By Sue Washburn
As the PCUSA 223rd General Assembly (2018) kicks off, it’s a chance to connect with friends and colleagues in ministry as we gather as a denomination. GA is an opportunity to celebrate our unity as we pray, talk and debate about issues like gun control, immigration, Palestine/Israel and the polity. It’s a time of discernment as we trust the Spirit to show us how to best follow Christ in a rapidly changing world. It’s also an introvert’s nightmare.
GA is the connectional church at its best for some and worst for others. We come together from all over the world in one big group as we seek to follow Jesus Christ together. The GA junkies seemingly run off the planes and into the convention center in anticipation of the event. But an introvert like me walks hesitantly into the huge building full of people.
Looking around, there are so many conversations, so much small talk, and so much music and activity, it can be overwhelming. It’s like being at work AND a cocktail party. At the same time. For an entire week.
All of the meet and greets, back slaps, side hugs and squeals can send people like me scurrying back to our hotel rooms so the quiet hum of the air conditioner can soothe our frazzled psyche. But, GA need not be totally overwhelming. After attending several GAs, I’ve discovered it can be meaningful and spiritual even for us introverts. Here are some tips for introverts to make the most of GA:
Pace yourself. GA is loooong. A week of working, eating, mingling and sharing a room with colleagues and friends can even wear out extroverts. We introverts must take care not to expend all of our social energy in the first few days. Take a pass on the extracurricular activities early on when the social energy is the highest. Join the meals out and after-dinner activities at end of the week when all of the meeting and greeting is done and the conversations have mellowed.
Save up for the exhibit hall. Yes, you want to save your money because there are things to buy, but save your energy, too. The exhibit hall has great stuff for ministry and your own education, but it’s also social central as people go there in their free time. The loud buzz of conversations permeates the room.
Eat alone without feeling like a loser. Chances are you are in a hotel that serves food. Take time to have a meal by yourself to re-charge. I actually brought a mini-crockpot with oatmeal (I called ahead and knew my room didn’t have a microwave) so that I could have a contemplative breakfast.
Don’t be afraid to disappear. Obviously, commissioners have to show up for plenary and committee work, but the rest of the time, nobody really knows where you are. You don’t have to be in the hum of the activity. You can be out for a walk, hiding in a coffee shop away from the convention center or in your room reading about the topics for GA.
Use your old tricks. If you can’t escape the convention center go with what you know to find downtime. Many introverts know the tricks for avoiding conversations in public spaces. Look busy and intently at your phone, read a book or a stack of papers, put in ear buds, or find fellow introverts who will sit on a bench with you and NOT TALK.
Create a strategy that works for you. As social as it is, GA is an important time for our church. As commissioners, we need to be at our best. That means finding a rhythm that works for you. Remember, Jesus left the disciples and went off alone to pray. He still got the important work done. So can you.
Sue Washburn is a commissioner from the Presbytery of Redstone.