The United Church of Christ is ready to live differently, stepping into an uncertain but exciting future, according to the president and professor of preaching and worship at Eden Theological Seminary. The Rev. David Greenhaw was the keynote speaker during a final joint gathering of the UCC's individual ministry boards this weekend in Cleveland. A new United Church of Christ Board (UCCB) replaces the current structure on July 2, 2013, following the close of the UCC's General Synod in Long Beach, Calif.
Much of what Greenhaw shared Saturday night with the members of the individual ministry boards wove the mood of the weekend together — a mood of celebration of what has been, and excitement of the possibilities in the future. The anecdote of mowing a lawn was the metaphor for the two days of meetings in Cleveland. When a person mows the lawn, you know where you've been, Greenhaw said, and where you need to go. You have an idea how long it will take to finish and what it should look like when you're done.
"Although a lot is coming to an end this weekend and at General Synod, it feels a lot like loss," Greenhaw said. "The ability and will we have don't always coincide. They only so often come together … Our capacities are far greater than we can imagine."
The new United Church of Christ Board will have 52 members who will be presented by the General Synod Nominating Committee to Synod delegates in Long Beach. The new UCCB will replace the more than 250 people sitting on the UCC's current four boards, as those boards — representing Justice and Witness Ministries, Local Church Ministries, Wider Church Ministries and the Office of General Ministries — vote to dissolve. The election of the new board members takes place July 1, 2013, and the board will meet for the first time following the adjournment of General Synod on July 2.
In finding the right voice and storyteller for the joint plenary session and dinner to close the last board meeting for each of the covenanted ministries, event planners asked who they could ask to speak honestly, deeply, and sincerely.
"David personifies a profound love of the United Church of Christ," UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black said during his introduction of Greenhaw. "He has been an energetic thinker and speaker for the church."
Greenhaw is an ordained UCC minister and has served churches in New York, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Missouri. He is active in the field of preaching and worship, and has published and lectured on the revitalization of mainline Protestantism.
Greenhaw earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Kansas in 1976, his M.Div. degree from Eden Theological Seminary in 1979 and a Ph.D. from Drew University in 1987. He joined the Eden faculty in 1997.
In his speech, Greenhaw talked about the connected history of what he called the UCC's "publics," its work outside the doors of the congregations. He used examples of the American Missionary Association founding schools in the South to offer education as a means to advance abolition, the history of the UCC's Pilgrim Press in early publishing as a vehicle for communication, and the formation of public schools out of the structure from Sunday schools.
"The publics we have formed over and over have not always been right, but they imagined that we could live differently," Greenhaw said.
The UCC national offices also announced some initial staff realignments this weekend to mirror changes to the board, beginning to live into a "one-staff" model.
"Our work on this started last year as we looked at the onset of unified governance," said the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, the general minister and president of the UCC. "All the covenanted ministries will be governed by one group of board members so we saw this as an opening to think creatively on how we, as one staff, can advance the mission of the United Church of Christ."