Written by Anthony Moujaes
A village. A chapel. A long row of bookshelves. Smiling faces. Brochures. Jelly wristbands galore: General Synod 2013's main exhibit hall in the Long Beach Convention Center displays, describes, occasionally delights, and sometimes embodies the manifold ministries of the United Church of Christ.
Entering the room, visitors and delegates find themselves promptly walking into the village marketplace of Wider Church Ministries and Global Ministries. "People gather in marketplaces around the world," said Florence Coppola, Executive for National Disaster Ministries; "Come to the marketplace."
Marcy Dory, Program Associate for Mission Education and Interpretation, pointed to some of the highlighted ministries. Global Ministries, seeking to deepen relationships in series with longtime global mission partners, has launched a "Congo Initiative" this summer. Suffering has marked the Democratic Republic of Congo for over fifteen years. War, human rights abuses, and failure to treat curable diseases has resulted in at least six million deaths since 1976.
Many of the struggles revolve around Congo's mineral resources, including coltan, used in many portable electronic devices. "Our technology," said Dory, "is built on the suffering of many people around the world."
Further down the hall, chairs sit in a set of circles beneath white draperies, surrounded by images recalling stained glass windows. Local Church Ministries, said the Rev. Rachel Hackenberg, Minister for Committee on Ministry Resources and Conference Support, "has sought to create a sacred space in the midst of the chaos of the exhibit hall." The Order of Corpus Christi will celebrate the eucharist there on Saturday and Monday, and each day will begin with morning prayer.
The circles will welcome Synod-goers for a variety of conversations on local church ministry issues: worship, developing lay leadership, outdoor ministry, music, evangelism, and more. MESA plans to preview the new online ministerial profile system, which clergy use to provide information to churches search for pastors, that they will release next year. Musician Rob Leveridge will perform. Volunteers are welcome to offer their own ideas or, suggested the Rev. David Schoen, Minister and Team Leader of the Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team, "just sit down and start talking to people."
A great dove hovers over the Justice and Witness Ministries area, representing the wings of justice, says Sandy Sorenson, director of the Washington, DC office. “We do justice wherever UCC people are doing justice,” which makes the conversations with Synod-goers critical. They look to gather and share information about how UCC members engage in the struggle for a better world in such places as the Franklinton Center at Bricks in North Carolina, working for racial justice; or Pilgrim Firs in Washington State, advocating for the environment.
On Saturday, the Council for Youth and Young Adults Ministries will work with Centro Romero, an immigration advocacy organization in San Ysidro, California, to provide young people with a border immersion experience. It is stories like these, says Bentley Debardelaben, Executive for Communications and Administration, which they hope to draw out from UCC members around the country, and “be in community together.”
The UCC’s financial ministries have gathered in two large adjoining open areas. The Pension Boards – UCC, celebrating 100 years of service in 2013, not only provides for the needs of retired ministers but offers health care coverage for current staff in churches and agencies of the church. United Church Funds provides asset investment services for UCC congregations and ministries. Two agencies offer financing options: The Church Building & Loan Fund offers loans toward construction or renovations of any Christian church, while the Cornerstone Fund has borrowing options for property-related projects for UCC churches and organizations. “It’s about increasing ways to of giving, or [obtaining funding] if your church is building, or if you’re looking to invest individually,” said the Rev. Cheri Lovell of United Church Funds. “People from the church are able to get these services through their church, and at competitive rates.”
Churches of the UCC, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the Presbyterian Church (USA) can protect their ministries from calamities through the programs of the Insurance Board. The Office of Stewardship develops the resources many local congregations use in their annual campaigns, and offers both best practices and theological reflections on the disciplines of Christian given. The Financial Development Ministry works with individuals to encourage support of UCC ministries at the conference and national levels.
In addition to the big displays of national ministries, related groups have also prepared their spaces and materials to tell their stories. At the United Black Christians booth, 1st Vice President Zillah Jackson Wesley wants to be sure visitors get excited about the work to strengthen African-American churches and equip the new emerging leaders. "We want people to see that everything is new," she emphasized. "UBC is doing new things: and relevant!"
The Exhibit Hall closes at noon on Tuesday, July 2.