Presbyterians Today

JUN-JUL 2018

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20 JUNE/JULY 2018 | Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay God's children can do when they put differences aside and come together in a shared mission. The context of each Hands & Feet city, though, will dictate what mission work is done, Nelson says, adding, "There is no cookie-cutter approach to this initiative." "Nelson kept saying we were the guinea pigs," Howard laughed, under- scoring the fact that Hands & Feet would in fact be organic and Spirit- led, surprising those involved with opportunities not only for service, but also for healing rifts and divisions. In 2012, General Assembly chose St. Louis as the site for its 2018 gath- ering. At the time, the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy was not exactly celebrating its General Assembly designation. It had other business to deal with. Morale was low among members: One of its largest churches had just left the denomination, leadership was in disarray, and finances were dismal partly because a church had defaulted on a million-dollar loan. "We were on shaky ground," said the Rev. Cedric A. Portis, pastor of Third Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, and a member of Giddings-Lovejoy. The presbytery's wobbly condi- tion was underscored by division among its members, Portis said, and that was exacerbated by the August 2014 riots in nearby Ferguson after Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a white police officer. "Ferguson exposed a lot of racism that was being ignored, both within the community and the presbytery," Portis said. "And now we had to prepare for a General Assembly." The shared mission of working on General Assembly, however, began turning the presbytery around, Portis says, "with healing of divisions coming in the most unexpected way." For example, when a presby- tery colleague, Carol DeVaughn, approached Portis to be co-moderator with her of the Committee on Local Arrangements, that sent a positive message to the rest of the body. "We didn't get along in the past, but now we were showing a message of reconciliation. We were showing the body, if these two people can come together, well then … ," Portis said. Through the work of planning General Assembly coupled with more intentional and honest conversations on racism, Portis has seen "a coming together" in the presbytery. The Presbytery of Giddings- Lovejoy has also sold some properties, Portis says, resulting in the presby- tery ending 2017 in the black and debt-free. "To watch a presbytery turn around gives hope to the whole church," Nelson said. "They are witnessing to the reform that can happen. It is inspiring to hear these stories." The Amen House For the past year, Presbyterians of all ages have been coming to St. Louis as part of the Hands & Feet initia- tive to learn about the justice issues facing the city. One congregation that workers have teamed up with is Oak Hill Presbyterian Church. A key player in the Hands & Feet initiative, Oak Hill has been hosting groups at their Amen House for a week of mission and ministry in their neighborhood. When the Rev. Erin Counihan arrived at Oak Hill in July 2014, Amen House had been open for about a year, working with local nonprofits addressing justice issues in the city. The day before her third Sunday in the pulpit was the day Michael Brown was shot and killed. Immediately, Counihan began speaking about police violence, white supremacy, white privilege and racism, which can be hard things to talk about in church. Fortunately, Counihan and Oak Hill found help through a nonprofit partner, Metropolitan Congregations United, ANDREW W. YEAGER-BUCKLEY Teens come together to beautify St. Louis neighborhoods.

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