2 Corinthians 4:13 - 5:1
Ephesians 5: 1 – 17
On Sunday, May 27, after Bethel’s worship service in Elk Run Cemetery, Nancy and I attended the service of ordination for our friend, Rev. Steve Giddens at St. Stephen’s UCC in Harrisonburg. It was a pleasant service, with our Interim Conference Minister, Rev. Roddy Dunkerson and our Acting Associate Conference Minister, Rev. Dr. Audrey Price participating.
Among the highlights of the service was the moment when Amanda, Steve’s wife, was returning to her seat after receiving Communion, carrying their seventeen-month-old daughter Emily. Emily repeatedly shouted out, “More bread! More bread!,” to everyone’s delight.
But what I really wanted to share with you was from Steve’s pastoral prayer. He is a combat veteran of the Army, who has served in the recent wars. Among many other parts of his prayer, he included this:
“This Memorial Day weekend we ask that You be with the Gold Star Families. For the mothers who lost sons, fathers who lost daughters, and children who lost a parent we ask special blessings: ease their suffering and heartache.”
I am grateful that Steve gave us words to express these feelings on the weekend of Memorial Day. They will help me, a non-veteran, as I pray for these families in their losses.
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This coming weekend, Nancy and I plan to attend the Annual Meeting of our Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ. This year, for the first time, the Annual Meeting will be held in a hotel / conference center in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Bethesda, Maryland. This is partly because the number of people registering to attend is down from past years, and partly because it was very expensive to meet at the University of Delaware, where we had been gathering for the previous decade or more.
Our Conference extends from the New Jersey suburbs of New York City in the Northeast to Blacksburg, Virginia in the Southwest, and over through Richmond to the ocean. We are divided into five Associations: New Jersey, Potomac, Chesapeake, Catoctin, and our association, Shenandoah. Ours is the smallest of the five associations in this conference.
In the United Church of Christ, local congregations such as our Bethel live in a covenant relationship with one another, to help each another in a variety of ways. We contribute to local, regional, national, and international mission work together. We elect Church and Ministry Commissions in each association to prepare, examine, ordain, and discipline Authorized Ministers (like me) as well as other Licensed Ministers. We share educational resources and training programs for lay-people and clergy. I am sure I have left out very important categories of work that we share, but I hope the above items give you a flavor of what’s “out there.”
All of these projects— and many more— are governed by local churches sending delegates to participate at three different settings: the association, the conference, and the national setting. Because we local congregations freely enter into the covenant relationships with the other settings, and we conduct those relationships any way that we feel is right, NOBODY in the other settings is in a position to be the “boss” of us or anybody else, or is “above” anybody else. We are all in this to share and share alike.
During my six years in Shenandoah Association leadership, which just ended in May, I have not done a good job of communicating to the Bethel congregation the value of working in our covenant relationships with the wider United Church of Christ. There are only two ways I know to get the message across.
One is when our people participate in events and see for themselves that there’s a great big friendly world out there in our Association, our Conference, and the national setting.
The other is when we get into dire need of help, and we become willing to reach out to folks from the wider church— who are already there for just such times. That’s what happened with our Bethel in the 1950s, when we needed money to build our “educational wing” of the church building (the social hall and Sunday School classrooms): we borrowed serious money from the Congregational Christian building fund (the predecessor of our current UCC building fund).
We can take our part in the body of Christ beyond our own backyard. We are not alone.
[Jesus said, ]
“If a house is divided against itself,
that house will not be able to stand.”
– Mark 3:24-25