Presbyterians encouraged to engage with ministry prior to and during 2018 General Assembly
December 15, 2017
For the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, seeing large numbers of homeless people in one city was eye-opening.
The genesis of the Hands and Feet initiative came from Nelson, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), after his experience at the 222nd General Assembly (2016) in Portland. He had never seen so many homeless people in one place.
“It was baffling to me,” he said. “I really got a chance to understand the depths of homelessness through a different set of eyes.”
Nelson began to wonder if the church didn’t have a responsibility to do something toward transforming communities in the cities in which General Assemblies meet. In preparing for the 2017 Big Tent gathering and next summer’s 223rd General Assembly (2018) in St. Louis, it was clear to him the church needed to see how that could be done.
“When J. Herbert came up with the idea of Hands and Feet, it was an opportunity for us to put mission and faith into action,” said the Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard, transitional presbytery leader at Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery. “We already had congregations here that were doing work around poverty and racial justice that could be highlighted, that others could learn about and take back home into their own communities.”
One of those congregations, Oak Hill Presbyterian Church, began holding “Sacred Conversations on Race” immediately after black teenager Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9, 2014.
Since the events in Ferguson, Oak Hill has also implemented what they’ve learned about race and poverty into their ministry called AMEN, which stands for A Ministry Embracing the Neighborhood. They’ve become key partners in the Hands and Feet initiative, hosting church groups at their AMEN House for a week of doing mission and ministry in their neighborhood and city.
One of the first groups to stay at the AMEN House was a group of students from Ladue Chapel Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. Their first Urban Plunge went so well that they kept coming back.
“We worked at a community garden this year close to Ferguson,” said the Rev. Melanie Smith, Ladue Chapel’s pastor for youth and young adults.
On the way back, Smith chose to drive down King’s Highway, which runs north to south and crosses over the Delmar Divide in St. Louis. There’s a place on Delmar where the setting changes from blighted houses, run-down factories and abandoned buildings to beautiful stone churches.
When they got back to the AMEN House, Smith asked her group, “What did you see?” They said, “It switched. It switched like really, super fast.” Then Smith asked, “Why? Why do you think?”
Smith says students are willing to have conversations and ask hard questions that adults are sometimes scared to venture into. She said, “If we’re going to have racial reconciliation, it will come through the work of our youth.”
Oak Hill’s AMEN St. Louis ministry and St. Louis Urban Missions, a ministry of First Presbyterian Church of Ferguson, have agreed to help facilitate service-learning experiences for groups interested in participating in the Hands and Feet initiative.
Additionally, First Presbyterian Church of Kirkwood has offered to host Presbyterian groups who want to participate in Hands and Feet activities during General Assembly. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has partnered with Hands and Feet to work with interested groups and the church to confirm lodging.
Paul Seebeck, Mission Communications Strategist, Video and Digital Asset Management, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Hands and Feet initiative
Let us join in prayer for:
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy Staff
Rev. Dr. Craig Howard, Transitional Presbytery Leader
Rev. Vanessa Hawkins, Designated Associate Presbytery Leader
Rev. Joy Myers, Acting Stated Clerk
Leigh Porter, Office Manager
Janice McMillen, Communications Associate
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Merciful God, thank you for the shelter you provide us in your grace and the comfort and the place you have for each of us in your house. We pray that you would use us, in advocacy and ministry, to provide homes for those seeking shelter in our communities and around the world. Amen.