Hunger and Thirst: Convention 2021 Whets Appetite for More
By Carl Stagner
Comfort is not the church’s mission; the advancement of the kingdom of God is its mission, and the kingdom of God is not comfortable. Sentiment shared by Erin Taylor at the opening of the first General Assembly session this year set the stage for the Spirit’s work throughout Convention 2021. Participating in person and online for the first hybrid gathering of its kind, pastors and lay leaders were inspired and challenged to hunger and thirst for justice, for righteousness, for Jesus. And, though they feasted on a smorgasbord of Scripture-driven sermons from a diverse array of anointed speakers over the four-day event, few left Denver, Colorado, satiated. With appetites whetted for even more, the close of Convention 2021 and General Assembly on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, signaled not the end of a temporary mountaintop experience, but the start of a lasting paradigm.
Church of God Convention 2021 and General Assembly didn’t officially commence until Saturday, June 26, but familiar faces in the lobby of the Sheraton Denver Downtown elicited smiles, handshakes, and hugs even several days earlier. Some descended upon Denver up to a week before the first session for that quintessential trek up the iconic Pikes Peak; others checked in a day or two early for ministerial meetings and training seminars. Once the convention began, many couldn’t help but notice the unique start times for morning and evening worship services, as well as General Assembly sessions. The schedule was intentional—instead of 7:00 PM for the main evening session, for instance, the service was backed up to 6:00 PM locally in consideration of virtual attendees across multiple time zones in the United States and Canada. Additionally, and in spite of the expected, inconvenient times around the world, international interest was high; reports indicate guests logged in for the live sessions even in the overnight hours.
As expounded upon by each Convention 2021 speaker, Jesus’ words and witness emphasize and exemplify both justice and righteousness. Citing present-day realities and ongoing societal struggles, they also communicated the tendency of the church in the West, especially, to overlook the cultural implications and applications of justice.
In accordance with Micah 6:8, Noel Castellanos insisted that, in order to “do justice,” we must “confront injustice.” But, in view of the prevalence of injustice, Geremy Dixon asked rhetorically why Jesus was the only one overturning the tables in the biblical narrative. His follow-up question: “Which metaphorical tables have you been called to turn over?”
Those who hadn’t yet felt the uncomfortableness of the Kingdom to that point did when Rick McKinley began to speak. “We don’t do justice because nothing in our life is going to change if we don’t,” Rick observed. “Our own comfort, security, and status have become our idols and cause us to ignore the suffering of our brothers and sisters.”
In response to such bold introspection and resulting conviction, Kimberly Majeski identified some vital initial steps. “We need the courage to stand on the side of justice,” she exclaimed. “We need the strength to stand with the suffering. We need to get out of the temple and into the dirt.”
Hosanna Wong not only dispelled and denounced the lies Satan spreads about who we are in Christ, but also made it clear that each of us can play a valuable role in justice, no matter how small it may seem. “I might not change the world,” she said, “but I can be the girl who opens the door for others.”
It won’t be easy, of course, as Brian Johnson knows firsthand. But his message, which wrapped up Convention 2021 and General Assembly, brought it all back to Jesus. “We all want the crown, but we don’t want the cross,” he explained. “People are going to say all kinds of things. They said Jesus was full of the devil. They’re going to have a lot of harsh words for you, too.” Brian’s message encouraged us to keep moving, to keep pursuing justice, always remembering that “Jesus Christ is our only hope in glory!”
Between each message, the Spirit moved powerfully in moments of inspirational worship music led by Michael Romero of New Beginnings Church of God in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the Highland Park Community Church (Casper, Wyoming) worship team, led by James Hume. The commissioning of Global Strategy missionaries each evening augmented these moments. But the Spirit not only orchestrated divine moments of awakening in the main worship sessions; he also moved in mighty ways during the General Assembly meetings.
Motion One passed with 90-percent affirmation, a resolution written to “establish a Justice and Equity Task Force, to discover the composition, beliefs, and practice of Church of God agencies and congregations with regard to racial justice and the equality of men and women across the Movement in the United States and Canada and to ascertain the impact of such composition, beliefs, and practice on the global mission of the Church of God.” The motion further directed the Committee on Credentials to ensure candidates for ordination in the Church of God thoroughly explore issues of diversity, including the equality of women and men.
In addition to the budget passing overwhelmingly, voting in person and online identified a list of names selected for a variety of leadership roles for conducting the business of the General Assembly. Especially notable among those selected were the state pastor of Ohio Ministries, Esther Cottrell, as successor to Bishop Timothy Clarke as General Assembly chair; and Efrain Cirilo, pastor of Wake Church in Conroe, Texas, voted in to succeed Eric Livingston as vice chair. These positions were not filled without the celebration of the outgoing leaders—the General Assembly carved out time to honor both Clarke and Livingston for their outstanding service to the Church of God.
In addition to a moving tribute to the many ministers recently gone home to be with the Lord, the profoundly influential life of Diana Swoope, former chair of the General Assembly, was also honored with a special time of prayer and reflection. To God be the glory for Swoope and these heroes of the faith, and to God be the glory for the nearly 250 ministers newly ordained who were celebrated with prayer and applause. What better way to honor the lives who have gone before us, and steward the resources both living and material that God has given us anew, than to live out the pursuit of justice, righteousness, and Jesus?
After all, people are noticing how the Church of God responds to the critical issues of today. Toward the end of Convention 2021, the staff of the Sheraton Denver Downtown informed Jim Lyon and Church of God Ministries that their experience hosting the Church of God had been the best in recent memory; we would be welcomed back with open arms! Later in the service, Jim Lyon reported that a staff member of the hotel had also inquired when and where the next gathering of the Church of God would be—the staff member went on to express interest in joining us there! While the locations of upcoming Church of God Conventions have yet to be determined, this sentiment certainly underscores the power of our witness when we come together.
Throughout Convention 2021 and General Assembly, numerous restaurants and eateries along the 16th Street Mall just outside the Sheraton Denver Downtown attracted our attention and patronage. But the lessons of spiritual hunger and thirst are what the Church of God will remember and apply for years to come. The words of Erin Taylor during her opening General Assembly devotion resonate: “Let’s ask God to set our imaginations ablaze. Let’s not settle for ‘comfort food,’ but go for the joy and discomfort of the kingdom!”
Click the following links for more detailed daily recaps and reviews of Convention 2021 and General Assembly: Saturday; Sunday; Monday; Tuesday. Learn more about Convention 2021 and General Assembly at www.chogconvention.org.