By Elizabeth Simson Durant, M.Div., Parkrose Community UCC.
On Friday, June 27th, I had breakfast with one hundred other Members in Discernment in Room 3 at the Cleveland Convention Center. UCC General Minister & President Rev. Geoffrey Black and GMP nominee Rev. John Dorhauer paid us a visit. Rev. Geoffrey had just started speaking when he was interrupted by a loud gasp from the back of the room…a national staff member had just read news of the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality on her phone. At her announcement, people jumped to their feet, cheering and clapping and, yes, crying a little. This moment was just one of the “unexpected places” where I was surprised and uplifted by our church’s extravagant welcome.
From the moment I checked in at registration and pinned a “This is My First General Synod” ribbon to my name badge, I rode a wave of nervous energy and thoughtful reflection. Singing, praying, and holding signs of witness in memory and honor of Tamir Rice outside the Cleveland Police Bureau offices reminded me that I experience the redemptive, transformative presence of Jesus as much on the streets as I do in the sanctuary.
Jazz Vespers in Amistad Chapel filled my soul-thirst, and powerful preaching inspired me. During the healing “It Is Well” service on Friday night (a General Synod tradition), Rev. Traci Blackmon recalled her work on the front lines in Ferguson and brought us the voice of God calling to Elijah (and to us): “What are YOU doing HERE in this cave? I am with you. Get back out there!” Rev. Molly Baskette opened our hearts on Saturday night with her words about how we make Jesus unbelievable when we exclude others, and Bishop Dwayne Royster brought us to our feet on Sunday afternoon with his call to “change the damn world” and act, rather than just talk, about how Black lives matter.
Discussion of resolutions on the plenary floor was, by turns, passionate, tedious, exciting, confusing, disappointing and frustrated by technical difficulty (#clickergate). Attending a UCC History and Polity class during General Synod gave me a framework for understanding the tensions between our denomination’s fierce defense of local autonomy and our aspirations to good order. As a MID whose graduate thesis focused on racism in biblical interpretation, I was encouraged that some (though not all) of the proposed resolutions addressing racial justice were passed, including Resolutions of Witness on dismantling the New Jim Crow and ending mass incarceration.
We recognized several transitions in national staff at General Synod, including, I am proud to say, a celebration of the ministry of Portland native and Ainsworth UCC member Rev. Linda Jaramillo, who retires in September after serving the national church as Executive Minister of UCC Justice and Witness Ministries for nearly a decade. It was uplifting to honor the legacy and ongoing work of Rev. Jaramillo, whose advocacy for justice is an inspiration and encouragement to so many of us in the CPC. We are excited to welcome her back home to Portland!
Our CPC delegates (Lessie Williams, Salome Chimuku, Deb Allen, Diane Dulin and John Soper) were busy working hard, so I didn’t see them except from a distance, but was delighted to spend a little time with many familiar CPC folks in the plenary hall (shout outs to Rev. Emily & ‘youth’ Emma from Salem, LOUCC friends, Rev. Jennifer Brownell promoting her new book, and Parkrose member Sharon Mackie, selling her elegant silver comma necklaces). During a Search and Call fair for MIDs, I recognized a familiar face, wrinkly and gray…Gracie! (and, of course, her sidekick, our Conference Minister, Walter John).
General Synod gave me a chance to experience, if only briefly, the variety of ways other conferences and associations live out our calling to “be the church.” In conversations on the shuttle bus to the hotel, by the cookie table, outside as we blew giant bubbles, and on Twitter as we followed the snarky comments of @GeneralSynic, I found myself renewed and delighted by the authentic, heartfelt holy presence of each person I met.
A few of the many resources that I bring back to my church from General Synod include: guidance and support for becoming a WISE (welcoming, inclusive, supportive, engaged) congregation for mental health; sustainable investment options available through United Church Funds; Open and Affirming and Just Peace resources; as well as resources on criminal justice from the new UCC Criminal Justice Network.
The blessing of our UCC polity, I’m learning, is that we are able to come together to act as a national church, raising our voice in global, ecumenical settings, while also cherishing and sustaining our local Christian witness in the communities where we live, work, worship and play. My first synod was a life-changing experience, and I’m grateful, once again, to be part of the United Church of Christ.
Liz Durant, M.Div., is a Member-in-Discernment at Parkrose Community UCC and passionate about working for racial justice. You can find out more about Liz’ ministry at http://www.lizdurant.com and http://www.racismisawhiteproblem.com.