Today in the Mission Yearbook

The PC(USA)’s advocacy director likens Synod School to a celebrated Marvel Comics nation


‘It’s like Iowa Wakanda’ marvels the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins

October 5, 2023

The Rev. Dr. Matt Sauer zipped up his red cardigan sweater for the last time and discussed what Fred Rogers taught us about being good neighbors. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

Before the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins took to the stage at Schaller Memorial Chapel to deliver the final convocation for Synod School this year, the Rev. Dr. Matt Sauer of Manitowoc (Wisconsin) Cooperative Ministry, as he’d done all week, donned a red zip-up cardigan just like another Presbyterian, Fred Rogers, used to. It was Sauer’s duty to remind those attending the 69th annual gathering that not all the world is like the Synod of Lakes and Prairies’ Synod School, which concluded on the campus of Buena Vista University.

Sauer recalled the “camp bubble” he helped create when he used to do camp ministry, a bubble he observed over Synod School as well. “We had a common reason to be here. We wanted to see the best in one another,” Sauer said. “Today we are leaving this bubble, and it won’t take long for us to realize we aren’t in the bubble anymore.”

“When you’re in a community that’s accepting and warm, you don’t want to leave. It’s been a wonderful week, and I’ve been completely blown away by the hospitality,” said Hawkins, the PC(USA)’s director of advocacy, which includes both the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations in New York City and the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. “This is an experience the church needs to see. It’s like Iowa Wakanda.”

After visiting difficult and controversial topics the previous week, Hawkins turned to advocacy on the final day. “I understand all of you are advocates,” the denomination’s advocate-in-chief said. “You can’t be a Christian without being an advocate.”

In a nutshell, advocacy is “speaking up and standing with,” Hawkins said.

“People know what they need,” he said. “The question is, are we listening? We often don’t listen to the people who are the most impacted.”

All Presbyterians are advocates, according to the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins. (Photo courtesy of Jimmie Hawkins)

While our faith is personal, “our personal relationships should have public implications,” he said. As Presbyterians — even as Presbyterian clergy — “we are kind of quiet,” he said. “We aren’t too big at wearing collars,” as Hawkins did every day at Synod School. “But this is the time to draw attention to ourselves.”

Turning to Scripture as he did throughout the week, Hawkins made the biblical case for doing advocacy on behalf of a righteous God, including Psalm 89:14Psalm 82:3Isaiah 1:17Micah 6:8James 2:14–17 and 1 John 4:19–20.

“We extend ourselves to take care of the needs of the community, but we also need to advocate,” Hawkins said — for fair pay, access to health care and other human needs. “We have to see the needs being met are being met permanently” in such arenas as the Farm Bill, where cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are threatened.

The Office of Public Witness and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations “do advocacy on your behalf and only on issues you tell us to talk about,” through the PC(USA)’s General Assembly, Hawkins said. “What have Presbyterians not spoken about? We speak about everything,” he said with a laugh, showing a slide with the covers of more than 20 reports on social witness policy that have been written in recent years.

In addition to talking about the advocacy work being accomplished by paid summer interns and by Young Adult Volunteers, Hawkins mentioned the free “Jesus Justice” conference for college students and seminarians set for Oct. 20–22 in Louisville.

“These young people are no joke. They offer a different level of ability and are very aware of what’s going on around the country,” Hawkins said. Conferences are also planned in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2024 and Lansing, Michigan, in 2025. “We want to make it as accessible as we can for young adults,” he said.

Hawkins thanked Synod School attendees for welcoming him to Iowa and for the attention they gave to him during each of his five presentations.

“Some of these issues are controversial. These are difficult conversations we are being challenged to have in the church,” he said. “Sometimes people don’t want to talk about them.”

Hawkins then played a video displaying many of the images he snapped during Synod School. When the video concluded, attendees showered Hawkins with their thanks, offering up a long standing ovation.

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Rev. Jimmie Hawkins likens Synod School to a Marvel Comics nation

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Martha Miller, Manager, Ministry Education & Support, Office of the General Assembly
Victor Min, Senior Translator, Global Language Resources, Administrative Services Group (A Corp

Let us pray

Dear God of every generation, may we listen to your voice like the roar of rushing waters and answer your call upon our lives. Amen.