by Helen Wilkins
As a sophomore at Presbyterian College who’s majoring in Christian Education and excited to follow a calling into ministry, the question “What’s NEXT?” is extremely relevant to me. I am a pastor’s kid, so I have grown up being very active in the church and I have had a deep love for the church and the PCUSA in particular for as long as I can remember. I have to admit, when I looked at the schedule for NEXT events, I was more than a little excited to see that the national conference would fall nicely in my Spring Break and was conveniently close to my college. My anticipation grew as I saw friends I have met through the years who would be in Charlotte as well. I drove to Charlotte Sunday and had a great opportunity to meet with seminary students for dinner, conversation, and a movie. After being at the conference for less than two hours, I was already eager for the making of new friends and the strengthening of old, for worship, and for continued discussion of the future of the PCUSA.
I woke up early Monday morning, eager for the conference to start and to talk about what’s NEXT. As I walked into the fellowship hall I was immediately overwhelmed with the amount of people and I quickly remembered just how introverted I actually am. Suddenly, the idea of talking with people at this conference about the church, religion, the future became much more intimidating because I could not help but to think that I was one of the youngest, and consequently, most inexperienced people in this large crowd of people. I wondered to myself about why I thought I should be a part of this conversation, what I thought I could possibly bring to the table.
In the midst of my uncertainties about my place at the conference, I made my way into the sanctuary before worship because I had been asked, along with some other college and seminary students, to help lead the congregation in the Call to Worship and Prayer of Confession. As a part of this, we were asked to spread out among the congregation. I found myself sandwiched in the middle of the pew between two total and complete strangers who were each at least 40 years my senior and who were not exceptionally talkative (but were very nice). As I stood in the pew, silently wondering why I wasn’t spending my Spring Break in my much neglected bed, the music leaders began to play a very familiar song. Within the first few notes of “The Canticle of the Turning,” the very kind women sitting next to me and I simultaneously grabbed each other’s arms and shrieked, with excitement that rivaled a 13-year old girl at a boy-band concert, “OH MY GOSH I LOVE THIS SONG!” In that moment, as we laughed about our over-enthusiasm about singing a beloved song I realized how much this small little interaction spoke volumes on what’s NEXT and on what’s now.
As the conference continued I had many opportunities to talk with people, to share ideas, and to create friendships. I remembered that one of the reasons I have always loved the church is for the fellowship and conversation with people of all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds. Through the conversations and workshops I participated in throughout the conference I was able to talk with people and have my opinion and my ideas valued. When I think about what’s NEXT, I think about these conversations where I talked with people who had been pastors for 30 years or more, but how they still cared about what I had to say. I think about how I was able to listen to someone explain what she was seeing as a DCE in a church and how I could then offer something about what I am seeing as a college student. This conference reminded me that we are brothers and sisters in Christ and we are meant to love one another and cherish each others’ opinions. Together, as members of the body of Christ, we work with each other, respect each other, encourage each other, and care for each other, because we are meant to be disciples with each other, and work in partnership with each other, not separate ourselves when we may not have many things in common. This is something that we often forget, so I am very grateful that I see it coming up in the discussion of what’s NEXT and is something that I have seen come into fruition, especially at the National Conference.
There’s no one person who can come and talk to us about exactly where the PCUSA will be 5 years from now and how we need to change or stay the same, but instead it is up to each and every one of us to be a part of the conversation and help discern where God is calling us. We are all children of God and are equally valued and we each have something unique and vital to bring to the table. At the beginning of the conference, I was uncertain about what my role in this discussion of what’s NEXT in the church could really be, but I was soon reminded that, despite my inexperience and insecurities, I am blessed by a denomination that respects and loves me, by an opportunity to talk with old and new friends about the church we love, and by the Holy Spirit that fills our conversations, prayers, and worship as we talk together about what God has in store for our future together.
Helen Wilkins is a Christian Education major at Presbyterian College. She is currently a sophomore and plans to pursue her calling to ministry after she graduates.