Written by Anthony Moujaes
As members in discernment of the United Church of Christ seek the place to where God is leading them, the United Church of Christ Local Church Ministries is offering those members a few days of rejuvenation and guidance. LCM's Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization team welcomed about 50 Eastern Region Members in Discernment to Cleveland, reminding them that no matter where they are in life's journey, they are welcome at the UCC national setting.
The MESA team, with six staff who support the work of ministers and those considering ministry throughout the church, graciously hosted the Group for four days from March 26 through 29. The event is a hands-on experience for members in discernment to learn about the scope of work across the church and ask questions to national staff, who will support their process in becoming authorized ministers in the UCC.
"It's a chance to build relationships with those people they'll minister with, to get to know the national setting and staff, and we can send them home with the energy and skills as they proceed to the next steps in their discernment — whatever it may be," said the Rev. Holly MillerShank, MESA team leader.
"It's been a joy to go through this discernment process," said Jimmy Gibbs, a UCC member from Umstead Park UCC in Raleigh, N.C. "Our story goes on. It has no period. That's what's great about this process – you don't know where it's going to end."
Each year, Local Church Ministries hosts a group of members from a different part of the country on a rotating basis. Next year, the Central Region Members in Discernment will visit Cleveland, followed by a meeting of the West Coast Members in Discernment in 2016. MESA team members shared the core values of the UCC — continuing testament, extravagant welcome and changing lives through the Stillspeaking God — with the visitors.
"It's been quite an experience to go through this with others and I've learned that we all go through this differently based on where we are as God leads us," said Gibbs. "It's an awesome discernment process. No one can take that journey for us. We all share our stories and they're all different."
MESA staff also spoke about the various ministry opportunities, from chaplaincy to social justice advocacy, with the Eastern Region Members in Discernment.
"I've probably discerned that I will work for social and racial justice, for a church that believes in equality for everyone, or for an organization that needs a chaplain on their behalf to provide clothing, shelter and pastoral care for people with disabilities," Gibbs said.
Fredd Ward, another attendee, is nearing the end of his seminary studies as a part-time student for the last eight years, during which he has served a Connecticut church. Ward is no stranger to the Church House since he also served the national setting of the denomination working for the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries and serving as a board member for the old UCC Executive Council.
"I've fallen in love with Cleveland, and this was a great opportunity to come back and be in Cleveland for a different reason," Ward said. "It's cool to connect with other people going through the same thing."