Synod Blog – July 4, 2017
Submitted by Rev. Jacob Kanake
Make Glad the City of God: Be Still Know I am God (Ps 46)
This is the last update of the 31st United Church of Christ General Synod that met in Baltimore, Maryland from June 29 to July 4, 2017. The conference was attended by 2,751 delegates representing various church bodies: the youth, diversity, gender, race, laity, clergy and ecumenical/associations. The synod gathering began each day with worship and shout-out session followed by the plenary to discuss business and vote on the resolutions. During the shout-out session, Hawaii Conference delegates presented a ritual that was deeply inspirational and spiritual: they ritually decommissioned their retiring Conference Minister and welcome a new Conference Minister in front of the delegates.
On 4th July 2017, the synod delegates recognized the American Independence Day. During that time one speaker reminded me and the delegates “A call for civil disobedience is not a sin” because that is how American freedom was achieved. And he added that, when the freedom is born; it must be sustained.
The plenary discussed the resolutions on gun violence; the care of the disabled people, and just economy for all. I heard various speakers speaking of their experiences on gun violence especially in Chicago. And echoing the spirit of the debate the moderator also reminded the delegates that gun violence is real threat to public life. He said, “from when we started this meeting 7 people between 13 and 30 years have died in Chicago due to gun violence”. Also, the young people encouraged adults in the United Church of Christ to nurture relationships with youth who are “at the corner, those who do not go to church” and teach them best use of guns. The young people’s call touched my spiritual core and I kept wondering whether the adults forgot their God given mission of bringing up well-disciplined children! Can adults engage the young people and teach them? The youth are aware they cannot help other youth due to peer pressure that stand on their way to help their peers. If I did not get help from the older people, I would not be who I am today. I understand what the young people in the church are asking; they hope “people of wisdom can help them to deal with the gun violence”. Gun violence resolution passed with 98% of the vote.
And the resolution on disability was passed with overwhelming votes and the resolution on the caring for adult survivors of children abuse was voted 98%. I was lucky to be in the committee on adult survivors of children abuse, this committee was deeply engaged with sense of urgency to see the survivors’ spiritual needs were addressed. I am blessed to have been part of Synod. The delegation from the Minnesota Conference was involved in most of these resolutions. These resolutions respond to Jesus’ mission for which He died. He came so everyone can enjoy life in its fullness (John 10:10).
Reflections were given at the end of every plenary session by the two theologians; their reflections uplifted my spirit. The 4th reflection reminded me and the delegates to pray for every resolution coming for vote. The believer’s prayers may direct them to God’s intent for each resolution. The delegates were often reminded that their decisions change lives and make people one through God’s spirit “spirit of the living GOD Fall afresh on us”.
To sum it up, Minnesota delegates remained engaged sharing their faith with other delegates on the plenary floor, in committees, and in our Conference gatherings. We went in to General Synod to learn, debate, and share our faith with others. On a personal level, I visited with some of our delegates and people of other Conferences. I was fortunate to be part of this vibrant team. It was a privilege of a lifetime.
Blessings to you readers,
Rev. Jacob Kanake
Synod Blog – July 3, 2017
Submitted by Janet L. White
There is a river, there is a river, there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.
This is day four of the UCC General Synod in Baltimore, Maryland. This is my first time attending Synod and it has been wonderful, uplifting, informative, and just plain great. Being in the company and communion with the people of God is truly amazing. The energy that radiates from each of God’s creations is contagious.
I have learned a lot about the organizational structure of the church from the inside; I have met people from California, Nebraska, Texas, Georgia, and many other states and regions and even from areas within Minnesota I’ve only heard about. And guess what, we are all working with the same heart, love, spirit of unity – the same togetherness, working for justice and equality in an ever changing world for all people. We are a United Church.
From the time I arrived at Synod, people were buzzing about the nomination of Rev. Traci Blackmon to the board of Justice and Witness Ministries. When she was introduced, and I had the honor of hearing her speak, I understood the excitement that surrounded this woman of God and her being part of the leading body of the United Church of Christ. In her message she challenged us to not only be good supporting spectators of others, but we need to be about the work of becoming participants in our journey of building a just world. On Saturday evening I was especially honored to witness the nomination and whole body acceptance of Rev. Traci Blackmon as Executive Minister for Justice Witness Ministries – unanimously. Amen!
Day four began with a 6:30 a.m. caucus call (Uggggggh). Our Conference Minister, Shari Prestemon, greeted Kathy and me with her usual cheery smile and warm words “Was it harder to get up this morning”? After a third cup of coffee, and light breakfast food, the blended Conference groups engaged in a small, clarifying discussion on some resolutions that had passed, were waiting to come to the floor or wanted answers on why a procedure went as it did. We appreciate the persons who came to help with our understanding of these matters. These individuals sat on those particular committee and were able to put our minds at ease.
At 8:30 a.m. we gathered for Plenary #4 to continued listening to and voting on resolutions and being spiritually uplifted. When the speakers were called forward to introduce their resolutions, I was reminded of the saying that ‘all shall become one’ (John 17). This is the journey we all embarked on when each of the Minnesota delegates accepted the call to become a delegate for the 31st UCC General Synod. This call and its purpose became evident as discussions ensued, amendments were made to some resolutions and ratified, and others were not. In the midst of it all we sought to find common ground with understanding where ‘all shall become one’ (John 17).
During our lunch break I had opportunity to participate in the Right of Immigrants Walk. This demonstration was in support of the resolution that passed supporting this cause. Now it’s time to decide whether to go back to the room and rest for 30 minutes, or stay in fellow/sister-ship with others. I stayed — you get the feeling of missing something if you leave. Yes, the experience is well worth the long days, but the experience, the knowledge, and the feeling that we are standing strong and getting stronger is well worth every minute.
– Janet L. White
Synod Blog – July 2, 2017
Submitted by Rev. Beth Donaldson
Here are some of the words that have caught my attention thus far (in a sea of rich experiences that have repeatedly spoken to my heart, mind, and spirit!):
- “Because they are, we are.” – Ubuntu
- “Does our faith HOLD truth?” – Rev. Taci Blackmon
- “Balconies (places where people have been marginalized and ostracized) have no place in our churches.” – Traci and “It will take a different set of tools to dismantle them than the ones used to build them.” – Audre Lourde
- “I believe justice is possible because I believe Jesus is present.” – Traci Blackmon
- “Until the lion tells its own story, the hunter will always be thought the hero.” – African Proverb
- “Jesus is used to my anger and handles it well.” – Traci Blackmon
- “Heartbreak is not to be avoided – but is the greatest clue to our lives – toward our purpose and toward finding our tribe.” – Glenon Doyle
Rev. Beth Donaldson of UCC New Brighton speaks to the Synod body in support of resolution “On Becoming an Immigrant Welcoming Church”
These are just a few of the powerful expressions of our faith I have been able to capture. There are so many; too many to try to share here. But I share these few because they represent the great energy embodied in this gathering of our denomination. This is such a wonderful time of celebration and re-commitment; of inquiry and re-connection; and of sharing and renewal. For me as a person born into the UCC (quite literally – into a UCC Mission Community in Zimbabwe), and who has worked in the UCC my whole adult life, I was equally moved by the powerful recognition of the people who have served the UCC in a variety of capacities over the decades of my past, and the profound gratitude shared in recognizing the “water protectors” of Standing Rock — young people devoted to caring for creation and community into the future. It’s been a joy to reconnect with friends and colleagues from previous chapters of my life and work. I’ve been brought to tears, brought to my feet over and over, and, if I’m honest, even “brought to Jesus” a few times — confronted with the ways I may need to open my heart and have more compassion. But the over-arching experience of this time for me is a wonderful tension between a feeling of deep belonging and noticing how many new members of my UCC family there are to meet and know and share with. And though there seems to have been a great sea-change in the leadership and “faces up front,” I have been reassuredly comforted by the persistence of the ethos of who we are: a people committed to love and justice for all — no exceptions.
I thank you for allowing me this opportunity to attend General Synod as a delegate from Minnesota. I look forward to more opportunities to share my experiences and continue the connections.
Rev. Beth Donaldson
Synod Blog – July 1, 2017
Submitted by Rev. Désirée Hartson Gold
UCC General Synod 31 is in full swing and delegates from the Minnesota Conference are in the thick of it. Most of us descended upon the Baltimore Convention Center Friday afternoon. Our official Synod experience began with educational intensives to learn more about the resolutions assigned to us (we were randomly assigned to different committees, and no one from Minnesota is on the committee to which I was assigned). Then, all Synod attendees gathered for a rousing opening worship service led by the Rev. Traci Blackmon, who was one of the keynote speakers at our very own Minnesota Conference Annual Meeting in 2016. Rev. Blackmon declared that the Church must not only watch and listen; we must act.
Following worship, we had our first plenary session, then most of us went to committee meetings to discuss and wordsmith our assigned resolutions or bylaws changes. Based on descriptions given by several of our Minnesota delegates of their committee meetings, I think I got off easy. My committee finished by 9:00 p.m., after a healthy and not too contentious discussion. Several of the committees went late into the night and/or were unable to complete their work on Friday evening.
On Saturday morning, we arrived for a 6:30 a.m. Minnesota Conference caucus well rested and ready to start the day! Okay, maybe not, but coffee and tea were provided for those who needed it. During our caucus, we heard from an advocate for a resolution on medical aid in dying and were also visited by UCC General Minister and President, the Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer. We were joined by the Northern Plains Conference delegation, which I greatly enjoyed, since I grew up and was ordained in that conference.
After caucus, we rejoined the full Synod for a brief morning worship and our next plenary session. That plenary was chock full, but there were several highlights for me: (1) Rev. Starsky Wilson advocated for the nomination of Rev. Traci Blackmon as the new Justice and Witness Ministries Executive Minister; (2) Rev. Blackmon herself spoke again; and (3) A group of young Water Protectors from Standing Rock received the Movement Makers Award from Justice and Witness Ministries.
Saturday’s keynote speech was by New York Times Bestselling Author Glennon Doyle. In addition to speaking at length about her personal journey, she brought such quotes as “The biggest indicator we would have marched with MLK is whether we’re marching with Black Lives Matter now,” and “I would never be part of a church that would not welcome everybody else.”
After we heard Ms. Doyle speak, we listened to a report by John Dorhauer, resumed business, then adjourned for lunch.
My “official” day ended when I was one of four panelists at a workshop called “The Silence That Kills: Gender Violence and Bias in Our Church and Communities.” My colleagues and I presented material from the Lenten study we cowrote this spring called “With Hagar: A Study of Gender and Scripture.” During this time, other members of our delegation attended workshops led by the likes of the Rev. William Barber II or Bishop Yvette Flunder.
Of course, General Synod is not all scheduled meetings and business. Like the Minnesota Conference annual meeting (only on a larger scale), General Synod is a family reunion for UCC folk. We see people we haven’t seen in years; we meet new friends; and yes, we hang out with members of our delegation. We enjoy fleeting “hellos,” like the one I shared with former Minnesota Conference ACM, the Rev. Elena Larssen, her husband, the Rev. Mark Pettis (former pastor in Moorhead), and their young son. Or we enjoy sharing longer conversations over meal, or while taking in one of Baltimore’s many tourist attractions, with friends old or new.
I think I’m safe in summing up the experience your Minnesota delegation has had so far this way: We’re tired; we’re exhilarated; we’re learning a lot; and we are doing the best we can to represent the Minnesota Conference at General Synod 31!
– Rev. Désirée Hartson Gold