Reflections from GA 222


These “stained glass windows” surround the platform at the General Assembly gathering.

We are family

You are loved so much. It’s as if God has nothing else to do!

By Steve Plank

It’s the hymns that always get to me. The opening worship of this year’s General Assembly was no exception. Imagine joining with hundreds of voices in worship and praise and prayer… accompanied by local musicians who made up the vocal choir, the handbell and chime choir, all accompanied by piano and organ. Imagine standing in line, reverently waiting to be nourished by bread and cup as we remembered the presence of the Risen Christ in our midst.

As the worship began, water, cup, bread, and candle were processed in. During the call to worship all present prayed: “We praise you, the three-in-one God. Without you we will not make it through the week. You are ‘The Hope in Our Calling’ in the cascading waters of baptism.” In other parts of the liturgy, we were called to remember our baptism in the words, “Be people of the water! Travel wet!”

Orlando and Charleston were mentioned at the very beginning of Moderator Heath Rada’s sermon as he reflected upon the biblical stories of Joseph and brothers and of the Prodigal Son. So many of his words resonated deeply in me and in the hearts of those around me, as evidenced by moist eyes, quiet “amens,” heads nodding in agreement and affirmation. Some of his words that so touched me:

  • “The Father in the story of the Prodigal Son was not open to negotiation. Unconditional love and welcome were his choices.”
  • “The question for us all is, ‘Do we want to be found?’”
  • “We’re called to be a renewed family. That takes courage. Will you embrace it?”
  • “Go into the world as a work in progress… The world will be better because you are in it!”

The person sitting next to me, teaching elder commissioner Nancy Young from Newton Presbytery, reflected on the why this opening worship service was so important to her. “The Presbyterian Church is a small church. We come here from big churches and small. But here we are in a worship service that is over-the-top expansive…. This is my family. And we get to worship God together, as the Body of Christ.”

The worship service was live streamed over the internet.

The worship service was live streamed over the internet.

We were reminded that people from around the world – literally – were joining us in worship over the internet. I know people in my own Presbytery in Central New York were gathered around computer screens, live-streaming the worship, able to participate through the online worship bulletin that was available from GA. I was so aware of that as we celebrated Communion, remembering the words, “People will come from north and south, from east and west, and sit at table in the realm of God.”

Working in the church can sometimes be a lonely venture. Today, once again, I was powerfully reminded that I am not alone. Not ever. Around me was my church family – most of whom I had not met – but they were family nonetheless. And God embraced us all. As Heath reminded us: “You are loved so much. It’s as if God has nothing else to do!”

Teaching Elder Steve Plank is the stated clerk/communicator for the Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse.  A graduate of Louisville Seminary, Steve has served the church as an interim, an assistant pastor, solo pastor, and head of staff. Steve and his wife, Caroline Sheffield, live in Syracuse, NY.