For those of us in the PCUSA, the beginning of the summer was marked by decisions made at our general assembly (GA) held in Detroit, Michigan. The GA is held once every other year and brings Presbyterians from around the world together to pray, worship, meet in committees, and vote on issues that are viewed to be important to our community and our unique expression of faith. In Detroit, the assembly entertained hundreds of issues and overatures. Several of the decisions made proved to be difficult and contentious. Not the least among these were decisions the body made on the definition of marriage as well as divestment from three companies who do business in Israel/Palestine (for more information please go to http://oga.pcusa.org/section/ga/ga221 and for a thoughtful response please see Dr. Lewis Galloway's letter to the congregation of Second Presbyterian Church here).
A couple of weeks following GA many members of our congregation gathered for a concerned conversation moderated by Dr. Galloway and Dr. Richard Baker, Theologian in Residence. I am proud of this congregation for meeting many of the difficult moments in our denomination with fair, focused, open, and balanced discussions such as this. This was not an easy conversation to have, but it was critical to our sense of community. Differing opinions were spoken and varied voices were heard. I am thankful for such an approach to what could be incredibly divisive issues.
Toward the end of this meeting, one of the elders of our congregation who was baptized in the church as an infant, has lived through church moves and near church splits, and has served in many capacities within the life of this congregation stood up to tell this story...
When he was in high school in the late 50's he was on the wrestling team at an integrated high school. He wrestled with and against caucasian as well as African American young men. One afternoon he and his father went to a local club for lunch. After they were seated, one of his friends, an African American young man named Joe, came to their table to serve water to him and his father. As the young man stood at their table, the elder's father said, "Boy, pour me some water." This elder, with a lump in his throat and tears in his eyes then said that on the way home from the club he told his father that the young man that came to serve them water was a friend of his from school. He told his dad that they were wrestling teammates and that he had really grown to like this young man. He said that the young man was kind, responsible, and a reliable friend. He then said, "Dad, his name is Joe."
The elder continued the story now with a tear rolling down his cheek. The next week, this elder and his father found themselves back at the club for another lunch. They found themselves sitting in nearly the same place. They found themselves at a table with the same young African American young man standing there with a pitcher of water. The father looked up and said to the young man, "Joe, I would really appreciate a glass of water. Thank you."
Then, standing before over a hundred of his fellow congregants, this elder said, "You see...everything changes when you know someone." And with that, he sat back down.
I will never forget how the room had suddenly been transformed.
I will never forget the feeling that I needed to take off my shoes, for this was holy ground.
I will never forget the story.
I will never forget the simple yet incredibly profound words, "Everything changes when you know someone."
I am thankful for this summer when everything changed.