'That they may all be one' is still a powerful prayer
I have a number of friends who are turning 50 these days, and so is my church. Since I can't go out and buy the UCC a nifty little sports car, I thought I would re-visit our core theological beliefs instead. After all, there's more than one way to have a midlife crisis.
"That they may all be one," (John 17:21) is the motto of the UCC but its context is worthy of unpacking by reading the full chapter from the Bible. Around those words are sweeter words still about how God dwells in Christ, and therefore that love dwells within us as well. As people who believe in the incarnation, it is fitting that our motto comes out of the messy relationship between fallible human beings and an all-powerful loving God.
The truest test of the values of an organization is not how good they look on paper, or how profound they sound when read out loud. The real test is how the members live them out. We hear a lot about the heroics of people of faith who do dramatic things that get their names in the newspaper, but we also live out our beliefs in church committees and ministry teams, where we take actions that may only get our names in the minutes, but matter nonetheless.
Every church seems to have conversations that it keeps coming back to. In our church, we talk a lot about our finances. We have a lot of business people in the congregation, who have strong opinions about financial issues, as well as a lot of expertise. Unfortunately, that does not lead to widespread agreement.
The risk-adverse fiscal conservatives debate with the risk-taking entrepreneurs. As in any group of capable people, we can come up with a number of impressive, albeit opposite, plans. It is in conversations like these that I most appreciate the words from St Augustine that we have adopted as a core UCC belief, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity."
In a Christ-centered church, we don't always get what we want. And let's be honest, we don't always get what Jesus wants either; there is much room for human error. But we can try to walk that path of unity, diversity and charity with the understanding that it's a goal, not a guarantee.
In our competitive culture, we like to talk about "deal breakers" and "ultimatums." Sometimes, that can creep into the church, when one person's "non-essential" turns out to be another person's "essential." But when we view those conflicts through the lens of unity, diversity and charity, it gets us closer to heaven than the world's language of contracts and winning.
As much as I have on occasion wanted a lengthy or difficult committee meeting to end (and who hasn't?) I seldom remember the endings of meetings. As I look back, the most inspiring moments in church leadership have not been times of resolution. Instead, they have been those messier moments that have to occur before things get wrapped up. I think back to the 20 minutes before the meeting ended, or to the week before the issue was decided, and I realize that God was moving in the key moments of compromise.
In a moment of compromise, in a priesthood of all believers, one person gracefully acknowledges to another that while they do feel strongly about a course of action, they are willing to consider that the Holy Spirit could also be moving through another plan.
In the world, we often think that the person who comes up with the brilliant solution is the most valuable person in the room. But if you follow Christ who prays for the day when all would be one, you may notice that the disciple God was relying upon most was the one who was called to say, "Ok, we'll try it your way." When compromise is offered as a blessing, we are indeed reminded of another core belief that "the unity of the church is not of its own making." It comes from some place bigger.
The Rev. Lillian Daniel is senior minister of First Congregational UCC in Glen Ellyn, Ill., and author of "Tell It Like It Is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony." (Alban Institute, 2006).