Each of the four worship services at General Synod 2013 reflected the theme of God's Vision in a different way. For the final night of the biennial gathering on Tuesday, July 2, God’s Vision was a call to new life after the church moved into a single board of governance from the previous five-board structure.
A New Orleans-style jazz funeral helped to celebrate the church’s extravagant history and the beginning of a joyful future as UCC youth paraded across the stage, dancing beneath a rainbow of colorful umbrellas.
That joyful future and new life, as outlined by UCC pastor the Rev. Jo Hudson, comes from handling the challenging moments by honoring the history of the church and carrying out its mission of changing lives through its extravagant welcome and prophetic witness that changes lives.
“This is a watershed moment for our church, even though it has been in the making for more than a decade,” said Hudson. “I want to remind you that change, even good change, brings with it certain challenges and certain frustrations and inevitable fears.”
Hudson's sermon reflected on how the church must pack lightly and shed excess baggage for the future, the Stillspeaking God’s promise to make things new, and how God always has more in store for humanity.
“What baggage are we carrying into the future?” Hudson asked. “What do we need to unpack and leave behind so that we can go forward together, while at the same time honoring our history and our mission?”
“But wait. There’s more.” That phrase, famous from late-night infomercials, was used by Hudson as she explained how God has echoed across centuries of making things new.
“When Jesus hung dying on a cross and commended his spirit, God said, ‘But wait. There’s more,’” Hudson said. “And on that great getting-up morning when the living, risen Christ was raised from the dead, God said, ‘But wait. There’s more.’”
“And in 1957, when faithful people formed a united and uniting church, God said, ‘But wait. There’s more.’ And in 1999, when those same faithful people gathered in General Synod in Providence, R.I., and voted to change their governance from instrumentalities to four covenanted ministries, God said, ‘But wait. There’s more,’” Hudson continued. “And tonight, as we honor our past and commit to our mission and step out in faith in a way of governing, and of delivering our message, our God is still saying to us, “‘But wait. There’s more.’”
Just three days earlier, it was announced that Hudson is the convening pastor of Extravagance UCC, a web-based spiritual community that will gather in a new way of defining church in the 21st century. She was previously senior pastor at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, one of the largest UCC churches in the country.
Extravagance UCC was created, in part, because there are areas in the country where it is not possible to gather enough people together for a viable church community, particularly in the south and western areas of the United States. The internet has become one way the UCC can look beyond geography for new ways to gather.
During closing worship, the church collected an offering for seminary scholarships. Earlier in the day, a resolution to financially support seminary students was adopted by the General Synod, albeit with amendments to the language. More information will be presented to General Synod 2015 in Cleveland.
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president of the UCC, gave the benediction to close the worship and General Synod 2013.
“Let us now go forth from this place into God’s world. Let us go forth knowing that we are the servants of a loving God. Let us go forth knowing that we are the disciples of a living Christ,” Black said. “Let us go forth know and feeling that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Let us go forth joyfully with peace and thanksgiving in our hearts.”