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Just one chance to get it right

Ecumenical partners conclude ‘Healing the Nations’ conference the way they began — with worship

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Ecumenical partners attending the “Healing the Nations” conference in Louisville gathered before worship Saturday for a group photo. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

LOUISVILLE — Preaching on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount delivered to the disciples, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II told ecumenical leaders Saturday during closing worship that with no guarantee of tomorrow, “we have only this period in history to get it right, for we will not live forever.”

The morning worship service in the Chapel at the Presbyterian Center concluded the three-day “Healing the Nations” conference attended by about 35 ecumenical partners, some of them Presbyterian. The conference honored the life and global work of the Rev. Robina Winbush, the former Director of Ecumenical and Agency Relations for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of the General Assembly, who died March 12.

“We celebrate the life of one who gave her life to ecumenical and interfaith witness,” Nelson said, reminding worshipers that there’s “a beginning and an end to our path, and it’s only in this moment we can do the best we can while we have time.”

Nelson focused his sermon on Matthew 6, where Jesus urges his disciples and the crowds not to be concerned about what they’ll eat and wear and not to worry about tomorrow, “for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.”

Strive first for God’s kingdom, Jesus says, which some modern scholars describe as “kin-dom,” or a more horizontal structure of power in which everyone is beloved child of God.

Nelson said he learned something about God’s kin-dom growing up in South Carolina, the son of a preacher. A man named Ed, who was in the throes of alcoholism, used to interrupt his father’s sermons with his bitter outcries. A church member named Mr. Jones “was the bouncer at our church,” Nelson said. After one too many interruptions on a Sunday morning, Mr. Jones would tap Ed on the shoulder and point him out of the sanctuary. Ed would return a few minutes later, unhappy but quiet for the rest of the service.

“I learned the church of Jesus Christ is for everybody,” the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly said. With just a little correction, people “can be brought back to a place that is sacred, where no matter who you are you are accepted.”

But “it’s not about the church,” he said. “It’s seek first the kin-dom of God, which is so much more than the church.” The church is our creation, Nelson said, but kin-dom is the creation of God.

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, delivers the benediction during Saturday worship. (Photo by Jimmie Hawkins)

“Pray that in the days ahead we will continue this conversation. Pray too we will see ourselves not as institutional agents, but as agents of the living God who have everything in front of us right now to do what needs to be done — and the willingness, if need be, to be a committee of one to do what God has called us to do.”

Earlier Saturday morning, ecumenical partners discussed next steps as God’s church seeks to witness together during troubled times. Ideas generated around tabletops and reported to the whole group included:

  • “Don’t discount any possibility of where the Spirit may be leading us.”
  • Do a better job communicating “what we do and why we do it” with people in the pews.
  • Continue to “name what is happening in our country,” including racism, white supremacy and economic injustice.
  • Bring the next generation forward to do ecumenical work. “We will be gone one day,” one group said, “and young people behind us will be doing something else.”
  • Remind people of “the call to discipleship with the Jesus we know through the Bible, because there’s a joyfulness to that.”

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