On May 17, 2008 the delegates to the Spring Assembly Annual Meeting called the Rev. Dr. Walter John Boris to serve as Conference Minister. Walter John began his duties on August 1, 2008.
The first church I served was St. Paul’s UCC, in the rolling farmland south of Council Bluffs, Iowa. The congregation was founded in 1868 by German immigrants who made their way north from St. Louis, along the Missouri River valley. St. Paul’s was a postcard – a white frame building, with a steeple and a bell that was hand-rung every Sunday. The cemetery wrapped around the building. Whenever I got frustrated with ministry, I went for a walk among the gravestones. I read the engraved names: Heuwinkel, Young, Franke, Hobus, Boehm – and thought about the generations of people that had lived and died, carrying on faithful ministry in that place. These people were the saints of God! They were a great comfort to me. They reminded me I was not the beginning and end of all good things. Ministry had gone on long before I arrived on the scene, and it would continue long after I was gone. Each time I walked, the burden of perfection was lifted from my shoulders and I was inspired for ministry.
I found another reminder of the saints of God at St. Paul’s – patchwork quilts! I think it’s impossible to look at a quilt, with hundreds of pieces of material and thousands of small, even stitches without wondering about the people who created such a piece of warmth and beauty.
As church members proudly showed me their family quilts, I came to understand the heirlooms as an alternative version of Paul’s image of the church as the body of Christ. We spend lots of time trying to be like each other, but the beauty and strength of the church comes from the paradox of unity and diversity. Have you ever looked closely at a pieced quilt made from leftover scraps of cloth? Taken by themselves, many of the pieces are plain, or downright ugly. But put them together, and they are beautiful beyond description.
We established an annual quilt show in the sanctuary. The second year, the event fell on All Hallow’s Eve. We left the quilts hanging on the wall for our Sunday service of remembrance. We read the names of loved ones who had died that year, and sang “For all the saints, who from their labors rest…” As I introduced communion, I was moved to draw attention to the quilts saying, “We are literally surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.”
I’m touched by the images of the cemetery and the quilts because I believe it’s impossible to be the church by yourself. We come together, to find wholeness. Together, we are the saints of God, and we make a beautiful quilt through the love of Christ!
I am a person of faith — Since my early childhood, I recognized the sacredness and interconnection of all Creation. I’m awed by the divine mystery of God revealed in the life and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. I strive to live with integrity and faithfulness, as Jesus did. Inspired by the power and presence of the Spirit, I work for a just, loving, and peaceful world.
I am a “people person” — I seek to minister to people by being open, accepting, and responsive to their needs. I willingly assume roles of leadership, but at the same time, I strongly encourage the leadership of the laity. I care about people and try to understand the world through their eyes. I enjoy people of all ages and take special delight in talking with children and wise elders. In my role as teacher and pastor, I help people understand each other and appreciate the uniqueness of each person. As a husband and father I live out my commitment to loving family relationships.
I am a creative person — I love life and experience the world as a continually fascinating place. I find excitement in seeing new possibilities for teaching and ministry. I approach new projects with enthusiasm, imagination, and the energy needed to carry them out. I am especially effective in working with committees to solve problems and develop programs. My natural creativity is stimulated by the sharing of group members. Together, we are often able to do more than we could accomplish as individuals.
Ministry often comes as a surprise, despite intentions and job descriptions. My work with each of the churches I’ve served has developed out of my relationship with the congregation and the community. Most of the things that have defined my 13 years of ministry at Kirkland (Washington) I could not have anticipated. My deep involvement in Interfaith Alliance for the first eight years – I had never been political before. Bringing in 12 different congregations (including Korean Seventh Day Adventist, Romanian Pentecostal, Hispanic Evangelical, and Egyptian Coptic) to share our building – I had never shared a building with even one congregation. Leading our congregation to an Open and Affirming declaration – I had been sympathetic to gays in the church, but the issue had never been a pressing one in Omaha, NE. When Tent City4, a homeless encampment, was desperately looking for a new host, our congregation courageously stepped into the controversy and extended an invitation, providing a home for the camp for three months. Holy Humor Sunday! – What?? That’s what I said when a member suggested it. For five years it became one of our most popular, meaningful, and fun services of the year. The list goes on… Longest Night service. Blessing of the Animals. Elder Tales. Access Ramp. Congregational Folk Art. D-Min. studies. Hosting an Adult Respite Care Center. “Living the Questions,” “Saving Jesus,” “Opening the Boxes,” and “The Phoenix Affirmations” – studies and worship in Progressive Christianity. Children’s Sabbath and a congregational partnership with Sibling House, a foster-care ministry for siblings. What will we accomplish as we join together in ministry? I don’t know yet. But as I live with you and hear your stories, the Spirit will speak… and I’ll listen.