Presbyterians Today

SEP-OCT 2016

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P r e s by te r i a n s To d ay | SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2016 5 How much has changed? A look at where we are going Jan Edmiston is co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly (2016). T he year was 1985. I was a new pastor in a small Northeastern town, and the nearest hospital was 10 miles away. I remember driving out to visit Joe* after his surgery, to celebrate Communion with him. It was Holy Week. Joe, a white man in his 50s, was a member of our congregation. He shared a hospital room with Mike,* a black man about the same age who identified himself as a Christian. And since they were chatting together when I entered, I visited with both of them. I offered Communion to both of them. I prayed with both of them. It's what you do. Mike was certainly interested in being included. It was lovely. The next week, after he returned home from the hospital, I visited Joe at home, where he was recovering. He was happy to see me and anxious to catch up: Joe: Thank you for coming to the hospital, but you wouldn't believe what happened after you left. I really saved you! Me: What do you mean? Joe: (Laughing) Do you remember Mike? Me: Of course. Joe: Well, I really saved you! (Still laughing.) After you left, Mike said that he thought you were nice and he might like to visit our church sometime, but I told him that we don't allow black people in our church. Me: (Speechless) Joe: Boy, I really saved you! Can you imagine if a black man had walked into our church some Sunday? Even now, I can barely type these words but they are true: A member of a congregation I served barred a person from worship because of skin color. My response to Joe was a mixture of anger and shock. And yet, it's also true that if a black man had entered that sanctuary on a given Sunday, he would not have been welcomed. He would have experienced stares and whispers. It was a mortifying truth. Thirty-one years later, after the 222nd General Assembly (2016), the four most visible people leading the PC(USA) are now three people of color and me. But before we congratulate ourselves, let us remember that most of our congregations are still racially segregated, most of our neighborhoods are still racially segregated, and systemic racism still prevails throughout our nation. White privilege continues to fuel destructive mythologies and everyday injustices. Many people we love continue to wonder why saying, "All lives matter" misses the point. Our mission co-workers continue to remind us in the American church that the days are long gone when the United States sent missionaries out to foreign lands to explain to them how to be the church. Our future church will be different if we seek to be faithful. This has been true throughout history. Denise Anderson and I—as co-moderators of the 222nd General Assembly—plan to focus on racial injustice, white privi- lege, and the shifts we must continue to become a 21st century church. These issues are thoroughly intertwined. In recent co-moderator orientation sessions in Louisville, I was reminded that 20 percent of our Young Adult Volunteers are people of color, which surpasses the general racial-ethnic makeup of the PC(USA). Young Adult Volunteers often become our future church leaders. We look forward to this trend increasing throughout the denomination. Additionally, our mission co-workers continue to remind us in the American church that the days are long gone when the United States sent missionaries out to foreign lands to explain to them how to be the church. It's time to learn from our global sisters and brothers in Christ by walking alongside them. We can especially learn about racial/ethnic/interfaith reconciliation from our global partners in Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Indonesia. It's a new day in the PC(USA) and I'm excited to see what God will do next. Let's keep our hearts and minds open for the moving of the Spirit. *Names have been changed. Jan Edmiston | THE ONCE AND FUTURE CHURCH

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