Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
First the blade and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be.
For the Lord our God shall come,
And shall take His harvest home....
- Henry Alford, 1844
Nancy and I have just returned from Central Atlantic Conference Annual Meeting, which, this year, was held in Bethesda, Maryland. But we got into a lot of other things this past weekend, as well. Over the course of the coming year, I mean to unpack for you what I can. I imagine that it will take awhile, to explore the treasure-trove of resources and inspirations we received between supper-time last Friday and late morning on Sunday.
The Annual Meeting began with supper and fellowship with people from around the Conference.
Our Interim Conference Minister, Rev. Dr. Roddy Dunkerson led us in worship. He spoke of the disorienting times in which we’re living, and the choice to see ourselves as disciples on a quest for whatever vision God will give us. Then, Rev. Sherry Davis Molock urged us, in the midst of times like these, to focus on developing covenant relationships, especially when the route of our journey keeps getting detoured and we keep hearing (as the electronic GPS devices tell us) “RE-CALCULATING ROUTE!” Our song leader, Mark Miller, taught us his song, “We Resist, We Refuse to Let Hatred In” – the first of several of his songs we enjoyed singing.
Dr. Lee Barrett, a seminary professor, challenged us to ask the hard questions of, “Who are we now?” He pointed out that our earlier identities, as individuals and congregations, are no longer the same, and the society in which we find ourselves now is not like it was... so, Who are we now?
Dr. Barrett urged us to study (as Jesus’ disciples) "What can we offer the world, which no other institution can offer them?" Following his talk, we had a spirited discussion about the nature of our current society and the spiritual gifts we (the church) continue to bear and share. It was a disturbing and heart-wrenching conversation with the two hundred or so Conference members present.
We ended Friday evening by having an initial hearing on the Conference budget. Like most of our local congregations, the Conference budget is “in the red” due to lower income, but the proposed budget envisions spending money on new programs to strengthen ministry and staff to assist our Associations and congregations to grow and prosper. The microphones were open, and numerous folks from all over the Conference got up and talked about their difficulties raising money, and also the hopes and dreams and success-stories that keep them inspired and motivated.
Arthur Brown, of Washington, DC told us that he encounters countless people in his neighborhood who don’t understand what we church people mean when we talk about “grace” and “joy.” He said that we have to go and live with them and listen to their concerns and needs before we can demonstrate what “grace” and “joy” really mean to us.
One remark that haunts me came from my colleague, Rev. Dr. Susan Minasian, of Sojourners UCC in Charlottesville. Reflecting on one speaker’s lament that her local congregation seems to be dying, Rev. Minasian said something like— this is from my memory—, “Sometimes, we in the church go to visit someone who is dying and we realize that it’s their time to die. The same is true of congregations and associations and conferences and all human institutions. Sometimes, we have to accept that it’s time for it to die. But we believe in Jesus and the resurrection of the dead, so there’s no need for us to go around acting like it’s the end of the world. We believe in resurrection!”
On Friday night, we also discussed changes to the UCC Constitution which were passed by the General Synod last year. The changes are intended to make the national setting leadership more accountable to us, by making the Executive Ministers report to the General Minister (Currently, Rev. John Dorhauer).
All of this is just the beginning. Things will grow.
[Jesus] also said,
“The kingdom of God
is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, ”
- Mark 4:26