By MWS Leslie Smith Belden, Stated Clerk
Short, sweet, and to the point. Hopefully, the word “inclusive” could be substituted for “sweet”, but the bottom line was that the 2020 summer meeting of the Presbytery of Arkansas – the first meeting of the Presbytery to ever be conducted on-line – was also the shortest stated meeting of the Presbytery, while much work was accomplished and worship certainly wasn’t short-changed!
The theme of the meeting, “All Together. Many Places. One Spirit.” was carried out through three distinct sections of the meeting. Following a period of information sharing and handling of protocol for the meeting the Presbytery worshipped together, centered on the message shared by MWS Rebecca Spooner, Director of the Wellspring Renewal Center and generally understood to be the Presbytery of Arkansas’ therapist. Rebecca set the tone for the meeting with her personal message of hope in these difficult times with anxiety and separation caused by COVID-19, the need to dismantle structural racism in our society evidenced most recently by the death of George Floyd by police officers in Minnesota, and individual losses of so many, including Rebecca herself.
After a short “coffee break” the second part of the meeting began, which focused on the work, worship, and ministry of the congregations and other ministries within the Presbytery of Arkansas. Presbytery Builder MWS Carol Clark and Presbytery Connector RE Julie Price entertained participants with their rendition of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, taking those attending the meeting on a tour across the Presbytery. Glimpses of the meeting, including the portion of the meeting recorded, may be viewed on the Presbytery’s new website – which was introduced by Carol and Julie: www.presbyark.org. They also introduced the Presbytery’s new consolidated Facebook page: Presbyark Connect.
The third section of the meeting addressed the business before the Presbytery, as well as a few words from Kevin Keaton of the Board of Pensions and Joseph Moore of the Presbyterian Foundation. Business conducted, which can be celebrated, included these items:
- The extension of when churches can apply for no-interest loans from the Presbytery through August 28, 2020. Any churches interested in these loans may contact the Presbytery office at 501.663.2424.
- The ratification of MWS Maggie Alsup as Moderator of the Committee on Youth, Young Adults, and Campus Ministry.
- The approval of enrolling Inquirer Brianne Christiansen as a Candidate for Minister of Word and Sacrament.
- The approval of enrolling Meredith Burnett, a deacon at Mountainburg Presbyterian Church, as an Inquirer under care of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry.
- The approval of the call of MWS Sara Anne Berger as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, and her enrollment as a member of the Presbytery of Arkansas.
- A moment of silence, commemorating the life of MWS Fred Taylor, HR, former pastor of Bull Shoals Presbyterian Church.
Announcements at the end of the meeting were meaningful, as the Presbytery heard from MWS Becky Purcell and RE Wynona Bryant-Williams on their experience attending the “Co-Inspire: Liberating Imagination, Eviscerating Racism” conference at Montreat in the Fall of 2019, with RE Bryant-Williams reflecting on the personal impression that the conference had on her; a few words from Lemuel Garcia, Mission Engagement Officer of the Presbyterian Mission Agency on behalf of MWS Diane Moffett, President and Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency; MWS Jocelyn Wildhack, Chaplain at Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center; and Kristi Button of United Campus Ministry at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
Finally, as he was preparing to offer the benediction, Moderator MWS Marion Humphrey took a few moments to express his thoughts on protests going on in Arkansas and around the world addressing racism, particularly with respect to the Black Lives Matter movement. Marion urged those with white skin to speak up and speak out and expressed encouragement in what he had seen in Arkansas. Moderator Humphrey closed the meeting with the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
The Presbytery of Arkansas will meet again on October 23-24, 2020 “at” First United Presbyterian Church of Fayetteville. Whether the meeting will be a combination of in-person and on-line or only on-line is yet to be determined. The focus of that meeting will be on “Dismantling Structural Racism.” Look for more information leading up to that meeting as the Presbytery continues to lean into the connectedness of the denomination and our interdependence on one another as, together, we seek to serve as the Body of Christ.