The church assembled: Why I love denominational gatherings

The next General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is scheduled for 2017 in Indianapolis. It might be the last of its kind. The church’s tradition has been to meet every other year, and the agenda always includes approving plans to schedule the gathering that’s four years out. But at this year’s GA in July, the assembly declined to approve any such plans. With declining attendance numbers and rising costs, many wonder if gathering at a convention center is still the best model.

I was six months old the first time I attended GA. I imagine my parents pushing me in a stroller through the convention center. I wonder if I made noise during the business sessions, if I fell asleep on my mother’s shoulder during the evening worship services. I’ve only missed a handful of GAs since then. My family went often when I was a kid, though we missed a few here and there. I skipped the two in college, which I regret—the concert held at Red Rocks when the assembly was in Denver lives on in Disciples lore, and I missed it. I don’t regret missing Fort Worth in 2007; my daughter was born two weeks later.

My memories of GA as a child are few and hazy. But I remember being on a bus for a field trip with the child-care program, sitting next to my parents during worship, and wandering around the exhibit hall collecting freebies from the various organizations’ displays. I remember watching my parents greet old friends they hadn’t seen in years—back when they didn’t have social media to fill in the gaps. Assemblies as a teenager meant running around with youth group friends, flirting with boys from other churches (or, more accurately, watching other girls flirt with the boys and wishing I knew how they did that), and playing icebreaker games in hotel conference rooms.