Over at John Wilkinson's General Assembly website, John writes about this year's GA theme, Abound in Hope, and specifically where his personal story has encountered hope. I hope you'll go check it out, then share your own stories of hope on his Facebook page. With this post I want to go in a different direction, riffing on the theme of General Assembly, "Abound in Hope," by answering a question some of you may be asking:
General Assembly has themes?
Why yes it does! The theme is designed to provide some scriptural grounding for the proceedings---it shows up in worship and in other ways. And "Abound in Hope" is a great theme. So energetic!
There is plenty of hand-wringing over membership statistics and declining budgets and churches leaving the denomination. And yes, we need to think long and hard about how we do ministry and what it means to be faithful in the 21st century. But our hope is not in innovative approaches and fresh ideas. Our hope is in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, which existed way before the Presbyterian Church was a twinkle in John Knox's eye.
So how can commissioners, GA participants, and observers keep Hope at the forefront of what will be a very intense week at GA? Consider this some friendly advice from someone who's been there as an observer and a former Theological Student Advisory Delegate.
- Attend worship each day, or as much as possible. Yes, you will be tired, and tempted to worship at Bedside Baptist. But worship will serve to ground you, and I suspect, will give you eyes to see and ears to hear the ways that hope is abounding in the work of that day. ~
- Do an examen each day, with a focus on hope. The Ignatian examen is a wonderful practice in which you reflect on the previous day and ask questions like "Where did I see God today? Where did I feel distant from God?" or "Where did I feel alive today? Where did I feel energy draining from me?" How about questions like "Where did I see Christ's hope expressed? Where did hope seem to be absent?" The good thing about this practice is it can be done in just a matter of moments, as you drift off to sleep. ~
- Enlist a friend from back home. It's easy to get insulated at GA---there's so much to see and do. So how about asking a colleague, your pastor (if you're a ruling elder) or a friend to send you short hope-filled texts each day about what's happening back home? There's nothing like a picture of the mid-week children's program or an anecdote from the Tuesday tutoring ministry to help remind us why we're doing what we're doing. ~
- Let yourself be pushed. Be open. I'm reading Anne Lamott's lovely book Stitches, which has tons of "hope quotes" in it. But this one's my favorite, from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them." We will come to GA with our own convictions and commitments, but we also need to remember that God is not finished with any of us. I ~
What do you say? Where do you see hope alive, and how do you keep focused on hope when life gets busy and intense? Hope you'll share here or on our Facebook page.