Synod is always a good experience. There are so few UCC churches in the South; it’s easy to feel small. Gathering with a few thousand UCCers—it’s nice to feel big once in a while!
Worship. During the intro to one of the worship songs at Friday night worship, I leaned over to Rachel Small and said, “I come to Synod to sing!” In part, I do. Singing songs and hymns with life-giving, liberating texts in a large space with other UCCers? There’s nothing else like it in the world. The preaching was good (the Southeast Conference’s own Elizabeth Clement preached Tuesday night) and the visuals were great (including all iPhone users using candle apps one night), but it was the singing that really helped me to experience God’s presence during Synod. Wonderful!
Fellowship. Yeah, it was great to see Rachel. She’s doing well and says “Hi!” I barely missed Donna Papenhausen at Sunday afternoon’s worship service. We spoke briefly by phone. Unfortunately, Sarah Weaver wasn’t able to come; I missed seeing her. But I did meet Joe and Kim Skalski’s former pastor by phone! That was kind of cool.
Also kind of cool was meeting with other representatives from the Southeast Conference for breakfast one morning. About 25 of us gathered for fellowship and to debrief the business that was being discussed by delegates. After ten years in the Conference, I feel more positive about our churches, their pastors, and their members than I ever have. There is an amazing sense of comraderie that I find very energizing…and hopeful. I look for much more collaboration among churches in the Southeast Conference—and especially in the Atlanta area—in the coming months and years.
Workshops. Unfortunately, I reinjured my Achilles tendons on Friday of Synod, which put me out of commission for most of the events on Saturday (though I did make Leonard Pitts excellent keynote address Saturday morning and a wonderful worship service that night! Oh, and I did make it to the flash mob [see below]). Happily, I was able to get CDs of the two workshops I hoped to attend—one on prayer in all aspects of a congregation’s life and one on storytelling. Once I have the chance to listen to those, I’ll report back.
Business. The biggest piece of business for Synod was approval of the Agreement on the Mutual Recognition of Baptism. This conversation is an ecumenical one; it involves agreeing on certain language for baptismal formulas so that baptisms among denominations might be recognized. The struggle for some UCCers was having to adhere to non-inclusive language for God (“Father, Son, Holy Spirit”). The compromise is to use Father-language first, then use whatever other language for God the local community uses. The really significant thing about these conversations is that the Catholic Church—including Atlanta’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory—is on board with it.
For other news of the business portions of Synod, see a recap at http://www.ucc.org/news/gs28.html
A new geezer’s reflections on the Youth and the 20/30’s. Okay, I’m not old…but I am a well-established middle ager. This, I discovered at Synod. There were tons of teenagers at Synod! They did lots of outreach and fun stuff in Tampa and—very importantly!—added a lot of energy to worship services, including several impromptu conga lines. At Tuesday night’s worship service, I saw in the bulletin, that there would be a blessing with youth. I assumed that meant that the youth would BE blessed. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the youth were actually doing the blessing. They blessed and challenged the new Leaders of the UCC as they begin their work.
That moment of blessing was pivotal for me. As one youth said in a video shown just a few minutes before the blessing: “The youth aren’t the future of the UCC, we’re right now!” Indeed. The Youth are now. The meeting—and the denomination—would be much, much less vibrant were it not for the youth being among us right now.
The 20/30’s are the folks in their 20s and 30s who are ordained. Rachel Small is a part of that group (and I guess Sarah is now, too…probably Kristin, too). Among many other initiatives, the 20/30’s orchestrated two flash mobs and a flash mob communion service. The flash mobs filled me with joy; the communion service gave me chills. (View the flash mob at http://www.ucc.org/synod/video/gs-28-flash-mob-edit.html You’ll see Rachel Small in the aqua colored top by the palm tree on the left. At 2:07 or so, you will actually see my shoulder and the back of my head in the bottom right hand screen!)
Again, the comraderie among these young ministers, their energy, their passion for doing God’s work and doing it through the UCC were inspiring. Really inspiring. Of course, when I saw in the program that they had a gathering for drinks one night from 10:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m., I was saddened to realize that my 1:00 a.m. days are long gone. At the same time, though, I was filled with hope to know so many young clergy who are and will continue to have a profound impact on the UCC. That is cause for celebration!
Exhibit Hall! Okay. This is where Synod gets downright unfair. So many wonderful books! So many beautiful stoles and banners! When I stopped by the “In Stitches” booth (they make beautiful stoles!), I told the folks in charge, “I’ll try not to drool.” One of the women said, “Honey, just bring a towel.” (The people at “In Stitches” made the quilted green stole that so many of you have commented on. Beautiful stuff!) Sure is nice to look, though.
Synod 2013: Long Beach, CA! Won’t you join me? Syond is a great experience. Good speakers, great worship, helpful workshops, service opportunities, good fellowship…and the good news is that it’s not just for clergy! The next Synod will be held in Long Beach, CA. Won’t you consider joining me for that event?