By Lisa Salita
I got to go to the NEXT National Gathering in Charlotte!
I know, it’s uncool for an adult to begin a blog post with a sentence worthy of a fifteen year old. But you need to understand some things:
- I experienced worship. Worship. Worship with 600 hundred people from around the country, varied in age and culture and context. We sang, we moved (we moved!), we heard the Word from gifted preachers. We worshiped together, four times in two days.
- I saw people engaging in real conversations. Complex, hopeful, practical, and prayerful conversations about how to be who God’s called us to be in the world and in our churches and communities.
- I saw, heard, and took part in discernment about where God is at work, about how God is moving in individual people and places, and about what God is trying to show us. And we began to actively look for ideas, agendas, or other voices that are keeping us from hearing God’s voice.
- I heard affirmations that we as the PC(USA) are called to discern what’s distinctive and critical and God-ordained in our Reformed tradition – and to hold tight to those things – and to look for elements, practices, or beliefs that were right in another time, but aren’t consistent with being the Body of Christ in the world we live in today.
- I heard words of great power and encouragement and challenge from C-67: God’s reconciling work in Jesus Christ and the mission of reconciliation to which he has called his church are the heart of the gospel in any age. Our generation stands in peculiar need of reconciliation in Christ.
- I was reminded again and again that God knows what’s NEXT, that God’s Word and God’s work will always be real and active in the world, because we always have the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. We can (and should) plan and discern and work. But the Spirit is at work among us, and it is the Spirit the blows where it will, and that makes things new, creating and regenerating and setting hearts on fire.
So I stand firm in that decision to begin this post with an exclamation.
But NEXT meant more to me – more than all of these events, messages, meetings, and services. Now it’s personal. As you may have surmised, I’m one of those optimists, those annoying people who, despite Barna and Pew surveys and the discussions at committee and Session and Presbytery meetings, believes in the future of the Church and of our denomination. I’ve long had a sense that it’s all going to be OK. The Church is not going to die out. We’re not doomed. If the church that’s needed now, and in the years to come, needs to blend new models and new ideas, to modify some parts of what we do today, and do some pruning too, that’s OK with me. We’re going to have to take risks. And some ideas will work, and some things will fail, but that’s OK. How else do we learn, do we modify, do we find our way in uncharted territory? It’s OK that the world is different, and that we need to discern how to respond.
Because we are God’s people, the people of the Resurrected Christ, of the Great Commission, of Pentecost. And we are the heirs of the Reformation and the Reformed tradition. Always Reformed, always being reformed, according to the Word of God and the call of the Holy Spirit. Always called to be unwavering in our faithfulness to God, but also called to be aware of the world around us and ready to respond to our world in ways that will bring Christ, that will bring reconciliation, in the ways that our world needs.
That was the spirit that I felt at NEXT. And that, I believe, is the Sprit speaking, giving both comfort and challenge, to us all.
Now, back home, I want to be a part of what’s next. And I joyfully encourage you to be a part of what, in God’s plan and in the power of the Holy Spirit, is NEXT.
Lisa Salita, from Richmond VA, is a Ruling Elder in her home church and now a second career seminarian, studying at Union Presbyterian Seminary and a Candidate under care of the Presbytery of the James.