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Living water: a gift and a call

Presbyterian church educators invited to ‘come to the waters’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Hugh Donnelly, pastor of Guildwood Presbyterian Church in Toronto, is event musician for the annual gathering of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

GALVESTON, Texas — The Rev. Kimberly Bracken Long well remembers the day her six-year-old son brushed his hair in a dramatic upsweep after a bath. “Now” the boy told his mother, catching his image in a mirror, “I look exactly like God.”

Long, co-editor of the 2018 Book of Common Worship of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), preached during opening worship Wednesday for the annual event of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators, meeting alongside the Gulf of Mexico through Saturday to learn, worship, reconnect and support one another.

The theme is taken from Isaiah 55:1: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters …”

Preaching on the fourth chapter of John, Long said the Samaritan woman who met and spoke with Jesus at Jacob’s well in Sychar “probably didn’t think this sweaty Jewish guy looked anything like God.”

The Rev. Kimberly Bracken Long


Jews and Samaritans, she reminded the 700 or so people in worship, got along like the Hatfields and McCoys, the Montagues and the Capulets — or “orange juice and toothpaste. They do not mix,” she said. Among other things, they argued about where and how to worship.

“Remember the things our churches fight about when it comes to worship,” she said to chuckling church educators. “I’m just going to let you fill in that blank.”

Jesus knows this woman’s story, but he’s “not interested in judging her, is he?” Long said. “He just wants her to know she is known  —and, by extension, that she is loved.” He offers her something no one else can — living water. “She doesn’t understand it, and yet she wants to tell everyone about it,” she said.

Long painted a portrait of a church she knows — Mercy Community Church in Atlanta — which features a large mural of Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

Church members — some housed, some not — meet four or five times each week in basement space borrowed from Druid Hills Presbyterian Church in downtown Atlanta.

“When you walk in the door, you smell coffee brewing and vegetables cooking,” she said. “People with housing and people without housing come together to practice Christian hospitality.”

Step into Mercy Community Church “and you feel like you’re being baptized,” one of the pastors told Long. “When you step out,” Long said, “you may find yourself a sopping mess, drenched in grace and the Holy Spirit.”

The author and adventurer Craig Childs, whom The New York Times called a modern-day desert father, said people who want to learn about water should go not to Seattle or the Amazon River, but to the desert, Long said.

“You may be wandering in the desert, parched with doubts, but here is water,” Long said. “Could it be that mercy springs from the very places we are most afraid to go?”

“Whatever scars we bear, we are fully known without judgment,” just like the Samaritan woman was, she said.

“Could it be Jesus still waits to teach us something new?” she wondered. “All we need to do is stop, set down our heavy jars and say yes.”

“Here is water, gushing up from an unstoppable spring of mercy,” she said. “It is a gift and a call.”






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