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Big Tent 2017 kicks off in St. Louis

Biennial gathering of Presbyterians sets stage for GA 223

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service
additional reporting by Mari Graham

Graham Chapel, on the campus of Washington University, will host Big Tent 2017 worship services, Bible studies and plenary sessions. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

ST. LOUIS – The picturesque campus of Washington University will play host to over 600 attendees as Big Tent 2017, the biennial event of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), gets underway today. The three-day conference — held on off years from the denomination’s General Assembly — features worship, workshops and speakers from around the country.

Focusing on the theme of “Race, Reconciliation, and the Reformation,” and the need for a critical analysis of those issues, Big Tent is also the introduction for the Hands and Feet initiative that will carry over to next year when St. Louis hosts the 223rd General Assembly of the PC(USA).

The initiative is designed to enable participants at national gatherings like Big Tent and General Assembly to listen and learn from the communities they visit and even participate in projects with community members.

Andrew Yeager-Buckley, coordinator of Hands and Feet, said the goal is “to facilitate change and communicate God’s love before, during and after major gatherings of the church, particularly General Assemblies.”

Introduced at the 2017 Montreat College Conference, where PC(USA) Stated Clerk the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II laid out his vision for Hands and Feet, the initiative ensures PC(USA) gatherings don’t merely provide an economic boost to a city, but that Presbyterians also leave a tangible legacy long after the events have ended.

“Beginning in St. Louis, we are starting something we call Hands and Feet. We are going in with our hands, we are going in with our feet, to have teach-ins. We’re going in with hands and feet to do some work,” Nelson said.

Big Tent 2017 music director Paul Vasile (left) conducts a rehearsal prior to the opening of Big Tent. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

In addition to the launch of Hands and Feet, Big Tent features opening and closing worship services, several pre- and post-conferences, over 55 workshops, plenary sessions and a daily Bible study.

Race will take center stage at the Friday night activity as attendees engage with churches and residents in the city, which has dealt with racial issues firsthand. Participants will worship and share a meal with members of five St. Louis congregations.

“From the beginning, we knew that we wanted to embrace St. Louis’ recent history of racial conflict as a place for confronting the deep issues of race and privilege in the church and society,” said Tom Hay, director of operations for the Office of the General Assembly. “But we didn’t want this to be a drive-by tourist experience. The Holy Conversations activity allows for a focused, experiential opportunity to partner with the congregations of St. Louis.”

A gathering and community building event takes place at 2:00 pm this afternoon and opening worship is scheduled for 7:00 pm this evening with J. Herbert Nelson II preaching. The full schedule of Big Tent is available online.

“As we grapple with the emerging church of the 21st century it is imperative that we come together to listen, learn and envision the future,” Nelson said. “God, through Jesus Christ, is providing us an opportunity at Big Tent to go deep in our theology and faith while renewing our spirits.”

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Visit Presbyterian News Service for regular Big Tent 2017 updates and follow along on Twitter with the #BigTent2017 hashtag.


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