Dressed in black pants and a blue-green jacket, with her hair tucked back in a neat ponytail, Joan Gray looked like any of the other women attending a lunch in honor of the leader of their church. Of course, Rev. Gray is the moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), who was visiting Shreveport Monday. Ladies serving lunch at the event kept apologizing for not recognizing her, but she wouldn't hear of it. Gray impressed everyone there with her rare balance of honesty about the tough issues confronting Presbyterians and her compassion and sense of the spiritual.
While the moderator has no power to make policy, she is the face of the church and tries to interpret the decisions made at the General Assembly meeting. Here are some snippets of what she said that I was not able to fit in the paper today:
"I've been going around the church for the last seven months basically talking to unhappy people, and I have to say its a joy to come to Shreveport. I have spent the morning at Evergreen and Providence House and at the Youth Justice ministry at First Presbyterian and I'm so encouraged about the good things going on. It's wonderful."
On tough questions:
"I don't have all the answers."
On homosexuality and gay/lesbian clergy:
"It's Biblical interpretation, and as I've listened to people on both sides of this issue and in the middle, what I hear are different ways of interpreting the Bible and different ways of interpreting the Bible around the question of what is sin and what is not sin. To me, that's the crux of the matter.... Trying to figure out what the bible says about sexuality in general and how you interpret that is a big question."
On moving forward from those controversies:
"We all wish it were over, and that we wish we could get on with the business of the church... God is in charge and I belief that God is working in all things somehow, seriously beyond what I can understand to bring God's kingdom into the world. That's what keeps me going."
"We have got to figure out how to live together and be church together in the midst of our differences.... My hunch is that God is trying to teach us something in the midst of this wrangling. My suspicion is God is saying to us you've reached an impasse and you can't fix it really, why don't you call out to me. I might could do something for you."
On churches leaving the denomination:
"It grieves me that we have folks that feel like they can't be part of this body anymore.... It offends my notion of what it means to be the body of Christ.... Presbyterians have always believed that when we say Body of Christ we mean that literally and to depart from the Body of Christ or from our part of it would be like trying to depart your thumb from your hand."
On church growth and ministry:
"We're much more comfortable as Presbyterians walking by sight instead of by faith. We're much more comfortable living and planning around the money we have in the bank... That is - as we would say in North Georgia - backasswards. We need to be asking what is God calling us to do in this community and in this church in the coming year? And then trust that God will provide."
"It's so easy to get in to the heresy of thinking we are doing church for the people who are already members. If that's our attitude, we are running a social club. Jesus Christ said go ye into all the world and make disciples. The church exists for the sake of people who are not yet members."
I know this is a long post, but a lot of what she had to say (especially the last part) is something congregations of any faith could take to heart.