As I mentioned earlier, I spent the first week of my sabbatical at the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was a strange and wonderful way to begin this time away. Somehow, immersing myself in the depths of being Presbyterian actually was the right way to begin my time away from my work in the church!
I have a long history with General Assembly. In college, I served as a volunteer in the assembly newsroom, helping to get information out to the world via the web, and spent one assembly as a Youth Advisory Delegate. Even today, several of my closest friends are among those I met at a General Assembly. Even though I hadn’t been to an assembly since 2002, I still followed the event every time through live-streaming and Twitter and whatever else I could, helping me to maintain my status as a “GA Junkie.”
This year, my goals at the assembly were twofold. First, I wanted to reconnect with friends and colleagues. On this goal, my success was beyond measure. I got to spend time with dozens of people from so many different and varied quarters of my life and world, everyone from the music director at the church where I was baptized who has known me since before I was born to friends from Twitter I know well but had never met in real life. I even made a couple new friends along the way!
Over the course of the week, I felt more fulfilled and happy than I have felt in a long time. This is particularly interesting and unusual because I am not usually one to enjoy large crowds and busy times. I tend to appreciate my own space and dislike hanging out in large groups. Somehow, though, the interactions at GA were not this for me. I had lots of time for one-on-one conversations with friends – time to catch up on old stories, mutual friends, and life in general. These things feed my soul, and I was very full by the time I returned home!
My second major goal at GA this year was to spend time in worship. I did this pretty well, too. The week began with a major worship service at the convention center with over 4,000 Presbyterians in attendance, where the moderator of the last General Assembly preached. Sunday, attendees made their way to congregations across Pittsburgh, and I worshiped in the beautiful Neo-Gothic glory of East Liberty Presbyterian Church. And on most other days of the week, I worshiped in other assembly worship services at the Convention Center. I will admit that none of these services were the most wonderful I had ever attended, but I nonetheless found the week grounded and centered in the gift of this time set apart for worship.
On the whole, I’m really glad I went to General Assembly this year. Even amidst the disappointments of business that did not turn out as I hoped, I felt a bit of what Church should be like amidst the joy of time with friends and even amidst the strange movement (or in the case of this year, stalling) of the Holy Spirit. I hope and pray that the spirit in me that prevailed last week will only continue over the remainder of my sabbatical!