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The PC(USA)’s Special Offerings director takes a page from ‘Lennox Hill’ during Wednesday’s Chapel service

The Rev. Wilson Kennedy emphasizes a person-centered approach to help bring about Isaiah’s vision of breach repair

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Members of the Ministry Engagement and Support team recently traveled to the border region of South Texas and Matamoros, Mexico. (Photo by Wilson Kennedy)

LOUISVILLE — According to the Rev. Wilson Kennedy, people doing the work of ministry do well to remember the words of a pair of neurologists who star in the Netflix documentary series, “Lennox Hill”: “Remember, there is a person here.”

Kennedy, associate director for Special Offerings and Appeals in Ministry Engagement and Support, was the preacher during Wednesday’s Chapel service, held each week for the national staff of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This year, Presbyterians are celebrating the 75th anniversary of One Great Hour of Sharing, an anniversary that was remembered on Wednesday.

Whenever neurological surgeons at Lennox Hill are gathered to operate — whether it’s a 20-minute procedure or a 12-hour marathon — Drs. David Langer and John Boockvar remind the team to take a moment to remember that “there is a person here.” Kennedy recalled the impact those words had on him while doing ministry during the pandemic, “while the world was eerily still but also unsettled all around me during the lockdown. Those words hit me like a ton of bricks,” he said.

Using Isaiah 58:1-12 as his scriptural basis, Kennedy noted the prophet’s frustration “because the ones who proclaim themselves righteous are spending more time quarreling, in-fighting and only being concerned with their self-interest, and not enough time, Isaiah says, doing the work God is demanding of them — that is, to be a repairer of the breaches that exist between God and God’s reign of justice and love and peace.”

Last week, Kennedy and MES colleagues traveled to Mission Presbytery, specifically the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas and across the border in Matamoros, Mexico, where they saw some of the people Isaiah was talking about: “those who were caught in the throes of so much chaos, so much violence, international malaise, political instability, political machinations and power. Those beloved people have no food, no stable home or income, and they are on the move because of all that, because of the political unrest, because of violence,” Kennedy said. “Remember them, that there’s a person here.”

“Thanks be to God” for the people the traveling team met who are doing faithful ministry there, “who are doing their level best to repair the breaches that exist in our topsy-turvy world” through “our work and our life together as directed by the General Assembly,” he said.

“The church may become so consumed with quarreling and in-fighting and, to be honest, navel-gazing, that we forget that repairing the breach can mean large, systemic, holistic change, yes,” Kennedy said. “But we also have to remember that the world is made up of people, and so it is our task as the continuing hands and feet of Jesus Christ to be primarily concerned with people, to remember that the task left to us by Jesus is a person-centered task.”

The Rev. Wilson Kennedy

“Repairing the breach feels good when we see the fruits of our efforts” in “our often complex and intersectional labors,” Kennedy said. “But — and I’m certainly preaching to myself here — the breach is repaired in an even more powerful way when one person becomes visible, seen, known, made whole — when one person knows that they are loved and claimed by God, whose love knows no end.”

“Colleagues, repairing the breach is work that will never end. There will always be breaches to repair,” he said. “Yet I am confident God has called us here to this work at this time for a particular purpose, and I’m also convinced that God continues to graft the church together as the body of Christ to do our work together, remembering that people are the cornerstone of the task before us.”

“So may we do it with glad and generous hearts, and may we work together to be the church universal in a new way every day,” Kennedy said, “looking only to Christ for our inspiration as we see Christ in every person we meet. Amen.”

Also participating in Wednesday’s online worship service were Sy Hughes and the Rev. Lemuel Garcia-Arroyo, who serve Ministry Engagement and Support as ministry engagement advisors.

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