“…the assemblage faced east, west, north and south while praying for the Holy Spirit to come and watching people in animal costumes march up the aisles and wander through the worship space.”
The sermon and infant baptism focused on the future of the denomination – but not before the assemblage faced east, west, north and south while praying for the Holy Spirit to come and watching people in animal costumes march up the aisles and wander through the worship space.
Elder Fern Cloud of Dakota Presbytery led the call to worship at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly’s opening worship ceremony Sunday morning, which included interpretative dancing and four processions of flowing banners led by animals such as buffalo and eagle.
Reminiscent of the 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Vancouver, people dressed as skunks, rabbits and wolves paid homage to the area’s Native American heritage to the sound of a rhythmic drum beat and flute.
Fortunately for the small animals, and worshippers, the service had praying rather than preying. But everyone didn’t leave unscathed. One man, after the service described the service as “pagan” to a Layman staffer, while another broke into tears while discussing what he had just seen.
Scripture and sermon
The Old Testament reading was Isaiah 64:1-5, which was followed by Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble? performed by the Church of All Nations praise band. Elder Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Mission Council, offered the Gospel reading: John 7:37-44.
GA 218 Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow preached a lively sermon, which included some of his favorite stories that he told at many speaking engagements over his two-year term.
Asking the rhetorical question “What does it mean to bet the reality of our impact on the world today?” Reyes-Chow answered by saying the denomination isn’t what it needs to be.
“I lament about the reality of our impact on the world today,” he said. “We know in our hearts and spirits that we are not … the influential, impactful denomination that we have been in the past.”
Reyes-Chow offered a three-part plan to respond to the rapidly changing world. His recommendations:
Get over the idea we’re a monolithic entity in our world. “I could write the order of worship for 99 percent of our churches. That’s not good.”
The way we engage in discourse cannot be the way of American political discourse. “It’s painful and nasty and I think God is pretty pissed at us.” A loud applause followed his statement.
Reverse the aging trend that’s led to decades of membership decline. “We should not have more 60s than 50s, 50s than 40s, 40s than 30s, 30s to 20s – it should be flipped upside down. … We have a responsibility to the young people who are not in our congregations. … The challenge for us is to humbling ourselves to say we believe there is going to be a different way of being Presbyterian and we want to usher that in because there is a new way of being Presbyterian that we’ve yet to discover. We have no idea what that’s going to be, in fact we’re going to open ourselves up to the possibilities God may have for us and possibly God may surprise us and the mountain of age we think is immovable might just tremble and the amazing power of God might happen.”
The Revs. Alika Galloway of Kwanzaa Community Church in Minneapolis and Timothy Hart-Anderson of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis baptized Alexis Renee Sanders, daughter of Jason and Melissa Sanders.
The opening worship offering was designated to support The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women; Presbyterian Student Advocacy Leadership and Presbyterian Fellowship; and Presbyterian Clearwater Forest, in Clearwater, Minn.
The necrology of ministers was presented on the big screens during the offertory.
Freedom isn’t free
In honor of Independence Day, PCUSA Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons led a period of recognition for the denomination’s military chaplains. As part of the ceremony, Parsons had all the military chaplains in the audience stand. The worshippers responded with a standing ovation for the servicemen.
Songs of praise
In addition to Native American drums and flutes, a wide variety of music was offered in conjunction with the service.
There were two greetings for GA guests and participants heading into the convention center. A group from More Light Presbyterians, an affinity group dedicated to rights for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) stood on the sidewalk opposite the convention center holding signs and playing music. Entering the convention center, the sound of bagpipes filled the air.
Music for worship included: performance by praise bands from Church of All Nations in Columbia Heights, Minn.; Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina, Minn., and Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina; musicians from Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, House of Hope in St. Paul, Kwanzaa Community Church in Minneapolis; and a mass choir.
The service concluded with communion, which included liturgy in English, Spanish and Korean. The Lord’s Supper was served to a near capacity crowd, before worship was dismissed to a busy first day of official business.