Charles L. Wildman,
Interim Conference Minister
Pastoral Letter Index
July 8, 2005
To: The Pastors and Moderators of the Conference
From: Rev. Dr. Davida Foy Crabtree, Conference Minister
Having just returned from the General Synod in Atlanta, I write with much on my mind and heart, with care and concern for you as you carry out your ministries, and with joyful anticipation of our welcoming the next General Synod to Connecticut June 22 to 26, 2007.
Our 51 delegates were faithful and active in their participation throughout the days together. Not everyone agreed on every issue, but a marvelous spirit of unity and care for one another prevailed, not only among us but the whole Synod. You will recall that about 80% of our delegates are elected by the associations, and the remainder by the Conference at large. This year, 11 of our 51 delegates were youth!
From beginning to end, this Synod was enveloped with some of the most profound and dynamic worship experiences of my life. The stage was set with a cross on a standard, and a Christ candle alongside a table that formed our worship center throughout our five days together. Our opening worship focused on our global ecumenical partners as each of them poured water they had brought from Japan, Colombia, Germany and so forth into a large glass font/fountain, reminding us of our common baptism in Jesus Christ. Later the font was moved to the entrance to the hall so that we constantly passed it and could bless ourselves with its waters.
I've written on our website (Click here for First Person from General Synod) about two other worship services, one on Sunday morning focused on an important work the Southeast Conference undertook in recent years with our financial assistance as the Connecticut Conference, documenting the history and ministry of the churches started by the American Missionary Association after the Civil War.
The Sunday evening communion service was perhaps the most powerfully moving service with perhaps the single best sermon I've ever heard in my life. It too is described on our website, although description can never carry its power! The preacher was Rev. Dr. Kenneth Samuel, Senior Minister of Victory for the World UCC in Stone Mountain, GA, a 6,000 member African American church new to the UCC about four years ago. What a gift he is! (I believe the text and video of his sermon and this service will be available soon from the national website. Check at http://news.ucc.org/)
Delegates and visitors alike were assigned to "small" community groups that later became subcommittees of the Synod, each to consider a particular resolution or set of them. They began with prayer and Bible Study, continued in building community through conversation with each other about some of the challenging concerns before this Synod, and then moved into deliberation about their particular responsibilities. I believe the prayerfulness and the shared Bible Study enabled far more civil engagement than might have otherwise have been the case.
Whether debating and amending or redrafting one of the more controversial resolutions or focused on Bylaws or other milder concerns, the delegates worked very hard at listening to diverse voices, maintaining civil dialogue, thinking theologically, and crafting documents that would have integrity.
By now, most of you know that the Synod voted overwhelmingly "In Support of Equal Marriage Rights for All." I encourage you to download the actual text of this and other resolutions from the www.ucc.org website as they become available. As is so often the case, news coverage is truncated and does not do justice to the full text. For instance, the committee working on this resolution inserted the following phrasing before the portion of the resolution encouraging dialogue in local churches: "In recognition that these resolutions may not reflect the views or current understanding of all bodies, and acknowledging the pain and struggle their passage will engender within the gathered church."
I wish to stress to you the importance of teaching among our churches about the polity of the United Church of Christ so that our members understand that part of the role of the Synod is teaching, and thus it always speaks to the churches, not for the churches. We have already had one instance of a person telling the press that the passage of this resolution means that every church will need to decide, and that any pastor not offering marriage services to gay and lesbian couples will be acting against the denomination. That is not who we are. The local church is the basic unit of the United Church of Christ; it is fully responsible for its own life and pastoral outreach and services. The respect for individual conscience is at the heart of our life together, as is our covenant to walk together in ministry and mission. The Constitution of the denomination asks that all of us take seriously the actions of the General Synod; it does not demand conformity!
After the vote was taken on the marriage equality matter, our General Minister and President, Rev. John Thomas went to a microphone on the plenary floor and offered the prayer below. A hushed and moved Synod responded with a deep silence as the sense of the Holy Spirit hovered over us.
"Lord Jesus, to you we live, to you we suffer, to you we die. Yours will we be in life and in death. Today, as in ancient Bethlehem, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in you. We give thanks for your presence during these days of prayer and discernment, and especially for your presence here this morning. We have felt your warm embrace, stilling us as we tremble with joy, with hope, with fear, with disappointment. Remind us that as we are tempted to run from each other, so too we run from you. We know that every choice confers a cost, so let us attend in the coming hours and days to those for whom this decision confers a particular burden. Let us find words that comfort rather than congratulate; let us seek to be a community of grace and forgiveness rather than organizing constituencies of protest, let us use our hands not to clap, but to wipe away every tear. And in all this may we know in surprising new ways the comfort of belonging to You. This is our prayer. Hear us, Lord Jesus. Amen."
In the two days following the passage of the resolution, 22,000 people entered their zip codes on the Find a Church page of the UCC website. Clearly, there are people hungry for a church like ours.
Even as I say that, however, I recognize that some of you are hurting and angry over this vote, some are supportive but worried about how to teach among your members, and others are rejoicing. We are in differing places on this one issue. It is very important that we maintain relationships as the Body of Christ and help each other discern our way through these next months and years. We have much to offer one another if we will offer it in caring and open ways.
The original resolution on this matter was hotly debated, and the committee recommended a substantially changed document. On the floor of the Synod an alternative was proposed as the delegates did their work, and ultimately was adopted by an overwhelming majority. The adopted resolution encourages all of us to use our economic leverage to work for peace, and names divesting only as a last resort. Our unity with the Jewish community is longstanding, as is our partnership with Palestinian Christians. This resolution worked very hard to find a path that would equally condemn violence on all sides, and equally encourage peace-making by all. It isn't easy in the current environment, but I think the Synod did admirable work.
The General Synod adopted a resolution entitled "Reaffirming Jesus Christ as Our Lord and Savior and Reaffirming our Historic UCC Cross, Crown, & Orb with Motto Symbol." I have personal trouble understanding why this is even an issue since we are so profoundly a Trinitarian Christian church, but the occasion offered itself, so we did it!
This pronouncement and proposal for action is entitled "Ministry Issues: Forming and Preparing Pastoral Leaders for God's Church". It outlines steps we can take to ensure a strong and vital authorized ministry for the future. Our own Rev. Jonathan Dean-Lee, Senior Minister at Rocky Hill, was the chairperson of the committee that worked on this and did an excellent job leading them through many thorny issues. It too is up on the web site.
This General Synod was historic, exciting and engaging. I hope you join me in looking forward to welcoming the 50th anniversary General Synod to Hartford's Convention Center in 2007. The theme for that anniversary has already been chosen and your delegation loved it: "Let it Shine!" In those three words are caught up our concern for evangelism, for good news and for the golden anniversary. About eighty nutmeggers streamed onto the stage during the last session of the Synod to invite everyone to join us in 2007, led by three of our number in motorized carts, and a helping dog!
There will be many opportunities for you and your church's members to get involved with 2007, so people can sign up to help at http://www.ctucc.org/synod2007/.
If you have questions about the actions of General Synod, please let us know. Call your regional minister or call our office in Hartford. Delegates and visitors stand ready to visit with you! Outside Hartford calling area: 1-866-367-2822.