June 2016 = two family reunions in my life.
There’s this one in Portland held every other year in June or July. This reunion will include fourteen people who are related to me by blood or marriage. But there will also be hundreds of others present who are related to me by theology and baptism. We will pray together. We will eat together. We will debate. We will disagree. We will agree. We will hear stories. We will elect officers. We will have some fun.
Then there’s this family reunion in North Carolina – annually held on the last Sunday in June where my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents grew up. I’m preaching on the Sunday morning after General Assembly – just twelve days shy of the 60th anniversary of my baptism in that same sanctuary. There will many, many people present who are related to me by blood or marriage. We are the descendants of Victor Chalmers Edmiston and there are hundreds of us – plus some relatives from the other side of my family. We will pray together. We will eat together. We will debate (more about whose cake is tastiest, than about theology or politics.) We will disagree. (Some of us prefer chocolate cake.) We will agree. We will hear stories. We already consider ourselves elected. We will have some fun.
One of the discomfiting things about reunions, though, is that there is the potential to exclude people. Some us are part of the old stories and some are not.
When the General Assembly gets together, I run into people I’ve known all my life from Vacation Bible School to church camp to summer conferences to seminary. Say the words “Montreat” and a huge slice of the Assembly will smile.
But not everybody has experienced the same, safe church history. Increasingly, we in the PCUSA are realizing that what feels like a family reunion for some of us doesn’t feel that way to all. For example, when Montreat hosts The Disgrace Conference this October, it will feel different from the youth conferences and worship conferences of the past. It will feel uncomfortable and there will be “new people” present.
And that’s a good thing. Nevertheless, some will scoff that talking about systemic racism is too controversial for church. “What ever happened to old-fashioned mission conferences?” some will say.
God bless those sisters and brothers in the PCUSA who have met Jesus in places and contexts different from Scottish festivals and historic church camps. We welcome you who have come into our tribe of Presbyterians through new church developments that meet in unconventional sanctuaries or through avant-garde events.
God bless those who have married into my family who have braved being the only people of color in attendance in a sea of Southern White People or those who have been the only LGBTQ family members present in a room full of people who might have shunned you, had you not been kin.
Our family reunions – both those of my own birth family and those of my family of faith – are changing. There are people of color. There are rich and poor people. There are people in wheelchairs and people in strollers. Some not only have different U.S. accents, but they might even have African, Asian, South American, or European accents. We might have different ideas about what it means to follow Jesus. But we still meet. We still call each other family – even when we find ourselves on opposite sides of the theological spectrum.
Let’s make it fun. Let’s make it generous and loving and life-giving. Let’s make it about pleasing God.