Thursday, July 9, 2015

Pastor's Report from General Synod 30

Report from General Synod 30

Cleveland, OH June 26-30, 2015

Dear Friends in Christ,

I have just returned from a wonderful week in Cleveland, OH attending the United Church of Christ's
General Synod 30 from June 26-30, 2015. The theme was "Unexpected Places." Together with more than 3,000 people, we reflected on where we have encountered God in unexpected places, as well as the unexpected places God is calling us, people of faith, to go.

General Synod is a national gathering of the church held every two years in a different city around the country. This year it was held in Cleveland, home to the national headquarters of the denomination. In addition to doing the business of the church by passing resolutions, there is also wonderful worship, workshops, and events. This was the sixth General Synod I have attended. In the past I have been a delegate or visitor. This time I went as a visitor and volunteer, ushering at worship on Friday, Sunday and Monday. Though I could not speak or vote on resolutions like delegates, I was able to attend all of the meetings and events and watch business unfold on the plenary floor. The full text of all resolutions passed at General Synod is available here: I am also thankful for Madeline Cook's blog about Synod The results of all of the resolution votes listed are her recounting as a General Synod delegate for the Champlain Association, Vermont Conference UCC. 

Before Synod officially started, I attended a daylong event on Thursday, June 25 with UCC clergy in their twenties and thirties. Bishop Yvette Flunder of City of Refuge UCC in San Francisco led us in worship. It was great way to start off Synod experience by reuniting with friends who are serving churches around the country. I purchased a new hot pink T-shirt from the group that says, “This is what Clergy look like.” I wore it proudly the next day.
UCC 20/30 Clergy Network
On Thursday night, I attended “Is it Well?” a worship service in the Amistad Chapel at the UCC Church House with Rev. Tracey Blackmon of Christ the King UCC in Ferguson, MO preaching. 
The chapel overflowed with people as Rev. Blackmon shared her story of ministering in Ferguson. She challenged us to look around and acknowledge that all is not well for our black sisters and brothers. She lamented the black lives lost, both in her community and in Charleston, SC at Mother Emanuel AME church. Though all is not well, Blackmon said that “it is well” because we are together as the body of Christ, and that even though all is not well in our world, God is with us and God is calling us to work for a world where it is well for all. Following her sermon, we anointed each other with oil. The UCC National Staff led us in sharing communion. The UCC’s GLBTQ Coalition Choir offered music including a great rendition of “Spirit of the Living God.”

Cleveland City Hall Marriage Equality Rally
Synod officially began on Friday. On Friday at noon I joined several UCCers at a rally on the steps of Cleveland City Hall celebrating the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality. Later that afternoon, UCC clergy set up a tent and offered their services as marriage officiants at the park across the street from the Convention Center. That evening, Rev. Molly Baskette, author of “Real Good Church” preached during worship. Baskette pastors the UCC church in Somerfield, MA. She told the story of her church going through a building renovation. The stage in the fellowship hall blocked the windows and created a dim space for coffee hour. It no longer fit the needs of the current congregation, except for a space for kids to run around during coffee hour. When they began construction they discovered a stage, under a smaller stage, under an even smaller stage.

Baskette’s congregation found the layers built on layers of a building that no longer served their needs as a congregation. But when they opened this space up, the new windows allowed people to look out onto the street, and look in. They let more of God’s light in and created a worship and fellowship space that would meet the needs of their current congregation. Looking around our parlor and the opaque glass, I wonder if there might be a lesson here for us at RCC about letting in more of God’s light! Baskette ended her sermon with a challenge to “be brave” and to not be tied to the way we have always been, or the way we always done church. Baskette shared her congregations love to dance, and we ended worship by dancing to Sara Bareilles’ song “Brave.”

Saturday morning, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Connie Schultz addressed the Synod and joined with the UCC in celebrating Marriage Equality. Schulz’s husband, Sen. Sharon Brown, was in the audience and she cited his important work on consistently advocating for GLBTQ brothers and sisters.
Saturday afternoon I planned to attend Cleveland Pride Parade with other UCCers. Unfortunately the parade was cancelled due to torrential rain. In lieu of the parade, I took a much needed afternoon nap.


Neal & Carolyn Sadler, Nathan's parents
On Sunday morning Synod delegates attended committee meetings for the resolutions. Each delegate is randomly assigned to a committee, and the committees deliberate on the resolution or group of resolutions, make any changes or amendments and report back their recommendations to General Synod. As I did not have any responsibilities, I attended worship at First Congregational Church UCC in Medina, OH where Nathan’s dad, Neal Sadler is the Senior Minister. In the afternoon, Nathan’s parents joined me for the Synod’s community wide worship service. 

Preaching about passing the mantle of leadership from Elijah to Elisha, Bishop Dwayne Royster, a pastor and community organizer in Philadelphia, titled his sermon “Change the Damn World.”  To pick up Elijah’s mantle and go forward as a relevant church, Royster exhorted the crowd to do four things:
1.       Consecration: “We need to strip away all those things that keep dragging us back into the world so we can hear the voice of the still-speaking God.”
2.      Worship: “We need to worship where we are allowed to have a holy imagination of a better world, a changed world.”
3.       Miracles: “We need to go to a place where we believe God still does miracles. That takes prayer and passion like Bree Ann Newsome, who climbed up the Statehouse in South Carolina and took down the Confederate flag. She said, ‘I’m taking down this flag in the name of God.’ And she did.”
4.      Resurrection: “Only when we are willing to risk death can we find life. Do you believe that God is really God? We can’t do the will of God until we are willing to risk it all to transform the world.” (To quote from the UCC news story -
Royster said that the General Minister and President-elect of the UCC, Rev. John C. Dorhouer, will, like Elisha, need a double-portion of God’s spirit to do the work that needs to be done. Following Royster’s sermon, Rev. Geoffrey Black( retiring General Minister and President),
Rev. Geoffrey Black
Rev. Linda Jaramillo (retiring Executive Minister for Justice and Witness Ministries), Rev. James Moos (Executive Minister for Global Church Ministries), and Rev. J. Bennett Guess (Executive Minister for Local Church Ministries) led us in communion. I was one of 60 volunteers who helped serve communion to the worshippers.
On Sunday night a hearing on proposed changes to the UCC by-laws and governance structure was so crowded that they had to relocate to a larger room. While I did not attend, my colleagues reported that the debate was heated as people expressed their frustration with a proposed governance structure which would eliminate the UCC’s shared leadership model of the Collegium and strengthen the office of the General Minister and President. With Geoffrey Black and Linda Jaramillo’s retirement, many people also felt that they would no longer have their perspective represented as a racial minority or as a female in the UCC’s national leadership.

Exhibit Hall at General Synod

On Monday morning, I joined the Vermont Conference’s delegates for breakfast at 6:30 AM, where delegates reported about the resolutions and committees they had been assigned to. During the morning plenary, Walter Rauschenbush of the Huffington Post addressed Synod with the topic, “The struggle for the soul of the church.” In addition to improving our presence on college campuses, where the voice of progressive Christianity often goes unheard, he urged the church to develop our online presence and invited everyone to join twitter. His basic point was that we need to use 21st century methods to communicate. Rauschenbusch said that there are places and people in the world who desperately need to hear God’s loving word from progressive Christians. Citing his own experience as a recovering addict and a gay man, Rauschenbush found welcome at Judson Memorial Church, a UCC/ABC church in New York city.
Following Rauschenbush’s speech the Synod took up several resolutions during Monday’s morning and afternoon plenary session including:
·         Resolution on Full Communion Relationship Between the United Church of Christ and the United Church of Canada: Unanimous YES.
·         Commemorating 100 Years Since the Armenian Genocide: Unanimous YES.
·         Resolution Urging Socially Responsible Investment Practices: YES. 
·         Resolution to Change to Racially Demeaning Name, Mascot, and Imagery of the Washington National Football League: YES.
·         Resolution Marking the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Just Peace Pronouncement by Recommitting Ourselves to be a Just Peace Church: Unanimous YES. 
·         Developing Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged Congregations for Mental Health: YES (almost unanimous). 
·         Re-election of Rev. James Moos (Executive Minister of OCWM): YES.
·         Urging Socially Responsible Investment Practices: YES.
·         Peace and Reconciliation in the Korean Peninsula: YES. 
·         Resolution to Lament shooting in Charleston, SC:  YES.
o   The resolution reads: "Our hearts are broken and our resolve is strong." We will stand in witness to the faith, courage of all affected, and pray as the psalmist does that ‘Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise’ (Psalm 60:18). We will stand, we will rise and we will act."
·         Dismantling Systems of Mass Incarceration: Unanimous YES.
·         Dismantling the New Jim Crow: Almost unanimous YES.
·         The Election of the New General Minister and President Rev. John C. Dorhauer: YES (Yes: 621 No:77 Abstain:33)
·         A Call for the United Church of Christ to Take Actions Toward a Just-Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: YES.

Seminary colleague Rev. Marilyn Kendrix, Associate Pastor at Church of Redeemer, New Haven, CT
During lunch on Monday, I attended a meal with other alumni from Yale Divinity School. While it was good to hear about updates around the seminary, the best part was reconnecting with one of my seminary colleagues who now speaks about Mass Incarceration and leads book discussions on Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow.” 
This conversation planted a seed. I hope that we can read this book as a congregation and perhaps invite Marilyn up to speak with us in Vermont.
After a long and tiring day, Monday night closed with a beautiful Vespers service accompanied by violin and piano. Rev. Mitri Raheb of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem preached about living in Bethlehem, which is now surrounded by 25 foot concrete walls. Raheb spoke of the challenges of Palestinians who must wait in line at check points to go in and out of the city on their way to work, to get medical attention, etc. Raheb urged us to work for peace in the Holy Land.


On Tuesday morning, the delegates took up debate on the approved by-law and constitutional changes of the United Church of Christ, which would move from a four person collegium model to one General Minister and President. The debate was heated, and many speakers took umbridge with the process and how there was not enough time to discuss the proposed changes on a local and conference wide level before making such a big decision. Supporters of the changes argued that for efficiency and budgetary reasons, the church needed to streamline. Ultimately the by-law changes were not approved by the delegates. This leaves the current collegial structure in place until the next General Synod in 2017. With Linda Jaramillo’s retirement, and no proposed candidate to fill her position as Executive Minister for Justice and Witness Ministries, the UCC Board will have to fill this spot.
On Tuesday, the delegates also took up the following resolutions:
·         Recommitting Ourselves to Full Equality for LGBT Persons: YES. 
·         Resolution to Support Legislation Regarding Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods on Food Packaging: NO.
·         Calling on the United Church of Christ to Recognize the Actions Against the Palestinians as Apartheid: NO. 
·         Responsible Stewardship of the Outer Space Environment: YES.
·         Transition from Fossil Fuels to Renewable Energy: YES. 

VT UCC Clergy Rev. Jared Hamilton, myself and Rev. Ryan Gackenheimer.
General Synod closed on Tuesday night with Rev. Sharon Watkins, leader of the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ preaching. The UCC and Disciples of Christ share our Global Ministries together and have been in partnership for the past 25 years. At the end of the service, outgoing UCC General Minister and President Geoffrey Black gave incoming General Minister and President John Dorhauer a new stole, a sign of passing on the mantle of leadership. It was a fitting end to such a full and challenging General Synod.

General Synod 31 will be held June 2017 in Baltimore, MD.
Sunset over Lake Champlain near the Crown Point Bridge

It was good to be away, but it was also good to come home. I drove back from Cleveland in one day, even though I took two days to drive out. After such a full week, I was ready to get back to my own bed. Reflecting on what has transpired in the past week, I can’t help but wonder about what work God is calling us to do in the most unexpected places. It is part of our polity, the way our church is governed, that decisions made at each level of the church speak to, but not for, the church. So it is up to us to discuss and decide if and how the resolutions passed by General Synod 30 will impact our life as a congregation and guide us in new ways of being the church.

The most relevant question that emerges for me after Synod is wondering how, as a person of faith, and as a white person, do I not only talk about racism, but also work for a more just society. This is no small task.
I also wonder -
·         How do we respond to the shooting in Charleston and the black churches that are burning in the South?
·         Will we look at our endowment funds and divest from corporations that profit from occupied Palestinian territories?
·         Will we renew our commitment to being Open and Affirming?
·         Will we seek to build a ministry for people struggling with mental illness?

Friends, what and how is God calling us to respond in this unexpected time and in this unexpected place?

May God be with us as we discern together.

With Peace,

Rev. Katelyn Macrae
Back in the office at Richmond Congregational Church

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