Many Voices One Mission: We Do Jesus Differently


Wendy Vander Hart

10/24/2018

Every day begins the same for me- weather permitting. I do a 3 or 4 mile walk which doubles as my prayer/reflection time. When I pay attention, sometimes I receive inspiration, even messages on my trek around the neighborhood. Like the person whose sweatshirt said “we do data.”
 
I never saw the front of the sweatshirt of that fellow walker, but it was clear what that company was about and what one could expect. O how I pray for such clarity for our churches and the redirection of energy it would free up in our congregations!
 
At a recent MACUCC Board of Directors/Staff retreat, Transitional Interim Conference Minister Don Remick led us in an exercise provoked by the book Canoeing the Mountains by Tod Bolsinger. Don asked small groups of the Board/Staff to look at the new Conference Vision through the eyes of this quote from Bolsinger.
 

“When I work with clients in bringing transformation, I facilitate a half day exercise based on the work of the Mulago Foundation (mulagofoundation.org), a nonprofit venture capital firm that funds projects for combating poverty in children. Mulago requires grant applicants to write a simple proposal with an eight-word mission statement.
 
The statements must be in this format:
Verb, Target, Outcome
And it can only use eight words.
 
Some examples offered are,
- Save endangered species from extinction
- Improve African Children’s health
 
Some church statements include:
- Support local providers serving our community’s vulnerable
- Nurture our congregation for deployment in Christ’s Kingdom
- Prepare all generations to impact lives for Christ”
(Canoeing the Mountains, Tod Bolsinger, page 130)
 
It was, as you can imagine, a challenging exercise for we who are people of the Word – which too often actually means we are Word-y. My small group took our new Together As One mission/purpose, “living the love and justice of Jesus” and shaped this statement in the suggested formula:
 
Provoke partnerships to live the love and justice of Jesus
 
Okay – we did not make the eight word limit – but for me, there are two animating pieces in this statement. First, provoking partnerships to live the love and justice of Jesus. At the heart of creating a new Conference is the idea that we will be seeking new partners in this endeavor. When I give people the two paragraph version of what the Annual Meetings of the three historic conferences actually voted in creating a new Conference they are most excited about the Associate member piece of the new entity. When we describe that there is room for Methodists who cannot ordain openly LGBT pastors or a spiritually focused Sierra Club chapter to affiliate with the new Conference, the “aha’s” fall out of people’s mouths. Movement-building is possible!
 
Second, provoking partnerships to live the love and justice of Jesus.  In this new mission/purpose we have got Jesus front and center in our shared life together! For too long the United Church of Christ has lived up to the joke about what UCC stands for - “Unitarians Considering Christ.” We forget that the source of our extravagant welcome, our justice-seeking ways, our compassion for the least and lost and our sabbath-seeking off to a mountain alone times to simply rejuvenate in the presence of God are all born from the Way of Jesus.
 
I understand that for some who have found their way to the United Church of Christ it feels like a refuge from those Christian corners where Jesus was used to exclude, deny and judge. As the United Church of Christ- and to borrow on the sweatshirt phrase spotted on my morning walk – we do Jesus differently.
 
Because we do Jesus differently, we might forge partnerships with our evangelical siblings and help our country learn to bridge divides that seem impossible. Because we do Jesus differently, we can build justice coalitions and practice a Christianity that new generations are hungering for.

Rev. Wendy Vander Hart is an Associate Conference Minister for the MA Conference, UCC.
Many Voices
Many Voices, One Mission is a regular series highlighting the ministries of the
CT, MA, and RI Conference of the United Church of Christ.
 



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