Two months ago, the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2008), invited Presbyterians to record a short video expressing their hopes and dreams for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Sixteen videos, recorded from church pews, home kitchens and backyards, were publicly released June 22 at the We Are Presbyterian website.
Originally promoted as an online conference with a full day of streaming eight-minute videos, the project ran into limitations of time and technical capacity. Instead, it became a webpage with links to the videos submitted. Viewers are encouraged to comment on the videos or post on the Facebook or Twitter news feeds related to the project. Reyes-Chow’s blog on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website also highlighted the videos.
The We Are Presbyterian project was intended to make a space for low-profile Presbyterians to speak to the whole church. Some are intimate recordings of individuals talking directly into the camera, and others are edited interviews of members. Almost all of them speak of a love for the connectional church, a shared decision-making process between lay and clergy, and a sense that their congregation was also a family.
The members of First Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Miss., spoke repeatedly of their congregation as a family.
“We are a congregation that differs greatly on our theology, our politics and even what color to paint the parlor, but we are a church family and we are Presbyterian,” the Rev. Tom Bryson said in the introduction to the seven-minute congregationally focused video.
The theme of conflict and family also comes up in the Rev. Kurt Esslinger’s video, a more intimate presentation recorded on a computer camera with a series of T-shirt changes between questions. Esslinger, a campus pastor in the Chicago area, said while speaking of conflict within the denomination, “I may have disagreements with my father, and I actually do have them, and yet I don’t leave the family. I still go home for Christmas and Thanksgiving and I share food with and I talk. I stick with the family, I don’t continue their mistakes but we stick together in relationship.”
Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles and Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, N.C., also interviewed congregation members about their hopes and dreams for the denomination as well as their disappointments. In both videos members urged the denomination to become as global as it can be.
John Daniels, a 20-year-old member of Davie Street, also said, “As a young person, I would have to say that I wish we could pull more of the youth, teens and young adults into the denomination.”
Leslie Rodriguez, who recorded on her computer in the backyard while fireflies lit up behind her, spoke of her love for the Young Adult Volunteer program and showed off her PC(USA) cross tattoo.
Amy Merchant, a journalism student, recorded on her computer while sitting at a table in a warmly decorated kitchen. Merchant spoke of her experiences attending the Presbyterian Youth Trienniums and asked for prayers for the 2013 Presbyterian Youth Triennium leadership selection process opening up now.
Emily Morgan, a third-year student at Princeton Theological Seminary, recorded in her living room. “People keep asking me, ‘How do we get more people like you into the church?’ I always get confused when people ask me that till I finally figured out that what they really mean.” Urging Presbyterians to listen to the experiences of young adults at a one-to-one, personal relationship, Morgan also recommended two books for congregational members to read.
The Rev. Rhashell Hunter, director of the Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries/Presbyterian Women area, recorded her presentation while leaning on a communion table. Hunter urged Presbyterians to turn from complaining to gratitude.
“What would happen if each day every member woke up and said, ‘What can I do for others?’” she said.
The Rev. Sean Chow and the Rev. Collin Adams both recorded from their church office desks. Adams is seeking a deeper connection among Presbyterian congregations; Chow looks for congregations to share resources.
Diane Waddell recorded a video on behalf of Presbyterians for Earth Care, clearly alerting viewers to the date and location for the next PEC conference as well as reminding the denomination of the recent GA resolution to reduce the use of disposable plates and utensils at church events.
MaryAnn McKibben Dana took on the “deathly ill” letter written by a group of pastors concerned about the decline of membership in the PC(USA). In a gently humorous way, she explored the metaphor of pregnancy as a more hopeful image for this time of transition.
Ray Bagnuola celebrated a more welcoming church; Rosella McQuian offered the perspective of a 70-plus ruling elder; and Christopher Rehling, seated in the pew of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C., celebrated the common ground that the congregation has created for his wife and himself to worship and grow in faith.
“I was most impressed with the breadth of videos we got,” Reyes-Chow said. “I think people wanted to say to each other and to the church that we’re not as broken as some would like us to think. That people wanted to say, we’re not going to be driven by the battle. We know we have problems but there is something greater then all of us here.”
Although not yet certain about the details, Reyes-Chow expressed interest in recruiting another round of videos sometime in the future.
“I loved listening to Rosella McQuain and Emily Morgan, that range in these two people,” he said. “The question becomes, how does this breadth inform what we do next as churches, as presbyteries, as a denomination? And that was the intent of this project: to put these other voices out there.”
Anitra Kitts is a freelance writer in Santa Rosa, Calif., and a candidate for the ministry under the care of the Presbytery of the Redwoods.