Written by Anthony Moujaes
There's been a buzz in the air since Extravagance UCC was announced during the United Church of Christ's General Synod 2013 in Long Beach, Calif. So what is happening in forming that online congregation? Quite a bit, according to the Rev. Jo Hudson, the gathering pastor of Extravagance UCC, and The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of Local Church Ministries.
Extravagance UCC is envisioned as a web-based spiritual community that gathers in a new way of defining church in the 21st century. To begin building it, Hudson is forming relationships with people interested in being some of the online congregation's "community members." As those people gather, Hudson and other UCC leaders will ask what kind of congregation they want to be.
"It's my hope that the community will be known by the covenant they keep, and by the rigor of its investment among the people," Guess said.
Since the announcement in early July, Hudson has been gathering feedback through an online questionnaire, polling those interested across the UCC what they imagine Extravagance UCC will entail. There have been more than 100 responses so far, and while there are several ideas to consider and discuss, more input and ideas are welcome.
"We want to hear from people who are eager to be a part of this, who have a vision, and give them a space to create the community they want to create," Guess said.
Hudson has seen interest in Extravagance from a variety of types of people. Some are isolated in their geography with no nearby UCC congregation; some interact naturally on the internet and form communities online; others are curious about what the congregation will offer, and there are some people who might see Extravagance as a way to learn about their faith.
"Almost everyone I've talked to on social media and in my group of friends have been quite interested in the concept," Hudson said.
During the National Church Leadership Institute Aug. 6-9 in Atlanta, an event hosted by the UCC-related Center for Progressive Renewal, Hudson met several people intrigued by and excited about the formation of Extravagance UCC.
The Officers of the UCC first formulated the idea about two year ago of forming a virtual community, and it has "percolated ever since," Hudson said. Guess first approached Hudson in April about leading Extravagance UCC after she stepped down as senior pastor at the Cathedral of Hope-Dallas, and the two spoke more about it in May.
For now, Extravagance UCC is in creative and formative stages.
"We're all committed to taking our time and doing this step by step," Hudson said.
"We are approaching this very much like we would approach any new church start, putting our primary focus on the community of people itself, rather than on infrastructure," Guess said. "So we're in a relationship-building phase with people who are excited and committed to giving themselves as founding members of Extravagance UCC, and bringing those people together in relationship so they can decide for themselves what this community will look like, what its covenant will be and how they live out community in non-geographic settings."
Both Hudson and Guess agree that the online spiritual community will likely rely on multiple ways of communication beyond website and emails. Social media will be important, and opportunities for face-to-face gatherings have also been discussed as a way to strengthen the bonds within the congregation.
A Leaders in Koinonia (LinK) Event scheduled for Nov. 6-8 in Cleveland will bring together a group that will meet, discuss and further define what Extravagance UCC will become. LinK events are organized by Local Church Ministries to strengthen relationships among ministries of local churches, clergy and lay leaders, and the national setting of the denomination.
"We'll gather people in Cleveland who have expertise and gifts to offer Extravagance, who have been in conversations, who have expertise in social media," Hudson said. "We'll spend a day or two talking about what it looks like. Once we have that laid out, then we can put some of the technology behind it."
To participate in Extravagance UCC and share your thought with Hudson, visit the website and fill out the questionnaire.