At every church in which I’ve been involved, the primary identification for people has been with the local congregation. It is, of course, a wonderful thing that people have felt connected to their fellow worshipers, those with whom they share fellowship, and those alongside whom they study, pray, and serve.
There is, however, more to the church than the local congregation, a body to which we remind ourselves we are connected at every baptism, every communion, and hopefully many points in between. The local body is part of a larger church, one that takes different forms and reaches across the globe.
I want to use this column to share just a few examples of what our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is doing, and thus just how powerful it is to be a part of this greater body.
1) Did you know that after the tragic Oakland Ghost Ship fire, the Presbyterians were there? As part of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), the denomination sent members of the National Response Team to offer support. The PDA often supplies emergency needs of food, water, and shelter, but their work goes beyond that. In Oakland, they connected with local faith leaders to determine the kind of support most helpful.
The church is called to show up in times of suffering. First Presbyterian of Oakland Pastor, Deb Avery said, “Most of the folks in this community are not religious or Christian. The history of Christian behavior toward alternative populations is not good and many of those killed were transgender,” she said. “When I go out to organize or march, I wear my collar. I want the community to know that Christians do show up for justice matters and that we do love and care for brothers and sisters who are not part of the mainstream population.”
2) The church also heeds a call to engage in advocacy on a national level. The dates are set for both training and engagement on the Ecumenical Advocacy Days, April 21-24. The time will begin with Compassion, Peace and Justice Training Day and will culminate in direct advocacy in Washington. It’s a powerful way for the church to make its voice(s) heard by our nation’s leaders. Haven spoken with past participants, I know it’s a transformative experience. Registration is still open to interested participants.
3) College sophomore Monika Ruiz aspires to serve as a nurse in international mission. In addition, she hopes to engage in pastoral ministry in a developing country. Concerned for justice for neglected peoples, she hopes to start an advocacy organization as part of this ministry. What does this have to do with the PCUSA? Ruiz experienced this deep call to service while a high school student at the Presbyterian Pan American School in Kingsville, TX. “Throughout my three years at Pan Am,” says Ruiz, “I learned to trust God more, and through my peers and the staff there, I saw the gifts of love and service put to work,” Monika says. The Presbyterian Pan American School is just one of the many ministries supported by the Christmas Joy Offering taken by many Presbyterian churches during the holidays (though not Westminster…yet).
I could go on, but you begin to see the picture, and it is a beautiful one, of a greater body of Christ alive and at work in the world. More information can be found about these and many other ministries under the “News & Communications” section of the denomination’s web site: www.pcusa.org.