion
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Border Region Outreach conference drew to a close last weekend as most church conferences do — with closing worship and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which in this case occurred on both sides of the wall in South Texas separating the United States and Mexico.
The preacher was the Rev. Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Álvarez, a Presbyterian pastor who teaches at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. For his text Pérez-Álvarez selected Matthew 21:28-32, which the New Revised Standard Version calls “The Parable of the Two Sons.” Pérez-Álvarez called it “The Parable of the No-Yes and the Yes-No Sons.”
It was that first son, who initially tells his father he won’t work in his vineyard, then works anyway, that got Pérez-Álvarez to thinking of a story he once heard. An atheist dies, and God is there to personally welcome the unbeliever to heaven. “Me in glory?” the atheist tells the Almighty. “How is this possible when I never believed in you?” God’s reply: “I always believed in you.”
It’s that “No-Yes” son who ends up doing his father’s will. His brother, the “Yes-No” son, reminded Pérez-Álvarez of religious leaders “who wear the cross on their chests and the devil in their hearts. He says ‘yes’ to everything, but he does not say when.”
The conference celebrated 36 years of the PBRO “practicing hospitality precisely in the midst of border closures on a global scale, and fear,” Pérez-Álvarez said. “Today we give thanks for Presbyterian missionary outreach, for going to the causes of poverty and fighting all kinds of violence.”
“If Mexico has been treated like dirt, the borderlands were despised by both countries,” he said. PBRO accompanies people on the border who have been “caged, defamed, deported, disappeared and imprisoned.” He told worshipers, many of whom work in border ministries, that they have been “misunderstood and slandered,” similar to the way that Jesus “experienced the rowdy gossiping disciples of John the Baptist.” Jesus’ reply to them is one people who are questioned and even attacked can use today: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard …”
Before the Communion service on both sides of the border wall was aired, the Rev. Elizabeth Toland Smith, who coordinated the conference, included these words in her prayer: “You shepherd the lost and comfort the afflicted. Empower us now to be channels of risk and healing so our world can be a better place.”
Worshipers then recited “The Immigrant’s Creed,” written by the Rev. José Luis Casal, former director of Presbyterian World Mission. The creed includes these words:
“I believe that the Church is the secure home for foreigners and for all believers. I believe that the communion of saints begins when we embrace all God’s people in all their diversity … I believe that in the Resurrection, God will unite us all as one people in which all are distinct and all are alike at the same time. I believe in life eternal, in which no one will be foreigner, but all will be citizens of the kingdom where God reigns forever and ever. Amen.”
“Jesus, you knew the pain of rejection, hate, suffering and torture,” Toland Smith prayed. “We know it’s better to cross borders in the company of others.
“Thank you for being with us as we have crossed many borders this weekend. We trust whatever happens, your presence, O Lord, is with us.”
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