Further Reflections on Synod

Further Reflections on Synod

In last week’s E-pistle, Michael offered some of his responses to the UCC’s 30th General Synod He also invited the other Old Firsters who attended to share their reflections. Here then are three folk’s thoughts:

Geneva B. —
First of all, for someone who has been to many Synods and worked for the wider United Church of Christ, General Synod is a family reunion. I met so many people I have known over the years. It is an opportunity to catch up and even explore deeper conversations.

I had a fabulous discussion about the Eucharist over lunch (what a better place to talk about the Holy Meal) with Michael and Rev. Sid Fowler, pastor of First Congregational UCC in Washington, DC. We reviewed the Mercersburg and Ursinus movements within the United Church of Christ, as well as the Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry document published as a result of conversations between many Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church. Imagine, we had the luxury of time to converse about our liturgical history and its implications for present-day ministry.

But basically, I think Synod is about three things:

1. EDUCATION: I attended an educational intensive on the environment, as well as a workshop on mental health issues within church and society. Later, on the floor of Synod, there was a resolution on “Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness.” Because this resolution passed, the UCC will develop resource materials and training to help local churches with this issue.

2. CELEBRATION: We celebrated the retirement of Rev. Geoffrey Black, General Minister and President of the UCC, Rev. Linda Jaramillo, Executive Minister for Justice and Witness Ministries, and Mr. Michael Downs, CEO and President of the Pension Boards of the United Church of Christ. We also elected a new General Minister and President, Rev. John Dorhauer, Conference Minister of the Southwest Conference of the UCC.

3. WORSHIP: Always good! Rev. Dwayne Royster, Pastor of Living Water UCC and Executive Director of POWER, made us all proud with his dynamic sermon on Sunday afternoon when we were joined by 1,000 members of the UCC congregations in the Cleveland area. With about 3,000 delegates, staff, Board, and visitors, we were a congregation of 4,000 people on that Sunday afternoon.

Oh, I almost forgot–there were also Governance issues with our own Beth Walker at the podium. Beth did an excellent job of leading delegates through a conversation on changes to the UCC Constitution and Bylaws which would have mandated changes in the executive leadership of the denomination. Though there was wonderful discussion on the floor of Synod about these leadership issues and a majority of the delegates voted for the motion, in the end there was not a 2/3 majority to make the motion official. Kudos to Beth for her courage in presenting the issue with clarity and competence.

So that’s it! We are now on to Baltimore for the 31st General Synod in 2017! Will you be there?

Gerry W. —
The first standout from the 30th General Synod that came to mind for me was the Celebratory Response on June 26th to the Marriage Equality Supreme Court decision — marriage is now a reality for all people in all 50 states. Also there was our UCC celebration of reaching 1300 Open and Affirming (ONA) congregations in the UCC — local churches that promise equal access and affirmation to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Another standout was the presentation of the property deeds to the Lakota people of the Dakota Association– 20 parcels of land in South Dakota and Nebraska that the church has been holding in trust. Now at least the properties on which their churches sit belong back to the native peoples themselves. This was the realization of Michael’s friend, the Rev. Dr. David Felton’s work as their Interim Conference Minister in South Dakota.

And then there was the approval of an agreement to be in Full Communion with the United Church of Canada. That on top of our celebration that we have now been in Full Communion with the Christian Church / Disciples of Christ for 25 years.

Beth W. —
While I was distracted by the assignment of presenting amendments to the Constitution and By-Laws at General Synod, there were, I thought a couple of important Resolutions past that have an impact on my view of how we, at Old First, might frame issues and make decisions about both our building/space decisions and investment in Capital as well as our Outreach focus. They were in two areas: Care for People and Care for the Earth.

Care for People – two resolutions, one to address and dismantle the discriminatory mass incarceration system-discriminatory to people of color, immigrants, those with mental/mental health disabilities. The other to dismantle the New Jim Crow….which overlaps but is not exclusively limited to the mass incarceration system but also includes the school to prison pipeline, the discriminatory police practices, the lack of education and employment opportunities for people of color. The resolution is well written. Both resolutions involve direct service opportunities and a call to advocacy.

I commend the resolutions to members of Old First for consideration. We are already working on some of the recommended actions and our Saturday Breakfast and Shelter while focused on the “homeless” are actually places where we might be able to find other direct service work. I think the advocacy is best done with other congregations and POWER’S work on a full fair funding formula for schools is an example of that work. The one I feel particularly passionate about, given what I witnessed walking with Juan through the court process is creating a “Citizen Accountability” group that challenges the role of the DA’s office in prosecuting questionable cases….seeking to secure guilty pleas to lesser charges where they clearly can’t win the case to get people labeled as felon in order to stop the madness of being stuck in prison or in the system at all.

Care for the Earth-The commitment to advocate for a world that is fossil fuel free by 2040 and, in particular, to make that commitment as a church-from local church to national setting to be fossil free by 2040, is one which is an absolute requirement given the impact that climate change will have if we don’t take these steps. I am not sure, honestly, if it will make a difference as we may have already reached the tipping point. But I have faith that the Almighty, All Loving, All Powerful Creator is there to help us when we take the steps to get there.

We talked about this briefly at our Admin SLG meeting on Monday night as we discussed the replacement of our boiler. We are even going to see if there is a non-fossil fuel alternative we can get, recognizing that we have a limited window of time to address this question and this may be the “next boiler” question, not this one.

But really, as we look ahead as a congregation….the next time we need a roof—to think of solar panels. What needs to be done to be more energy conserving throughout the building so that when we make the transition to non-fossil fuel energy, our energy demand will already be lessened.

One of the things I observed at Synod was people passionately standing up for this goal….seeing in them a clear sense that as well as thinking of our children’s children’s children, or even just grandchildren at this point, we cannot but do whatever it takes to reduce our consumption of energy and increase our focus on care for this earth.

These statements — of the unified voice of the UCC — are two of the profound reasons I continue to love being a part of this Body of Christ and so thankful that I get to be a part of it.

I encourage everyone to read these resolutions and the background materials and incorporate these commitments in our conversations about what we do, here at Old First, and how each of us acts as steward of our time, talents and treasures — all of which are gifts from a generous and loving God.