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Enduring a season of ‘languishing, lamenting and lingering’

Preachers serving on different coasts spark REvangelism Conference worship

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow was co-leader of worship Monday during the REvangelism Conference. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Reyes-Chow)

LOUISVILLE — Separated by an entire continent, a pair of prominent Presbyterians  — the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow and the Rev. Aisha Brooks-Johnson — were of one heart and mind Monday leading opening worship for the REvangelism conference exploring the 8 Habits of Evangelism.

“You and I have had to ride this season of languishing, lamenting and lingering,” Reyes-Chow, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto, California, and the Moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2008), told Brooks-Johnson, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta. Reyes-Chow noted his COVID-19 experience included a time being hospitalized with a breakthrough case. “I want to give us permission to say it’s been terrible and we’re tired,” he told conference participants.

“People talk about this season as an Exodus season,” Brooks-Johnson said, basing her dialogue sermon with Reyes-Chow in part on Exodus 16:1-12, the story of God’s children grumbling and then being fed after they’d been delivered from bondage in Egypt. “What happens in the desert? God’s glory shows up.”

The Rev. Aisha Brooks-Johnson co-led worship Monday during the REvangelism Confernce.

There is “relief,” she said, that even mid-council leaders aren’t required to have “all the answers. We understand what it means to be community and to be nourished by one another.”

Some conference leaders are at Montreat Conference Center, while others are participating remotely.

Many Presbyterians, including the leaders of churches and worshiping communities, are experiencing a cycle during the pandemics of COVID-19 and racial and economic reckoning, Brooks-Johnson said. “There is lament, then this peekaboo of hope, then lament, then a little more hope. It is a journey and a process.”

That rang true for Reyes-Chow, who said he now worships differently online than in person. “I sing more online” than when he’s leading in-person worship, he said. “I am not a good singer, and there’s no way I would belt out tunes from the front of the sanctuary, but I am now.” What, he wondered out loud, are nuggets of hope?

The 150 or so people registered for the conference chimed in using Zoom’s chat function, mentioning new calls to ministry, worship innovations and new tools for evangelism. Brooks-Johnson called the New Testament text for opening worship, Philippians 4:1-9, which includes Paul’s exhortation to “rejoice in the Lord always” and his call to Christ’s followers to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing and commendable, “my jam for 2021. This is Paul’s mix tape.” We’re to “think of these things over and over and over for when we have to circle back to lamenting.”

Reyes-Chow said he’s developed a new test he uses on ruling elders in the congregation he serves: “If this is sucking the joy out of you, we need to shift,” he’ll tell a session gathering or committee meeting. Since March 2020, “We’ve been the best we can be as resurrection people. We understand and acknowledge the human dignity in one another.” No matter how much we hate what we’re hearing from someone with whom we disagree, “humanity must be dealt with,” he said.

“This struggle is real, and we will experience it again,” Reyes-Chow said of the multiple pandemics. “But God feeds us and moves us into a new place.”

 

Enhancing the conference’s online worship experience were gifted musicians and worship leaders, including Phillip Morgan, music director at Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville and the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, associate for Worship in the Office of Theology and Worship. Choir members from Central Presbyterian Church and Second Presbyterian Church in Louisville and from Knox Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati blended their voices under Morgan’s direction.

Conference participants are using items included in a REVangelism Retreat Box mailed to them. Included were prepackaged communion elements, a candle, booklets, colored pencils, candy, and a cartoon pair of bare feet that Brooks-Johnson held up during her benediction following the hymn “Guide My Feet.”

“We aren’t nourished so we can sit back,” Brooks-Johnson told those worshiping together. “Walk in the fulness of God’s grace. May our feet carry the blessing of those who bring the gospel to the world, in word and in deed.”

As worship began, the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, said she was “hyena happy and peacock proud” to serve with conference organizers the Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III and the Rev. Dr. Kathryn Threadgill of Theology, Formation & Evangelism.

“We’re thrilled you are here to fill one another’s cups so we might bear witness to Jesus Christ,” Moffett said. “We hope you will come away with what’s required of us on the ground, because it’s important to keep the main thing the main thing.”

“I know this will be a time of renewal,” Moffett said. “We just have such gifted folks here.”

Translators are making the conference accessible to Spanish and Korean speakers.

The conference continues Tuesday with talks on radical welcome and justice by the Rev. Shanea Leonard and the Rev. Dr. Ralph Watkins; fellowship by Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018) and the Rev. Jose Manuel Capella-Pratts; generosity by the Rev. Dr. Leanne Van Dyk; and prayer by the Rev. Dr. Tom Bagley.

The conference concludes Wednesday with a talk on teaching by the Rev. Dr. Tod Bolsinger and then closing worship.


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