Reflection on General Synod
From June 30-July 4, over 2,500 people gathered in Baltimore for the 31st General Synod of the United Church of Christ for worship, fellowship and formal church business and I was privileged to be a visitor. Delegates from every conference across the country spent hours poring over resolutions, discussing their merit and effectiveness and discerning the Spirit’s guidance. National staff presented budgets, initiatives and candidates for board and staff positions. The exhibit hall was full of useful information, free pens and too many books I didn’t need to buy. Worship was uplifting and inspiring and the fellowship was renewing. Spending time with our two Members in Discernment, Debbie Duval and Diane Seaborn, was a treat.
“The UCC has been described as a beautiful, heady, exacerbating, and hopeful institution” said a colleague on our last day together at General Synod. That rings true for my experience. 4,000 people singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” in Sunday’s worship was stunning; being with so many convicted and committed Christians was inspiring; reading the minutia of resolutions was mind-numbing; seeing the body confused over its role and power in setting the budget was confounding.
At times, I wondered, “What is the point of all this intense business, all this hard work? Will it make a difference?” At other times, I surrendered to the Holy Spirit moving in music, in side conversations with colleagues, in the testimony of those whose lives have been transformed by the church. I am so grateful I was there and that our church is who it is and does what it does.
Last year, the National Setting of the UCC refreshed our denomination’s purpose, vision and mission statements:
Purpose: To love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.
Vision: United in Christ's love, a just world for all.
Mission: United in Spirit and inspired by God's grace, we welcome all, love all, and seek justice for all.
At Synod, the “The 3 Great Loves” initiative was launched to help us live out these statements. Over the next two years, every setting of the denomination. As you read some of ways General Synod expressed these loves, think about our own church. How are we already expressing our faith with these loves and what is the invitation for us to do so more faithfully?
Three Great Loves highlighted at the 31st General Synod of the United Church of Christ
Love of Neighbor
Launch of the Spirit of the Caribbean Initiative, which will connect congregations in the US with those in Caribbean countries for mutual understanding and support.
Resolutions passed on recognizing and studying gun violence as a Public Health Emergency; affirming the coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Boycott of Wendy’s; demanding a living wage for all.
Affirmed that we are an immigrant welcoming church and joined local organizers to rally outside the federal building to demand justice for Guillermo Recinos Morales, a local resident, artist and grandfather who is being detained by ICE.
Love of Creation
Aaron Mair, the first black president of the Sierra Club, was one of our keynote speakers. He credited the 30-year-old report by the UCC Commission for Racial Justice, “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States” with lighting “the fuse for environmental change” when it focused nation attention of the link between communities of color and the location of hazardous waste sites.
Declared, "The Earth is the Lord's" and advocated for environmental justice, as featured in this Boston Globe article.
We honored the Standing Rock Water Protectors with the first Movement Maker Award.
For the first time ever, Synod went paperless! Almost all delegates and visitors used the new GS App to read the schedule, resolutions, worship bulletins, maps, and more.
Love of Children
Synod isn't just for adults! Watch this video to see how young children were engaged in faith formation.
Youth delegates participated fully in Synod and spoke powerfully on many issues, including these youth from Chicago who spoke powerfully about gun violence.
Resolutions passed in support of adult survivors of childhood abuse and neglect, condemning corporal punishment in homes and institutions, and support of Palestinian children in military detention.
This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of resolutions, actions and moments from Synod; you can find extensive UCC news here. Finally, no Synod recap is complete without reflecting on the call to moral courage and leadership from the preachers of Synod. The Rev. Traci Blackmon, who was elected and installed as our Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, exhorted us to tear down the figurative balconies of our churches and communities, that create space but do not make room. She also reminded us to lean on God, who is the source of all life, love and justice. The Rev. Dr. William Barber invited us to join the new Poor People’s Campaign and called on us to “claim the deep moral language of faith” in the face of “Caesar. Silence is not an option.” The Rev. Dr. David Vasquez-Levy preached a powerful sermon on the eve of July 4th reminding us that “our well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet.” So be it. And may it be so.