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Half of What?

Century. Half of a century.

One morning last spring, it occurred to me that come the following fall, I would be a 50-year member of GPPC. Memo to self: blog topic.

Fall came and went and we had good contributors here on timely matters. I felt my imagined column would keep for whenever, envisioning sort of a sweet pudding of memories from the mists. I wanted to make sure to write about being a teenager in church when they’d ask the 30-year members to stand, and then the 40-year members, and then – the 50-year members! Man, I figured they had to be running on fumes!

Then came the past two weeks in America, and it felt as if the train for my happy-look-back little blog piece had left the station – for parts unknown. But then I considered what has seemed so important to me, coming into this strange, new year: to remember where I came from – the times, the experiences, the people.

I recall, still a teenager, a summer Sunday when the leadership was approached by a group who wanted to make a statement of conscience about the Vietnam War during worship. It was decided they could do so in a classroom after the service. Nancy Dawe stood up from her pew after announcements and said she could not reconcile the appropriateness of sharing church softball scores in worship but not matters of peacemaking. I’d been there long enough to know that extemporaneous speaking in services was exceedingly rare, especially – in those days – by a woman. Her witness remains with me.

A couple of years later, I came as a college student to the Christmas Eve service; and John Brown asked God for mercy – even as, he pointed out, our country dropped bombs on Southeast Asia. Soon after, I heard William Sloane Coffin up the street at the Seminary. He said he was often asked about his rationale for working so closely with the radicals in the anti-war movement when many of them were avowed atheists. “I say I don’t concern myself so much with who believes in God, but more who God believes in.”

In the early ‘80s as refugees fled Cambodia, GPPC sponsored Meth San and his family. The Arnettes, Ed Young, and my parents were the main ongoing hands. After learning our language, Meth told my dad he would have been killed had he remained in his homeland. Later, he was working a nightshift when Nari needed a ride to the delivery room for her 3rd child. My dad drove her and, at age 70, wound up witnessing his first live birth.

I recall our associate pastor, Mark Hinds, interrupting the flow of an ordination service because a visitor from one of the nearby adult homes wanted to make a statement of faith – she had been moved by the vows of the new elders. Mark had nothing like a script, but he introduced her to us and assured her of God’s love and care. He didn’t miss a beat. Running on the Spirit.

Our church adopted a welcoming statement, skillfully crafted by Davis Yeuell, well in advance of the denomination approving ordination of LGBTQ candidates. It stated there are no limits placed on God’s call to leadership, authoritatively dealing a higher hand than the Book of Order.

And I can still hear Carla’s voice, incorporating Nikki Finney’s bracing poem about abandoned Katrina victims – Left – into one of her sermons. It was a worship experience that made me sit up and listen – and know I was hearing a new thing in church, as with Nancy Dawe all those decades back.

I’m not sure where we’re headed, but I have a pretty good idea of where I’ve been. 50 years at GPPC is a good thing to have in one’s backpack, whether running on fumes – or just jogging in the mornings, and praying about the next good thing to do.

Alfred Walker

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