Over the last month, I have spent a good bit of time in gatherings of people. I joined women and men from all over the world to attend Duke Divinity School’s Summer Institute for Reconciliation in Durham, NC. The 8 or so miles I drove from Chapel Hill seemed quite paltry when I learned that the Institute was hosting presenters and participants from South Africa, Japan, South Korea, South Sudan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Uganda. As the week went on, Texans rubbed elbows with Californians who talked to Midwesterners who ate supper with Southerners. A few souls traveled down from New England and one soul journeyed up from Miami.
The group ranged in age from college students to great-grandparents. We had a bishop in attendance; we had laypeople; we had clergy. Some participants spoke up to five languages. Some participants were differently abled. We had presenters who were attorneys and presenters who were professors. Some participants and presenters were retired while others were still in active career years.
We were an eclectic group, to say the least. Yet, the Holy Spirit had gathered us in.
The week after the Summer Institute, I traveled to Greenville, NC, for the 2017 annual conference of United Methodists in the eastern half of North Carolina. While every member of the North Carolina Annual Conference, is either a member of a United Methodist church or appointed clergy within the NC Conference, we are still an eclectic bunch!
Lay members of the annual conference represent about 800 churches with a total of 228,611 professing members in 2016. There are about 1150 clergy members of the annual conference. At any given time, there are about 2200 members of the NC annual conference hanging around the convention center, hotels, restaurants, and byways of Greenville for three days or so.
Raeford; Rocky Mount; Raleigh. Moyock; Morrisville; Morehead City. Beauty Spot; Burlington; Bunn. Snow Camp; Salvo; Supply. Durham; Dover; Dunn. The roll call of cities and towns, crossroads and churches is rich in history and variety.
The Holy Spirit gathered us in.
In my early years of professional ministry, I used to ask for the Holy Spirit to come and be among us as we Christians gathered together for work or for worship or for whatever purpose. In my more–ahem–“mature” years of ministry, I thank the Holy Spirit for already being present among us and for gathering us in. I have changed from asking God to be present to thanking God for already being present. I have come to learn that, for followers of Jesus Christ, gathering is a response rather than an initiation.
The Holy Spirit gathers us in.
I first sang Marty Haugen’s “Gather Us In” at annual conference many years ago and it remains one of my favorite hymns from The Faith We Sing. The sprightly, lilting tune and rich, resonant words capture for me the joy of gathering in the name of Jesus Christ. The words of the song vividly remind me that it is the Holy Spirit that calls all people from all ages, stages, nations, and tribes together to reflect God’s light to the world.
The Holy Spirit will gather us in.