Incoming moderator: 'Mend broken relationships'
In a brief commissioning ceremony held prior to the closing worship at General Synod 26 in Hartford, Moderator Merlyn Lawrence presented to me the General Synod moderator medallion and banner and charged me, as well as incoming Assistant Moderators Jane Tedder and John Humphrey, to fulfill our duties and responsibilities to the best of our abilities with "God being our helper."
Under the bright stage lights in the Hartford Civic Center, the medallion — commissioned nearly 50 years ago by the Indiana Kentucky Conference and made by the stitchery group of Plymouth Congregational UCC in Fort Wayne, Ind. — appeared to be in perfect condition. Even the assembled congregation of women, men and children had a certain appearance of perfection. Perhaps my perceptions were clouded by the fact that this ceremony represented a very important milestone in my life. If imperfections were to be seen anywhere, that was not the moment for me to acknowledge them.
However, later in the evening and upon closer examination, I discovered many of the wires connecting the medallion's 21 pewter nameplates were weak, separated and broken as a result of age, or perhaps the heavy weight of the medallion itself. No need to worry. My octogenarian father-in-law and I have already decided that what the medallion and its multiple plates need is a repair session in his workshop where he and I will gather with some of our best tools and some new wire loops from the local hardware store. I am confident that a few hours of careful attention in Dad's workshop will leave the historic medallion in much better and stronger condition than when it was presented to me.
While I am filled with hope and confidence that the many connectors on the medallion will soon be restored, I have a "sneaky suspicion" (an expression sometimes used by us southerners to indicate doubt) that the weak, separate and broken links among members of our beloved UCC will be much harder to mend.
Recently, during a conference of clergy and choir guild members held on the campus of Hampton University, where U.S. Sen. Barack Obama also served as keynote speaker, I engaged in long conversations with three or four formerly active UCC pastors, whose congregations have ended their relationships with our denomination. When I spoke to them regarding my plans to attend General Synod, each without exception, lamented their lost opportunities for fellowship with other pastors and members of the UCC.
At General Synod 26 in Hartford, delegates adopted, with amendments, a resolution that calls upon the UCC to make special efforts to retain those churches "considering themselves to be evangelical, conservative, orthodox, or traditional (ECOT) in theological outlook."
Currently there appears to be very little evidence that our church is really concerned about those members whom we've lost and those we are on the verge of losing. One person was overheard rejoicing over the fact that the 40 small-membership churches their Conference has lost had been replaced by a single church with several thousand members.
Although we appreciate gaining the large-membership church, the parables of the lost seem to suggest that a very different strategy be followed before the rejoicing begins.
And so you've asked what my top priority will be as moderator?
I plan to spend a lot time during the next two years mending broken relationships among our pastors and churches. That we may all be one.
The Rev. Marvin L. Morgan, incoming moderator for General Synod 27 in Grand Rapids, Mich., is minister of pastoral care at First Congregational UCC in Atlanta, and faith communities coordinator for the Justice@Smithfield campaign.