One of the gifts of General Assembly – the biennial gathering of the Presbyterian Church (USA) – is that it is a bit of giant family reunion. As someone who has lived and served in multiple areas, it is a great chance to reconnect and catch up. This assembly, in St. Louis, was extra fun for me because I got to introduce my daughter, who was a Young Adult Advisory Delegate (YAAD), to people she had only heard about but never met.
Our first day, we ran into Peg True. Peg threw up her hands and beamed a warm smile, a combination of gestures I have seen through the years of knowing Peg. They are characteristic of her open-heartedness and welcome. I introduced Peg and Rosina and we chatted about life and church. Peg was so interested to hear about what Rosina does apart from being a YAAD . Then she talked enthusiastically about the high school graduation she had just attended for one of her many and beloved grandnephews or grandnieces.
As Rosina and I walked away, I told her about the amazing legacy the Peg has in the Presbyterian Church. She was one of the first women to be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. She had felt called as a young person, yet she was only ordained after many years of waiting and service because there was so little encouragement for women in the ministry for so long. Peg was an educator and deeply committed to causes of social justice. She greeted everyone with the same enthusiasm she had greeted us but carried within her great wisdom and discernment about the ways of the kingdom of God and would speak out against injuries to the children of God.
Later that evening, Peg – along with many of us – attended the welcome reception hosting by the Committee on Local Arrangements. Leaving the event, Peg fell and struck her head. The next day, she died without regaining consciousness.
While Peg lingered in the liminal place between life and death and her family hurried from Virginia to be with her, the Assembly prayed for her. When the announcement was made of her death, we prayed for peace and gave thanks for her life and we stood – more than 1,000 of us – and sang “Guide me, o thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land.”
I am – with a host of other people – saddened by Peg’s death. I am so thankful to have hugged her body and touched her kind face so soon before she left this world. And – I hesitantly and humbly – give thanks that she died at the gathering of the family of faith that fostered her growth as a child of God and to whom she was devoted. I am grateful that we were able – with tears on our faces and a mighty voice – to sing her across the Jordan.
Peg believed. We believe, too, that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. We live by grace in this world, bringing the God’s kingdom to earth. We die, knowing that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God.
So, we sing with the saints in heaven and on earth:
When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside.
Death of death, and hell’s Destruction,
land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever sing to you,
I will ever sing to you.