Over the weekend, I attended the Tri-Conference Annual meetings of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. This wasn’t just any meeting of the respective Conferences of the United Church of Christ, for in it these three conferences would vote on whether or not to pursue unification. If this were to happen, they would become the first Conferences to request that their boundaries shift and that a new Conference be formed as a result.
Throughout the weekend, the Holy Spirit was invoked. She is, after all, the lifeblood of the Church. It was Jesus himself who said that it is a good thing he is leaving, for if he did not the Advocate could not come. Following his death and resurrection, we all remained hidden in the upper room, unable to fulfill our missional imperative to preach the good news to the ends of the Earth – until that Pentecost Sunday when the Holy Spirit, the Advocate of whom Jesus spoke on the night of his death, came like the rush of a mighty wind and emboldened our courage – sending us out to do that for which we were called.
She has not abandoned us since. She blows where She will, and the faithful attune themselves to her movements. There is a particular expression of Christianity embraced by the United Church of Christ that finds that this act of discerning the movement of God’s Holy Spirit is best accomplished in community, when the gathered come together and listen to each other speak what is on their hearts and minds.
That happened this last weekend in Hartford, when the body that was assembled tested whether or not their historic separateness was to be sacrificed for a current, common good – a decision that would bind long time historic allies in a common cause to become, as it was expressed so beautifully, together as one.
It was an honor to be present at, to witness, and to speak to the gathering of these faithful people. My own words were invited into the discerning body – bringing the perspective of a broader community that would be deeply affected by the decision they made.
The dialogue was respectful throughout, as one would hope from disciples of Jesus for whom love is the hallmark of their chosen way. There was present throughout the weekend an almost tangible electricity as everyone present knew what was at stake. The weight of the moment was not lost on any of us. The worship seemed to embody an authenticity of divine and sacred presence we too easily and too often take for granted. In the debates, there was an awareness of historic magnitude – a sense that this decision could not only bring to an end a structural reality, but could usher in a new way of being for the Church as we know it.
In a denomination that has, on balance, chosen autonomy over covenant as a primary way of structuring ourselves – this could signal a commitment to an interdependent way of living that not only called us to think differently about the role of autonomy and its relationship to our covenantal life, but could also introduce to the entire denomination the belief that old structures must give way to the new thing the Spirit is birthing.
There was a solemnity appropriate for the moment when it was announced that all three Conferences had affirmed the decision to be together as one. What was felt then was less joy than the weight of knowing that saying yes to something this big meant grieving the loss of something as big on the other side of that yes.
The church moves forward under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.
Hard choices determine new days.
Time makes ancient good uncouth, and we must onwards still and upwards who would keep abreast of truth.
God is still speaking.
The body is still faithfully listening.
And we move forward with courage and trepidation on this, our journey together as one Into the Mystic.