Becky White Newgren, a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, sent me this photo of Princeton students who wanted to make a statement about their common commitment to unity as we approach the Presbyterian General Assembly in June. Here's her explanation of how it came to be and the message they wanted to send:
One hundred and twenty-five students including many faculty and administrators stood side by side on the steps of Miller Chapel at Princeton Theological Seminary on April 17th, 2006 to symbolize their commitment to the unity of the Presbyterian Church (USA). They responded to a couple emails and a few signs that asked them to put their face behind the following statement:
Being aware of many issues that could divide the PCUSA, we stand here representing different viewpoints on these issues, but we desire to reflect the unity of Christ and to serve in ministry together.
Organizing this photo is something that God laid on my heart. I procrastinated for a while, but then realized that if I, a future PCUSA minister, felt like I wanted to say something to the General Assembly this summer, maybe others at Princeton Seminary did as well. As a denomination, we have some very serious issues before us that we need to consider humbly before our God. The Church for centuries has let serious issues divide it, and I pray that the PCUSA can find a way to be the body of Christ together in all of our diversities. It is my prayer that the PCUSA will realize that the unity of Christ is much stronger than any current issues that divide us.
Those are my words. The people in the picture agreed only to the statement. But the photo itself was an event. At any seminary, students are often given the opportunity to agree and disagree over theological and political matters, but that day on the steps of the chapel, people who are typically on polar opposite sides of any debate came together in a spirit of humility and gratitude, in the Spirit of God, to stand for unity in the PCUSA. Our hope is that this photo will make a positive impact on the commissioners and visitors at General Assembly this June.
Friends, as we approach this Assembly, I ask you to be in prayer for our church, not for its own sake, but for the sake of all that we can accomplish when we agree to put first things first and to truly live our faith in Jesus Christ in the world.
As Moderator, I've grown into a new respect for the letters of Paul. He also was dealing with early Christians who were deeply divided - over what they believed to be matters of great substance. Check out his advice to the Philippians in the second chapter (New Testament - small book toward the back :)
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete; be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in hman likeness. And being found in human for, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross.
May we hold Paul's words, and this powerful image from the students at Princeton, in our hearts as we approach this important moment in the life of the church.