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The early Christians, the followers of Jesus, referred to themselves as “People of the Way.” Not church, but movement. A movement is community seeking truth and a righteous path. A movement is the fastest way to respond to injustice. Individuals, with a deep longing and passion, come together to change the world. A movement is diverse, messy, and powerful!
The time comes when all movements recognize the need for logistics. Who’s bringing the food? Who’s going to speak at the press conference? What focused message is going to drive our cause forward? Institution starts to take shape. And so movement becomes church, an institution to carry forward the message. But the focus of institution is stability. The focus of movement is truth and passion.
It’s impossible to keep a movement alive for a long period of time without institution. But institution can swallow up movement, with institutional survival becoming the goal. This clash between stability and passion has existed for years. The context of a cultural shift from modern to post-modern increases the friction.
In the modern world in which many of us were raised, we believed that knowledge and technology would save the world. Modernists believe the answer to any problem will be provided by the right leader. A leader brings clarity and knowledge and a program to guarantee success. The post-modern world doesn’t accept the existence of ultimate truth, and recognizes leadership fueled by unwavering certainty has frequently led to destruction.
The difference between a modern approach and a post-modern one came through clearly in a Facebook piece, titled, 11 Major Misconceptions About the Black Lives Matter Movement.
The second misconception the article debunked is “It is a leaderless movement.” The author responded by saying that BLM is a leaderfull movement. In the civil rights movement, leadership tended to be straight black men. The contributions of women were downplayed. Old had preference over young. Gay and lesbian voices were sidelined. Transgender people weren’t even acknowledged. A greatly-admired face of a movement like Martin Luther King Jr. was also a weakness. A single leader is vulnerable. They can be pressured, harassed, or even killed.
How does this all translate to the Central Pacific Conference? We are a leaderfull covenant community! I bring talents and passions to the table, and so do all of you. You do not want me to tell you what to do. I don’t want the futility and hostility of trying to sell you on my particular issue or passion. We are, after-all, a church based on autonomy. Paul’s image of the body of Christ is the perfect one to help us understand how to be church together. Different gifts – the same Spirit – working for the common good. Where does this approach fall on the institution/movement continuum?
The by-laws of the Central Pacific Conference provide an institutional structure to shape our ministry together. We have Ministry Teams – tasked with oversight for the various aspects of our work together – local church (leadership and vitality), wider church (global mission), justice and witness (title speaks for itself), and Committee on Ministry (authorized professional ministry). These teams provide a strong framework to carry forward our work. But the broad general nature of a Ministry Team means that it’s difficult for the structure to mobilize and pour energy into any particular issue. If someone brings a concern to Justice and Witness, that concern has to jockey for position with a handful of other critical and worthwhile issues.
Passion driven Networks are one answer to the problem. Ministry Teams are elected, term limited, and defined through bylaws. Networks are formed by interest, not term limited, and not subject to rules about structure and function. When a group of people, from a number of churches (5 or more?) share a passion, they can ask for recognition from the Ministry Team that covers that area. The recognition of a Network by a Ministry Team is a way of nurturing Movement, with the support and stability of Institution.
We currently have 4 networks in the Central Pacific Conference:
The Networks do promotion and publicity in a variety of ways, including the e-newsletter On the Way, dedicated e-newsletters, blogs, Facebook pages, websites, and emails.
There are also a couple of issues that were promoted in the past by Ministry Teams, that might stay in the institutional portfolio of a Ministry Team, but could become Networks if enough people share a passion and want to committee energy to the cause. These three issues are Open and Affirming (LGBTQ advocacy), Just Peace churches, and immigration reform. Let me know if you would like to be a part of shifting these issues from Institution to Movement.
In these contemporary and post-modern times, we continue to be open to the Spirit as we follow Jesus On the Way.
Yours, walter john
Rev. Dr. Walter John Boris * Conference Minister
Central Pacific Conference * United Church of Christ
The Central Pacific Conference is the community of United Church of Christ congregations in Oregon, southern Idaho and southern Washington. We are multiracial and multicultural, open and affirming, and accessible to all.
In this family of 47 congregations our shared commitment is to ministry and mission. The CPC provides spiritual and material resources and encouragement to all our nearly 7,600 members. We put purposes and programs into action by drawing on the experience and talents of all the conference’s members, both lay people and clergy.
The CPC assists and encourages local congregations and their members in working together to explore, communicate, support and pursue the ministry and mission of the church, and provides a channel for effective relationships with the UCC and with other faith communities.
The Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ is one of 39 regional conferences in the 1.5 million member United Church of Christ, a “united and uniting” Protestant denomination in the United States of America.