Shining at 50! An Update Report
Shine, God's People: Celebrating Five Historic Commitments of the United Church of Christ
"A united and uniting, multiracial and multicultural, accessible to all, open and affirming, and peace with justice church"
For a few in the UCC, these core historic commitments roll off the tip of their tongue. But for an overwhelming majority of others, the commitments don't quite fall off the tongue. The commitments are discovered only by looking and listening to the joys and struggles, life and spirit of our local congregations.
"We know the historic commitments of the UCC. But in this anniversary year, we want to find out about how the commitments have been lived out in actual churches. We want to know what that means for the wider denomination's future," said Edith Guffey, Associate General Minister for the UCC, early in planning for our anniversary general synod. Her hope was embraced by the denomination's collegium of officers as a project. Believing these commitments make for vibrant and faithful congregations, the Congregational Vitality Initiative (CVI) of the Local Church Ministries and the Proclamation, Identity, and Communication Ministry Team decided to join in creating a denominational conversation as well.
With this vision, Shine, God's People was developed. Sidney Fowler along with David Schoen, coordinator of CVI, guided the effort. The Shine project included the development of a print and online reflection guide, studies by congregations across the country, online surveys and responses for congregations, engagement with Sunday morning community groups at General Synod, and a worship and discernment resource. The study guide, distributed to all our congregations, invited them into five shining historical moments around each of the commitments. It then invited congregations to reflect on how they have lived out each commitment. From January 2007 until now, in numerous ways we've been hearing how our churches shine with God's hospitality, justice, and bold witness.
Some congregations such as First Congregational UCC of Montclair, New Jersey, explored the commitments in worship and study throughout Lent and Easter. The New York Conference of the UCC reflected on the theme in worship at their annual meeting. A number of large and small, diverse churches have reported their conversations online as well. In those reports, you may discover the variety of both simple and profound ways our congregations are living out their commitments.
A sample of the riches reported online include: Old First Reformed in Philadelphia expressed "united and uniting" in a partnership with an Evangelical Church of the Union (EKU) congregation in Bielefield Germany, while Friends Congregational UCC in College Station, Texas, works with the Institute for Interfaith Dialogue to remove hateful stereotypes of Muslim people of faith. Within a predominately Caucasian community, the UCC Church of La Mesa, California, celebrates being a multiracial and multicultural church with a pastor from Puerto Rico and a Spanish-speaking staff. Fauntleroy UCC in Seattle is accessible when it uses a golf cart to bring folk who have difficulty walking from the parking lot to the front door. Recognizing Memorial Day as a day for justice and peace, Church of Good Shepherd in Albuquerque sang "Bring Him Home" from the musical Les Misérables in worship and made quilts for veterans.
In June, on Sunday morning at our 50th anniversary synod in Hartford, over 800 youth and adults in 27 hotel groups gathered for worship, prayer, reflection, and discernment around our commitments. Together they shared their individual callings and stories of their congregations. Initially, the collegium had hoped to present a unified message to synod from the groups. Rather than consensus around a single statement, the groups celebrated the diverse expressions of the commitments through storytelling and prayerful reflection. They insisted that the journey with the commitments has not always been an easy one – it's been tough work -- but one that has been transforming with deep joy as well. They urged congregations to engage in a similar prayerful study. Over and over, groups also expressed the hope that we find more ways to convey the commitments in the lives of youth and future generations of those in the UCC. Jo Hudson, pastor of Cathedral of Hope in Dallas and a convener of one of the groups, said "There was power in looking back and looking forward in the presence of the Holy Spirit."
The Shine conversation continues. Since synod, the online Shine site has received over 3,500 more hits. An adapted version of the prayer and discernment process from synod has been posted online. Congregations, unfamiliar with the resource before synod, are exploring the core commitments in intentional ways. We have just begun to deeply discover the truth about the assumption we first brought to the Shine project:
The commitments have taken on flesh, blood, and spirit
when lived out in your own church and community.
They express how God has been forming us –
what kind of people we are becoming.
(From Shine, God's People, page 7)
Shine, God's People is available both online and as a 39-page study guide.
Order guides from UCCR, toll free at 800.537.3394, for $5.00 each plus handling & shipping (order #LCMCV2).
Check out all the online Shine resources at http://www.ucc.org/50/resources/study-guide.html
This summary was prepared by Sidney D. Fowler, August 31, 2007.