Incredible cast' lining up for General Synod 2009 in Grand Rapids

Incredible cast' lining up for General Synod 2009 in Grand Rapids

January 31, 2009
Written by Daniel Hazard

The Grand River provides the backdrop for General Synod 27 in Grand Rapids. Brian Kelly photo.
'River City Saturday' a highlight for families, visitors

Building upon the record-breaking attendance and celebratory spirit at the 2007 General Synod in Hartford, Conn. - the UCC's 50th anniversary - it appears clear that planning for this year's Synod isn't about to shrink back to its pre-2007 days.

"We know that each Synod raises the bar of expectation a little higher and our experience in Hartford certainly has raised our anticipations to an all-time high," says Associate General Minister Edith Guffey, who is administrator of the biennial national gathering. "But people are going to find Grand Rapids [Mich.] to be the site of one of our best General Synods ever. We have already put together an incredible cast of accomplished speakers, activists and musicians to be presenters."

The 27th General Synod will be held June 26-30 at the DeVos Convention Center in downtown Grand Rapids. The theme, "Immerse Yourself," is fitting, Guffey says, given the host city's water-rich location and theological heritage.

"We will be asking each other to 'immerse yourself' in this Synod experience and then return home energized and refreshed for the work and ministry that awaits us," Guffey says. "And there's no better place to talk about immersion than in Grand Rapids, where water is abundant and our Reformed tradition is such an important part of the city's history."

Grand Rapids (1.3 million, metro population) is Michigan's second largest city. The Grand River flows prominently through a revitalized downtown, which boasts multiple parks, pedestrian trails, 60 multicultural restaurants and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

Grand Rapids is home to the UCC's Formula of Agreement partner denomination, the Reformed Church in America, as well as the Christian Reformed Church. In 2010, Grand Rapids will host the uniting General Council of the Reformed Ecumenical Council and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, of which the UCC is an active member.

Those planning to attend General Synod must register. Online registration and hotel information are available at <>.

As in Hartford, a day-long public celebration - called "River City Saturday" this year - will be held on June 27. It will showcase dozens of speakers and performances, including an outdoor festival with entertainment, food and kite-flying.

While River City Saturday's 2009 line-up doesn't include any candidates for U.S. President - at least none that have yet declared - the list does include many prominent activists, journalists, scientists, environmentalists, theologians and more, including:

  • Eugene Robinson, columnist at The Washington Post and regular commentator on MSNBC.
  • Jim Wallis, best-selling author, activist and leader of the Sojourners Community in Washington, D.C.
  • Barbara Brown Taylor, best-selling author, professor and pastoral theologian.
  • Ray Suarez, Jr., NPR reporter and senior correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS.
  • Krista Tippett, host of NPR's Speaking of Faith.
  • Paul Winter, Grammy-award-winning saxophonist.
  • Eboo Patel, founder and executive of director of the Interfaith Youth Corps.
  • Winona LaDuke, Native American activist, author, Ms. Magazine's 1997 Woman of the Year, and Ralph Nader's vice-presidential running mate in 1996 and 2000.
  • James McLurkin, roboticist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, inventor, researcher and teacher.
  • Carolyn Parks-Bani, HIV/AIDS research fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
  • Jason and DeMarco, gay couple and evangelical singing duo who received the 2006 Music Video of the Year award on MTV's LOGO.
  • Anya Kamentz, Pulitzer-Prize-nominated finance writer of "Generation Debt."
  • Nadira Hira, staff writer at
Fortune magazine and frequent commentator on Generation Y.
  • Eric Alva, first American soldier injured in the Iraq War and LGBT rights activist.
  • Da Chen, classically-trained flutist and best-selling author who chronicles his immigration to the United States from China.

"In addition to the impressive lineup of speaker and presenters, we will also have many workshops and multiple bible study opportunities," Guffey says, "so once again people will be asked to make some hard choices about which wonderful opportunity they want to attend next."

The five-day Synod will include daily worship services, including a Sunday afternoon gala worship service on June 28. (The names of Synod preachers have yet to be announced.) Also on June 28, delegates and visitors will participate in an intentional Sacred Conversation on Race, in keeping with the denomination's race-talk emphasis that first launched in April 2008.

Service projects will once again be available for adults, but this year's Synod will feature an expanded youth-focused service program.

Let it be resolved

Nineteen proposed resolutions have been submitted for consideration, but one of the General Synod's most exciting business items will be the election of a new general minister and president to succeed the Rev. John H. Thomas, who, after 10 years, is completing his final term in office. A celebration of Thomas' ministry and leadership will take place on the evening of Sat., June 27.

Synod delegates also will consider the re-election of the Rev. Stephen L. Sterner as executive minister for the UCC's Local Church Ministries and the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo as executive minister for the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries. Both have been nominated by their respective boards for additional four-year terms.

The General Synod could take up oft-debated issues concerning national church governance, including a proposal to form a single United Church Board out of the five autonomous governing bodies that currently oversee the work of the UCC's national setting. That proposal still awaits further consideration by the existing boards at their respective meetings in March.

"General Synod is our family reunion," Guffey says. "It is our semi-annual homecoming, a time to share in great worship, to engage important issues of justice, to participate in community service and to become reacquainted with our brothers and sisters across the church. There's serious deliberation, but also a lot of fun."

Register Today

Register for General Synod at

General Synod at a glance:

Where: DeVos Place, Grand Rapids, Mich.
When: June 26-30, 2009
Who: Up to 5,000 delegates and visitors
Theme: "Immerse Yourself"

Highlights: "River City Saturday," gala Sunday afternoon worship service, celebration of the ministry of the Rev. John Thomas, workshops, service projects and - cookies!

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