Utter chaos

Five years. The vagaries of time make it feel like yesterday and like a lifetime ago, all in the same moment.

Ruling Elder Cynthia Bolbach, moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) died on 12-12-12 in the afternoon. This post was written on that day at a time before I knew of her death. Thanks be to God for her life! Alleluia. Amen.

Here are reflections from friends and colleagues on her life and death.

I did something today I have never done before.

I stood in silence for five minutes.

I am not big on pomp and circumstance and formality. A South African friend once observed that I can be a bit “cheeky” to those in authority. For some reason everyone who has heard that assessment has agreed with it. Go figure.

I stood in silence today for five minutes in honor of Cindy Bolbach.

The tradition in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is to stand when the General Assembly moderator of enters the room. Almost every moderator in my memory has encouraged people not to do so. Most of the time most of them meant it. Yet the tradition persists – in honor of the person and even more so in respect of the office. And while it is not my favorite thing, I take part.

Today, without being asked, without being prompted, I chose to stand in silence for five minutes in honor of Cindy Bolbach – moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010).

I watched her election from the back of the auditorium in Minneapolis. My son Sean and I leaned against the wall.

A period of questions and answers precedes the voting. Commissioners (the folks with the votes) pose questions and the individuals standing (we’re Presbyterian, we don’t run) respond. The questions deal with theology, issues before the church, and issues in the world.

At one point, a question was posed along the lines of: “What would happen to the church, if you were not elected and one of the other candidates were?”

One by one the candidates offered replies praising the others and noting that the church did not depend on their election. Then Cindy Bolbach stepped to the mike. I do not remember her exact words, but the essence was:

There will be utter chaos.

The Assembly erupted in laughter. Sean turned to me and said, “She just won, didn’t she?”

The Assembly still had to vote. But Cindy did win. And I believe her sparkling humor that bristles with wisdom played a key role.

I stood in silence today for five minutes in honor of Cindy Bolbach.

Cindy is a woman of incredible faith, deep love, amazing grace, and an incredible wit. She lives daily her commitment to Christ, to the Church, to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) , to all people, and to God’s world. She mixes simplicity and profound sincerity with a capability to navigate complexity and controversy. I am privileged to know her. The Church (in all its manifestations) is blessed by her presence.

For most of this year, Cindy has struggled against cancer. The struggle cut short her ability to attend events but it never dampened her spirits (at least in public). She wore a fedora to the 220th General Assembly (2012) and she wore it well.

This morning came the news that Cindy has entered hospice care. And I stood for five minutes in her honor.

But in the silence it came to me that another way – a better way – to honor Cindy Bolbach – is to give thanks to God for Cindy – to entrust Cindy to God’s merciful care – to pray for her without ceasing – then to get back about the business of ministry. I am pretty sure that is what she would want. So it is what I have done.

When Cindy returns to the dust, as we all will someday do, I will shed more tears. But I will also proclaim “Alleluia.”

When Cindy returns to the dust, as we all will someday do, there will be utter chaos. But in the chaos there will be love and there will be grace and there will be God. And all will be well for Cindy. And all will be well for us. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.

See you along the Trail.


Filed under Current Events, Family, Friends, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

28 responses to “Utter chaos

  1. Martha Brown

    Beautiful, Mark.


  2. Thank you, Mark. So much.

  3. mark w. wendorf

    well said Mark.

  4. Amen and also, I’m not okay with this news. Your words help articulate my slow anger.

  5. I remember the “chaos” moment well! It was, indeed, classic Cindy, as was the moment in that same process when she followed up a particularly long-winded response from a clergy person (all the other candidates for moderator that year were clergy) with something to the effect of, “hm, a preacher who can go on for a bit; who knew?” It brought down the house. I don’t recall if that came before or after the “chaos” answer, but it was the moment for me when I thought, “she’s won this.” Thanks for the reminder and for these lovely words about a person worthy of our standing up.

  6. Wow! Great Mark. I was there in the room and am thankful for your reminder of the “Utter chaos”. Thanks so much

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  9. amen and amen. Thank you Mark.

  10. Brian Merritt

    Thank you. It felt like a punch to the stomach today. I was blessed to be in the same Presbytery with this wise woman whom I respected deeply.

  11. John shults

    I don’t know any of the propels here and I am much the poorer for it. A moving testament to the power, love and wit of one person that should be sorely missed, by friends and strangers alike. God bless you all. Carry on her spirit.


  12. helpful and loving reflection, Thanks

  13. Reblogged this on Reflections of a Pastor Couple and commented:
    A great remembrance and reminder to honor those whom we love and whose love gives us a glimpse of God’s love.

  14. When she said that I knew she won. The next fayI. Was having coffee out in the commons area at GA and she walked into the area. I stood and began to applaud…others looked at me ?? I pointed to Cindy and most everyone stood as well, The day after that she was walking down the hall. I had on a long skirt and I curtsied low and said, “Good day, your Grace”. She burst into her great smile, “Arise my child”.
    To The Moderator…I stand, bow and say, “good day, your grace.”

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  16. Jo Ann Staebler

    Praying that God will use the deep energy of our collective grief to further the divine reconciling work that was Cindy’s personal mission. Thank you for this beautiful memorial.

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