Beneath the surface of all the much-reported actions and reactions of our Presbyterian General Assembly, this every-other-year gathering of the widest expression of our church is also something of a giant ecclesiastical family reunion. Old acquaintances are renewed, current ministry connections are enhanced, and sometimes individuals we know and love in our own corners of the church universal are introduced to the entire faith family.
On that last point, I was so delighted when friend of our presbytery Rev. Miguel Angel Cancú was introduced to the entire assembly this week as one of a half-dozen official ecumenical guests from the Caribbean and Latin America. Rev. Cancú is the leader of the Iglesia Evangélica Dominicana, a small Protestant denomination in the Dominican Republic that is the daughter communion of American Presbyterian and Methodist missionary efforts nearly a 100 years ago.
Several of our Shenango congregations enjoy a 25 year old partnership with an IED church on the northern coast of the island, the congregation where Cancú was the pastor for many years. Already honored to have our friend Cancú as an official guest of our national assembly, we were doubly blessed when it became clear that he had also been asked to open one of the assembly’s plenary sessions. You can experience the pastoral presence of his prayer, in his native Spanish, here.
Another Shenango connection to this year’s General Assembly came in the form of Wendy Farmerie, member of our New Wilmington congregation and owner of the Silk Road Fair Trade Market. Wendy traveled all the way to Portland to sell many of the wonderful international items in her shop to commissioners and guests here at the assembly. If you’ve never been to the Silk Road in New Wilmington, you’ll want to! Zip code 16142 is much closer than Portland.
Another friend of Shenango who spent several days at our Assembly is Rev. Richard Haney, Executive Director of Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship. The ministry of PFF is known to many in our body who care about global mission and the world Christian community. “As part of God’s mission to the world, [PFF] invites believing communities to engage people groups where the good news of Jesus and his kingdom is not yet known.” Richard has been a popular teacher at the New Wilmington Mission Conference and will be the presenter for our fall pastors retreat at Villa Maria retreat center, October 3-4. I’m looking forward to more of our pastors experiencing Richard’s intelligent and faithful teaching on Christian witness and mission.
Lastly but not least, this week the assembly elected a new Stated Clerk, Rev. J. Herbert Nelson. You can read more about his background and election here. Wearing my presbytery Stated Clerk hat, I look forward to working with him in the months to come. By all accounts, he is a committed Presbyterian, a man of deep conviction and purpose in ministry. Plus, as the photo below indicates, he has great taste in neckwear.
As an aside to the historic action of electing our first African-American clerk, my family and I enjoyed a lovely conversation with the Nelsons after worship on Sunday at one of Portland’s many Presbyterian churches. It did not take long for my mother, Lucile — in Portland with us for the week — to discover that Rev. Gail Porter Nelson, our new Stated Clerk’s spouse, shares with her New Orleans, Louisiana, as a beloved home town. Thus commenced a long and lovely conversation about Crescent City places known and loved in common, including home congregations. My mom spent the rest of Sunday basking in the glow of a new hometown acquaintance and two new friends in the Christian faith. Later this week, J. Herbert was elected Stated Clerk.
In light of many large General Assembly actions — some encouraging, others controversial — a small hometown connection perhaps seems insignificant. But it is a reminder to me that a denomination is, at its best, a family of faith. Sometimes broken and bruised, sometimes alive and well; nevertheless, a family … with Jesus the Christ our eldest brother and head of the table. Below the surface of plenary actions and reactions, it has been another good family reunion this week.