Delegates raise their hands in blessing.
Photos by Eric Anderson
by Eric Anderson
MIDDLETOWN (10/24/2012) -- Over 350 Connecticut Conference clergy, authorized ministers, and lay leaders heard the challenges laid down by last Saturday's speakers at the Fall Session of the 2012 Annual Meeting at Middletown High School. Amidst the message of GO BIG (for Bold, Imaginative Goals), the delegates found themselves confronted once more with the shifting realities of faith life in the 21st century.
Keynote speaker the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, the United Church of Christ's executive for Local Church Ministries, looked squarely at the crisis imposed by the new cultural context of American Christianity, and raised up its promise as well. "Young people today aren't 'just NOT interested' in church any more, as some claim," he told the assembly. "They aren't willing to play that 'offering charade' where we bless our monetary gifts under allusions that they're being shared 'at home and around the world to further the work of God's mission,' because they don't see that happening."
|The Rev. J. Bennett Guess|
|The Rev. Charles L. Wildman|
|The Rev. Alison Buttrick-Patton|
He urged church leaders to embrace the new emergent churches which want to be part of an inclusive fellowship, but more, to focus awareness on mission and service in contrast to members and worshipers. "Our UCC values of extravagant welcome, continuing testament and changed lives – they resonate profoundly with the trajectory of our nation, perhaps more than ever before."
"What if," he speculated, "in addition to our well-placed emphasis on starting and receiving new churches, and renewing old ones, we placed an even bigger emphasis on starting a movement... a movement toward the creation of, let's say, 10,000 new ministries in five years – and we would name them, count them, and track their impact. 10,000 new UCC ministries."
Some of these would be small, single-person endeavors like the tithe he and his partner Jim make to their church's food pantry. Others might be far larger. But it is vital to track the impact of all that good work and service. Change the focus, he urged, from a mission which is relational, to a mission that is purposeful.
Interim Conference Minister the Rev. Charles L. Wildman raised similar themes in his address. He described and encouraged continued commitment to such projects as the end of the death penalty (signed into law by Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy last spring), environmental ministries, and Sacred Conversations on Race. Quoting his friend and colleague, Bishop Ian Douglas of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, he commended the question, "What kind of church does God need?"
"What would it mean to abandon the usual question of what kind of church or conference serves our needs?" he asked. "We would bow before our Still Speaking God and seek God's desires for what we are to be as Christ's Church and Conference. Now that's going big -- that's embracing God's plan in a bold way!"
Inspired by the day's Biblical text, Revelation 21:1-8, Conference Preacher the Rev. Alison J. Buttrick-Patton offered up a vision. "It is all so very big, it looks like everything is dying," she said to God in the dream she described. "But I don't want my church to die! I am afraid; I am small; what can I do?"
"'It's time to think big,' said the Voice [of God]," she quoted "'It's time to stretch those wings, to exercise big hearts, big arms, big guts. It's time to shine a big light, to leaven a big loaf... But don't be afraid and do not hold back, because out of every first death, out of every second death, I will always, always summon new life.'"
The Rev. Eric S. Anderson is Minister of Communications and Technology for the Connecticut Conference UCC.
|Photos from Annual Meeting 2012|