04 Aug Connection Matters….and Field Trips are Fun!
I used to love taking field trips when I was in school. A field trip usually meant an entire day out of the classroom, a bus ride, sack lunches, and visiting someplace really “cool” like a museum or a farm or the zoo. Sometimes field trips were all about fun, like going to a water park. But more often, they presented students with the opportunity to learn something new—about art, or deep space, or how vegetables were grown, or what life in Colonial America was like.
This week I was privileged to take a “field trip” with three of my clergy colleagues. Rob Erickson (Heritage), Barbara Heck (Bush Hill), Bob Melone (Mt. Vernon) and I regularly have lunch together once a month, but this month our meeting took a major departure from our usual setting. We first visited Rev. Jimmie Hawkins at the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness, and that was followed by a meeting with Rev. Margaret Grun Kibben, Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, who also gave us a tour of the Capitol.
It turns out that in addition to the Office of Public Witness across the street from the U.S. Capitol, the PC(USA) also has an office across the street from the United Nations in New York. Jimmie Hawkins is the director of both the Office of Public Witness and the Ministry at the United Nations. These two offices are the domestic and international advocacy “arm” of our denomination. Their task is to promote the social witness perspectives and policies that are approved and voted on when the General Assembly meets every two years, as it did last month in Louisville. The two offices fall under the auspices of the Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
Each year the UN office and OPW publish a list of the “issue priorities” for the current year. For 2022, for example, the UN office is focused on issues such as peace and disarmament and conflict prevention; gender justice; racial justice; human rights and protection of human rights defenders; global migration and displacement; sustainable development and just economic systems; and climate action and eco justice. OPW’s 2022 list of advocacy issues names: address systemic racism and promote racial equity; restore voting rights and common-sense government reform; support compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform; promote decisive and effective climate and environmental justice solutions; advocate for common-sense gun violence legislation; promote human rights and conflict resolution in Israel-Palestine, Yemen and Syria; and support peacemaking in Cameroon, South Sudan and Congo, among others.
It was educational and enlightening to hear what our denomination is doing to connect our faith to policies that promote justice, safety, peace, and equality for all people. It is slow work, to be sure, and the images of yeast and a mustard seed came to me more than once as I heard about these efforts. But I left feeling encouraged, hopeful, and proud of our Church’s commitment to make the world a better place. The work will never be finished, but we are actively engaged in bringing God’s kingdom “on earth, as it is in heaven.”
Like Jimmie, Chaplain Kibben is also “one of our own.” Margaret is, simply put, an extraordinary woman and example of faith. An ordained Presbyterian minister, Margaret was the first female to serve as Chief of Chaplains of the U.S. Navy, her last position in a distinguished military career. Eighteen months ago, she became the first female in U.S. history to serve as Chaplain of either chamber of Congress. Her third day on the job was the day the Capitol riot occurred. She was in the House chamber when the Capitol was breached, calmly offered prayer from the dais as security details got the House leadership to safety, and then was sequestered with numerous delegates for several hours as events unfolded before reconvening with them in the wee hours of the morning as the House finished the work of certifying the 2020 election results.
While the private tour of the House-side of the Capitol was a special opportunity, what was most meaningful to me was hearing Margaret talk about her work, about the relationships she is building, and her faith in and hopefulness for our elected leaders and the state of our democracy. As with our visit with Jimmie, I left feeling encouraged, hopeful, and proud of the impact Presbyterians are having as we live out our faith in whatever place God has planted us.
I couldn’t wait to share my experiences with you, Calvary, to remind you once again that being a connectional church matters. Our giving to our mission partners (like the Presbyterian Mission Agency) matters. Our per capita contributions matter. What we do in our own individual places—family, work, neighborhood, church—matters. It matters in ways that are frequently invisible to us, like yeast working in dough. But do not doubt and do not forget—God is at work in us and in our church and in our world, and we are part of something much, much bigger than we know.
Yours for the Kingdom,