Stated Clerk, other Reformed leaders join in COVID-19 discernment process

World Communion of Reformed Churches hosts ‘Discerning, Confessing and Witnessing in an Age of COVID-19 and Beyond’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), was among the denominational leaders participating earlier this month in “What Does God Require of Us? Discerning, Confessing, and Witnessing in an Age of COVID-19 and Beyond,” part of the World Communion of Reformed Churches’ Communion-wide discernment process.

The online conference, which heard voices from five continents, was attended through Zoom by a core group and followed on multi-lingual livestreams by hundreds more.

“Today is a moment of kairos, where we are called to act,” said the Rev. Najla Kassab, WCRC president, “and strive to heal the world of the long-lasting injustices that not even the vaccine will heal.”

“This conference comes to us as Reformed Christians to the situation we find ourselves in,” said Lungile Mpetsheni of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, the moderator of the COVID-19 and Beyond Working Group. “We are in a time between times. We want to reimagine our world and even how to reimagine how to be church in these COVID-19 times.”

Nelson shared words on confronting pain and death during the pandemic: “The moral cause ought to be lifted up: people over money, people over exorbitant wealth, people over not being patient enough to get through this. Choosing people over money, choosing live over death.”

People are struggling not just with the coronavirus, Nelson said, “but with the need to get out and try to make money, to try to support their families and certainly in all things to try to lift up their children during these times.”

How do you continue to offer hope and wholeness to the ones you love, Nelson asked, when you don’t have a job to go to, or you have a job that’s dangerous?

In the United States, we’re having the wrong conversation, Nelson said.

“The conversation needs to be, how does a nation that calls itself one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, begin to look at the human cost we are paying by trying to keep commerce open while at the same time fighting a virus we have very little control over?” Nelson said.

Other church leaders from around the world also focused their concern on injustice.

“All of this panorama of injustice seems to be breaking our hope as humanity,” said Gloria Ulloa of Colombia. “We in Colombia continue to affirm that we should look for peace and follow it. We call on our church, we call on our Communion, to discern how all of these manifestations of injustice are counter to the will of God and to work on reconciliation. God calls us to be a prophetic voice of hope and of peace.”

A working document will be discussed and honed throughout the process. It states, in part:

“[The Accra Confession] quite deliberately aligns itself with the Confession of Belhar. But are we ready to show the difference between a Confessing Church and a church with a confession? For Belhar that means ‘that the church is called to stand where God stands: namely with the poor and oppressed, and against any and all forms of injustice.’ Standing with them means standing with them in their struggles against injustice and for dignity and life. Spiritual empowerment, encouragement, and comfort remain as a given, but offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ are for unimaginative politicians who have run out of platitudes. We should find ways to join the revolution.”

Four larger, public theme plenaries will be held beginning next month. All four will be livestreamed. They follow the liturgical year and will focus on the WCRC’s strategic plan:

  • Jan. 13 — Discerning Circle (Advent and Epiphany)
  • March 24 — Confessing Circle (Lent and Easter)
  • June 9 — Witnessing Circle (Pentecost)
  • Aug. 4 — Circle on Being Reformed (Ordinary Time)

“This process then requires of us a theologically and biblically rooted engagement that speaks to global, regional, national and local realities,” said the Rev. Dr. Chris Ferguson, WCRC general secretary. “We must recognize the interconnection between the local and the global. There is no local reality which is not impacted by and shaped by the global world order. There is no global reality that is not constructed through and by local communities and resources.”

The Rev. Dr. Chris Ferguson is general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

Ferguson notes that the psalmist asks in Psalm 11:3, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

“As a global koinonia called to communion and committed to justice, how specifically are we called to be a communion in these foundation shattering times?” Ferguson said. “Discerning, confessing, witnessing and being Reformed together. Verbs in the present tense. Verbs that incarnate what we are called to do as a global family, as regional groups, and as members of churches — a Reformed community always reforming according to the word of God.”

View English language versions of the inaugural session on YouTube here or on Facebook here. Spanish versions can be found here and here.

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