Becoming Who(se) We Are

Psalm 104:24-35Acts 2:1-21

Today is a special day in the life of OPC, as we get the chance to honor and celebrate the sixty years of work and witness that have brought us from 1949 until now. And it is fitting that we do so on this Day of Pentecost, when we remember the birth of the Church in ancient Jerusalem so long ago. I am particularly pleased to welcome my predecessors here in ministry, whom I am grateful to call my colleagues and honored to call my friends: Fitz, Rod, and Richard.

There are so many, in fact, too many, stories to share from the past sixty years. So each of us has one story from our time with you that, to us, says something in particular about this church; not only about who we are, but also about the God to whom our story ultimately belongs.

Of all the stories I could share, the one that says the most to me has to do with someone who was never even a member of OPC. I first met Anne Ouisley not long after I arrived here in 2005. She was a regular volunteer in our Food Pantry and Bargain Shop, and the more I got to know her, the more amazing her story became.

Anne was born in 1916 in the Dickensian-named Hard Labor Creek just outside of Rutledge, Georgia. An African-American woman, I learned that when she was a little girl growing up in Atlanta in the ear of segregation, she would sneak up to the front of the trolley car. Her light complexion and her ability to read at a time when literacy tended to fall along color lines meant that she could get away with it.

It became part of her DNA to break down barriers throughout the rest of her life. She was a long-time resident of Lynwood Park, and ended up being a member of two different churches there. And even though she never joined OPC, her involvement was such that she was honored as Presbyterian Woman of the Year. When she died last year, she was very clear that she wanted her service held here in our Sanctuary. I ended up sharing the Chancel, much like today, with a half dozen clergy representing at least as many churches. The gathered congregation was a powerful witness that, even in her death, Anne was still finding a way to break down barriers.

I tell this story because Anne’s life and witness say something to me about OPC. Not only did this congregation welcome Anne at a time when most white congregations would have closed their door to her, but it seems to me that this never struck this congregation as an unusual thing to do. It’s one thing to say “we” do ministry to “them” in a paternalistic sense, however “we” might define “them.” It’s another thing altogether to say that “we,” all of us, are in this ministry together. Honoring Anne as Presbyterian Woman of the Year was, to me, a sign of the unity that God ultimately desires for us all.

There is something about that ancient Pentecost Day that still echoes out into the ministry of OPC through the past sixty years and even until today. As the disciples gathered in that Upper Room, it wasn’t enough for them to stay put. The Spirit nudged them out the doors and onto the street. And once there, that same Spirit engaged in the most fantastic barrier-breaking episode of all times: there, on the streets of Jerusalem, folks from every corner of the known world were gathered, all able to understand one another. And it was from there that the gospel spread, a gift of grace to which we are recipients today. We don’t stay in this sanctuary forever; nor do we claim that this place is the extent of ministry or holiness in our lives. We, too, are nudged out into the world in response to the Spirit we have received. We encounter a world that is very much in need of the good news of God’s reconciling love in Christ. And we hold this gift lightly, recognizing that all of us are equal in God’s eyes.

Friends, all these stories are just a glimpse of the shared life and witness of OPC through the years. It is my hope that, knit together, they can continue to give us a sense of both who we are and whose we are. And doing that, we might just live into this paradox of becoming more fully what it is that we already are.