Written by Gregg Brekke
Imagine what's possible when the cavernous arena of the Tampa Convention Center is lit by cell phones to create a twinkling image of the universe.
Congregants at the first worship of GS28 Friday evening were invited to "light a candle in the darkness" and turn their cells phones on, find a candle app or "just let it emit some kind of light and God will understand." In that cosmic glow, members of the international community brought the message of "imagine" in their own languages.
Testimony from three pastors provided a litany of imaging God's new possibilities
The Rev. Susan K Smith, the pastor of Advent UCC in Columbus, Ohio, recalled the children's story of "The Little Engine that Could" as told by her mother to tell the story of the little church that could.
When she was called to Advent (and then uncalled!), she went any way and was less than impressed with the tiny congregation of fewer than 10. But as a former member of Trinity UCC in Chicago, she asked Trinity's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, to lead her installation service.
"He told us, "Do not look at what you are. Look at what you shall become.' And I remembered my mother chanting, "I knew I could.' "
Within a couple of months, Advent UCC was resurrecting its building. "Walking and singing, we dedicated that building to God.nbsp; We had the good sense to let God know that this was God's work and we were just vessels," Smith said.
"We had God and that's all that we needed. Now our seven members have grown to about 300.nbsp; You can't stop someone who believes like God believes."
The Rev. Marilyn Pagan-Banks, director of A Just Harvest, brought witness to the combination of justice with mercy that has transformed a middle-class church in Skokie, Ill.
"When I give bread to the poor, they call me a saint," she said. "But when I ask why people are poor, they call me a Communist.
"We are agitated by the presence of hunger and poverty in a major city in the richest country in the world. But mercy with justice is a shift in relationship. God not only wants our all but will use our all to do all that God is calling us to do."
"St. Peter's UCC in Skokie is demanding changes in the community circumstances, eliminating the chasm between justice and mercy," she said. "I urge you to risk it all through Jesus Christ.
The transformation of a church that accepts the unacceptable was the testimony of the Rev. Josh Longbottom, associate pastor at Plymouth Congregational UCC in Lawrence, Kan.
He began with a call to "Facebook us. What new thing God is doing in your home church. From the glow on your faces, I know you can text and listen to a witness at the same time. So post to Facebook.com/unitedchurchofchrist."
Music was the catalyst of change at Plymouth. "Our contemporary service, and our Beatles Easter Service started it. We're working on a James Brown or Beach Boys Christmas service. Young people come for the music and have been caught in the grip of hospitality.
"I believe we're the first anywhere in Kansas to host a gay prom."
"Dare to imagine and learn to accept whomever comes through your doors," said Longbottom. "Give preference to the weirdos, to the ugly and the stinky and you will begin to see the face of God in your own sanctuary."