Have a Minute? Thoughts from Pastor Matt…
August 15, 2017
Summertime is often when the wider settings of the church come together for their annual or periodic gatherings. For us in the United Church of Christ, these “wider settings” include
- the Association, which for us is the Windham Association, encompassing all of the UCC congregations in Windham County plus those in the Town of Mansfield (a historical artifact from when the county lines were drawn differently)—a total of 18 congregations;
- the Conference, which for us is the Connecticut Conference, encompassing all of the UCC congregations in the state of Connecticut—about 235 in total; and
- the General Synod, the every-other-year national gathering of our church, with some 700 to 800 voting delegates drawn from our 38 conferences, along with nearly 2,000 others who attend all or part of the activities as “visitors” or special guests.
Each of these settings did, in fact, gather back in June or early July. This year, Carolyn Holmy and Pam Roberts served as our official wider church delegates, representing our congregation at the Association and Conference meetings (along with our members with UCC clergy standing, whether active or retired, which includes Mike Lake, Alice O’Donovan, and Leslie Kennard). And, I myself was one of the 48 delegates from Connecticut at the General Synod.
These gatherings included a variety of activities together: worship, celebrations, workshops and other learning opportunities, and so on. Of course, as you might imagine, another element of the gathering together of these wider settings of the church is business: resolutions and pronouncements and other official actions taken. But one of the things that distinguishes our way of being church together in the United Church of Christ is that the relationships among the settings of our church are covenantal rather than authoritarian or hierarchical. We often express this reality by saying that the actions of one setting of the church speak to, but not for, the other settings of the church. That is to say, actions taken by the General Synod (for example) speak to us as a congregation but they do not automatically speak for us, at least in an official sense.
Because of this covenantal way that we practice being church together, the resolutions that are adopted in the Conference and General Synod settings of the church typically don’t use “commanding” language—that a congregation must do such-and-such, or will do this-or-that. Rather, we use a lot of language of “call”: the General Synod (or Conference, or Association) calls upon congregations to do, to consider, to support, and so forth. We likewise use language of call to express a voice to those outside the United Church of Christ as well; we might call upon a government body, an educational system, a commercial entity to do, or consider, or support something.
The thing about being called upon for something is that it still leaves a responsibility for discernment and response in the hands of the one(s) being called upon. If our General Synod has called upon us as a congregation to consider or to do something, it is still up to us to discern about and respond to such a call. It is a sacred responsibility placed into our care.
Why am I telling all of this to you? Well, two reasons… One is that our wider church delegates this year, Carolyn and Pam, are keenly interested in bringing awareness of their experiences to you, the congregation at-large. They want to invite us all to hear the various things that our sisters-and-brothers with whom we are in covenant are calling us to consider or to do as a congregation, in order that we might take up that sacred responsibility to discern or respond together. I and they believe that the Spirit flows through these gatherings—as imperfect as they may be at times—and leads them to voice a call on behalf of God, a call to us and a call to others. Likewise, the Spirit works in its sometimes-mysterious way among us here in this congregation as we consider whether we hear the same calling and how we might respond to it.
Secondly, though, all of this has me thinking more deeply and broadly about how any of us hear and respond to the various calls voiced upon us and into our lives. As I’ll talk about elsewhere in this issue of The Carillon, the thematic focus of my sabbatical this fall is on reclaiming and renewing “voices”—getting back in touch, in an intentional way, with some things in my life and journey that have spoken to me in critical and formative ways. In the melodies of music, in the stillness of silence, and in the thinking of our historic theological traditions, I have heard important echoes of the voice of God, calling to me and calling to the church. And while I am away, one of my hopes for you is that you will continue to develop the ways you give voice to the things-of-God in your life and journey. After all, to speak of call is not just to ponder what we should be listening for, but also what we should be speaking.
What is the call-of-God that is yearning to find voice through us? Through you? May you keep your heart’s ears open, and your soul’s voice speaking!
Yours in the journey,