Life Together: Confession & Forgiveness
A couple of weeks ago I was sharing an order of service from the UCC Book of Worship with one of our congregations. It was the litany for a time of farewell in a congregation, a scripted dialogue between a pastor who is departing and the congregation seeing them go. It is a conversation of mutual thanksgiving, boundary-setting, and encouragement.
But it is also very much a poignant ritual of confession and gracious forgiveness…
Pastor: I thank [the congregation]…for the love, kindness, and support shown me these last years. I ask forgiveness for the mistakes I have made. I am grateful for the ways my leadership has been accepted…I carry with me all that I have learned here.
People: We receive your thankfulness, offer forgiveness, and accept that you now leave to minister elsewhere. We express our gratitude for your time among us. We ask your forgiveness for our mistakes. Your influence on our faith and faithfulness will not leave us at your departure.
Pastor: I forgive you and accept your gratitude, trusting that our time together and our parting are pleasing to God.
(From the UCC Book of Worship: Times of Passage, Farewell)
It seems to me that such a spirit of mutual confession and forgiveness should be present in all our ministry together, not just in moments of farewell. Whether we consider the internal life of a congregation, the relationship between pastor and people, or the relationship between churches, leaders, and the Conference, our ministries and encounters inevitably bring moments of disagreement, brokenness, and hurt. No matter how hard we may labor to nurture relationships and seek understanding, we occasionally fall short.
Repentance, confession, and the abundant gift of forgiveness reside at the heart of our Lenten journey. They are disciplines of our Christian faith, however, that should be practiced in every season of our life together. I hope they are part of your congregational life, not just as a moment in your order of worship, but as a way of life together. And I hope this same spirit of mutual confession and forgiveness characterizes our relationships together in the Conference.
In the life of the Church we will not always speak or act exactly as the other needs or desires. We will occasionally disappoint one another or see things differently. We are a magnificent and gifted Body of Christ….and we are also extraordinarily human and imperfect. But even when we somehow fail one another, we remain brothers and sisters in Christ, family in the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ. Let us be generous with mercy and abundant with gratitude. And may our ministry and our life together be always pleasing to God.
With gratitude for you and your ministries among us,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister