by Stated Clerk MWS Leslie Belden
If I were to use just one word to describe the meeting held at Ferncliff on October 4-5 it would be “joy.” Joy seemed to be in the air – perhaps the clear skies, cooler temperatures, and being at Ferncliff contributed to the happiness, but surely, too, the Holy Spirit surrounded us and joined us together with a hope that isn’t always apparent when the Presbytery of Arkansas gathers. With 165 signing in, there were a lot of joyful people!
Could it be that angels were among the ukulele band from First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville who led us in worship on Friday night? I think that I spied at least two of them at the front of the band shaking shakers. And how could God possibly be so good as to lead MWS Emily Hook to Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church so that she can join them in their commitment to serve the community of Forrest City, waiting six months through the government’s shut-down without giving up hope? And just when the Presbytery was grieving MWS Frank LeBlanc, MWS Dari Rowen, and Youth Director Sarah Leer moving out of state, and the deaths of MWSs Dick Knott and Dick Frothingham, God brought MWS Emmett Powers and MWS Carl McCormack back to Arkansas! Not only that, but through the movement of God’s Holy Spirit – and the flexibility of the PC(USA)’s polity – Rev. Brian Timmons, a United Methodist pastor, will not only be serving at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church in Pea Ridge but he will also be a temporary member of our presbytery!
Maybe the meeting was so joy-filled because we actually worshipped throughout the meeting, acknowledging that the business we do together is Christ’s work. In spite of the screen for the PowerPoint presentation being too low, and frequent microphone issues, the grumbling about the “first world problems” of technology didn’t overtake the positive vibe of the meeting. Could it be because so much of the meeting focused on serving others and our commitment to the mission of the church?
MWS Dori Hjalmarson, PC(USA) mission co-worker to Honduras, shared the story of the mountain village of El Horno and the Presbyterian Church wishing to become a part of the Presbytery – how they had been told by another denomination that they were “not profitable.” Now they are an example to the other churches of the Presbyterian Church of Honduras, working alongside the Catholic Church and with Solar Under the Sun and members of the Presbytery of Arkansas, who provide a sustainable source of power for this off-the-grid village and clean water where children formerly suffered from dysentery.
The message given by MWS Elizabeth Brinegar, serving at First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville and the Moderator of the Synod of the Sun, focused on the Matthew 25 mandate for Christ’s followers to serve. This focus was central to the whole meeting, and indeed Matthew 25 will be the focus of the Presbytery of Arkansas throughout 2020, with Executive Director and President of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett kicking off the year-long emphasis at the March 6-7, 2020 meeting of the Presbytery at Lyon College in Batesville.
Five congregations, Barr Memorial Presbyterian Church of Norman, First Presbyterian Church of Van Buren, First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville, Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church of Forrest City, and First Presbyterian Church of Springdale, shared PowerPoint presentations on the mission work of their churches. They demonstrated that congregations of all sizes can reach out to address the needs of their communities, and claimed that serving others has given new vitality to their membership.
There was good conversation around tables as commissioners looked at the historical confessions of the PC(USA) and asked whether it is time for a new confession to be written to address the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s current theological stance in today’s context. Ultimately the Presbytery approved an Overture to the 224th General Assembly that will be held in Baltimore in June 2020 making that request.
Rather than making the meeting longer, the worshipful work format seemed to create more space for fellowship. The meeting recessed early on Friday night to enjoy a reception hosted by First Presbyterian Church of Springdale, and many lingered engaging in conversation with friends from across the state. The morning’s refreshments for those who hadn’t stayed overnight at Ferncliff were provided by Park Hill Presbyterian Church, and they disappeared quickly as commissioners and visitors appreciated the fresh fruit and pastries.
More could be said about the business conducted, and will be in an accompanying Banner article listing the actions taken at the meeting, but for me what needs to be conveyed to those unable to attend is how much those present enjoyed our time together: how much joy, and love, and commitment to Christ’s service there were at this meeting. My hope is that the Presbytery of Arkansas will continue to exhibit such Spirit-centered joy when we gather, and that more and more church members across our presbytery will look forward to attending meetings because everyone wants that feeling of joy and hope.
The schedule for Presbytery of Arkansas meetings in 2020 is:
March 6-7, 2020 at Lyon College in Batesville
June 6, 2020 at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Little Rock
October 23-24, 2020 at First United Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville