by Baylee Smith–
At the conclusion of our last full day in Indianapolis, I found myself full of gratitude, new information, hope, and….. sleepiness! Friends, General Assembly is FULL–people, learning experiences, connections, opportunities, sights to see, and ideas to ponder.
Shannon, Melissa, and I kicked off our morning with a (very) early breakfast hosted by Week of Compassion. As you know, we hosted Vy Nguyen, Executive Director of Week of Compassion, at our Centennial worship service and got to hear about the great work happening around the world through this ministry. At the breakfast, we had the privilege to hear from Laila Alawa, the CEO and Founder of The Tempest, an innovative media company that showcases the stories of diverse millennial women. I was convicted, inspired, and empowered by her boldness as she shared about her experience growing up as a Muslim woman in America with Syrian roots. After breakfast, we got to visit with Thandiwe and catch up on each others’ lives before heading to the Convention Center!
The morning learning session I attended was a storytelling panel about church planting and transforming established congregations. It was fascinating and inspiring to learn about the ways that leaders affiliated with the Disciples of Christ are cultivating new communities of faith and reviving congregations in need of new life. Hearing about new ways of being Church together gave me hope for the future of our denomination and for the broader Church’s presence in a world that is ever-changing and adapting to the world around us.
My afternoon was filled with time in the Exhibit Hall–a space where various booths are set up to highlight various church partners, ministries, schools, vendors, and more–and with conversation after conversation! I got to connect with our Interim Regional Minister Ray Miles, visit with a friend I met in 2015 through a leadership development program, met a new friend that attends the University of Chicago with Judith, met another new friend who ministers in Georgia, and share conversation with countless others while wandering the expansive room of booths and tables. The Exhibit Hall is entirely overwhelming, but also an exciting opportunity to connect with other clergy and church members about the incredible work that God is doing throughout our world through this denomination.
An important (though fairly boring) part of General Assembly are the business sessions that take place daily (for 3.5 hours each!) throughout the conference presenting resolutions and ministry reports. I am grateful for the ways that our denomination chooses to discuss real issues with one another, find points of commonality and mutuality, and take stands on the issues before us. I’ll spare you the full listing of resolutions and reports (you’re welcome), but I do want to mention one particularly timely resolution–GA 1740 Concerning Support for the “New Poor People’s Campaign: National Call for a Moral Revival.” This resolution encourages all expressions of the Church to support the New Poor People’s Campaign, a National Call for Moral Revival in 2018 (you can read more about it here). This movement is led by the NC Region’s very own Rev. Dr. William J Barber II and has been gaining a lot of attention and momentum nationwide. I encourage you to learn more about it–I’d love to talk with you about it sometime and find ways we can support the movement together! I was struck by the overwhelming support in the room for this resolution and that the key presenters of support were dozens of young people in the church. The vote was unanimous and was met with enthusiastic applause!
If you can believe it, all of this happened before 4:45 pm! To kick off our evening, Shannon and I went on a stroll on the Canal Walk and soaked up the sun before grabbing a quick dinner and returning to the Convention Center. We shared stories of our experiences at General Assembly, future hopes for our lives and the life of the Church, and our mutual love of animals! 🙂 The worship service highlighted the international partnerships of the denomination and introduced us to various ministry partners from many countries. It was beautiful to celebrate the diversity of our human family in this shared worship space. Our preacher for the evening, Rev. Virzola Law, challenged and encouraged us to lean in to the hard work of unity-building. It is truly a powerful experience to envision together a community that abides in God’s love and chooses to do the hard work of spreading that love day after day after day.
Our full day concluded with Story Hour hosted by the Disciples Divinity Houses at a local brewery. We laughed, held our breath, teared up, and experienced nearly every possible emotion while listening to the raw and honest stories shared by nine brave individuals in the packed room. The theme was Taking a Stand–each story tied into this broader theme in some way. The storytellers used humor, shock value, poetry, and unconventional language to inspire creativity and open listeners’ spirits to new perspectives and truths. Story is powerful. Authenticity is powerful. Speaking our Truth is powerful. Standing our Ground is powerful. Community is powerful.
Beyond all of the formal workshops, business sessions, ministry reports, worship services, and storytelling times, I feel a deep sense of awareness of our shared humanity. It is amazing to consider the power that we have within us as communities of faith when we recognize our shared humanity and celebrate our shared identity as beloved children of God! I can’t wait to share more stories with you (as if this weren’t long-winded enough…) and invite you into some of the work the broader Church is doing!
(Picture of most of the folks from FCC Greensboro after worship)