The PC(USA)’s advocacy director: ‘We have had church tonight!’

The Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett’s inspiring sermon and a rendition of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ highlight day one of the Young Adult Advocacy Conference

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, preaches Friday during opening worship at the Young Adult Advocacy Conference. (Photo by Jimmie Hawkins)

LOUISVILLE — “Jesus and Justice,” the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s first-ever Young Adult Advocacy Conference, got underway Friday at the Presbyterian Center and online. Eighty young people registered for the free three-day conference, including an online cadre of about 30 young adults.

“I’m so inspired for your witness,” the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, told both those online and the group gathered Friday evening in the Chapel at the Presbyterian Center. Moffett put in a plug for young adults — those who are college-age or seminarians — to also consider attending the Matthew 25 Summit, set for Jan. 16-18, 2024. New Life Presbyterian Church in College Park, Georgia, about 10 miles south of Atlanta, is hosting that much-anticipated event. “I hope there will be some young people at the summit,” Moffett said. “It’s open to [Matthew 25] inquirers and those who are seasoned.”

“We are excited to do this work, focusing on advocacy and social justice and what that looks like for young adults,” said Ivy Lopedito, one of the conference organizers and a mission specialist at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, which alongside the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., does advocacy work on behalf of the nation’s 1.1 million Presbyterians. “We [young adults] are passionate about this work, and the church sees that. Sometimes we just don’t know the church is doing this work too, and we’re doing the work together.”

Listening, learning and doing are the themes for each respective day of the conference, said the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, advocacy director for the PC(USA). “We want to listen to what God’s spirit is saying to you tonight,” he said.

Hawkins defined advocacy as both “a call to change and a call for justice.”

“Something is out of whack. We are the richest country in the world. People are living on the streets, and we are numb to it. We walk right by them, but God is waking us up. Advocacy is speaking up and standing with others,” Hawkins said.

Because advocacy is also a spiritual discipline, “there is no disparity between advocacy and evangelism,” the longtime pastor said. “Jesus was a preacher, teacher and healer.”

“The church does advocacy. Young adults do advocacy — just not together,” Hawkins said. “The tragedy for the church is that when young adults plan advocacy events, they don’t even think of the church as an ally. We have to do a much better job of investing in the lives of young people. We want to join what you are engaged in.”

Many churches proclaim two messages that are in conflict, according to Hawkins: We want more young people, and we find topics around social justice to be among our most controversial. “The thing we are most afraid of,” he said, “is the one thing that will attract young people to our churches.”

Why hold an advocacy conference for young adults? “Because justice matters,” Hawkins said. “In the Reformed tradition, we know two things about God: God is a god of love, and God is a god of justice. God has called us to make a difference in this world.”

“This country can do better. Justice matters,” Hawkins said. “That’s why we’re having this conference.”

Lawrence Robertson Jr. delivers an a cappella version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

As conference attendees turned to worship, Lawrence Robertson Jr., the administrator in the PMA’s Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries, set a high bar with a powerful a cappella version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

Moffett used Isaiah 58:6-9 and Matthew 25:31-40 for her preaching texts, focusing special attention on the Judgment of the Nations found in the Matthew text. Watch the worship service here. Moffett’s sermon begins at the 21:40 mark.

“Jesus is giving us a glimpse of the end times. His judgment is based upon how we treat others, primarily the least of these,” said Moffet. “Friends, Jesus is showing us it is downright dangerous to fail to see the needs of those who sit on the margins.”

“In this conference, in this moment, in this evening, I come with a sense of gratitude for those willing to face the realities of our times in order that we might become agents of healing,” Moffett said. “Friends, Jesus calls us to heal a hurting world. I’m grateful for those who endeavor to be righteous,” citing Matthew 25 work going on in congregations and mid councils across the country, including the recent apology and reparations made for the racist closure of Memorial Presbyterian Church in Juneau, Alaska. “I am grateful that reparations and building up a more equitable world is being done in this denomination,” she said. “I’m grateful for those answering the call to simply be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.”

“God is doing a new thing, and we need to celebrate that new thing,” said Moffett, herself a pastor of 33 years before being approved as the PMA’s leader by the 223rd General Assembly in 2018 and then again by the 225th General Assembly in 2022. “We don’t do this work alone. We are the church together.

“‘When did we see you, Lord?’ ‘When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me,’” Moffett said.

Before helping to preside at the communion table, Hawkins paused to offer a word of appreciation for the sermon he’d just witnessed.

“We have had church tonight!” he said.

The Young Adult Advisory Conference continues Saturday with worship, a panel discussion and workshops. On Sunday, the conference will conclude with a discussion about next steps, another worship service and a march to the site of the April 10 mass shooting at Old National Bank in Louisville, where prayers will be offered. Presbyterian News Service will provide full coverage.


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