I was born by the river in a little tent. Oh, and just like the river, I've been running ever since It's been a long, a long time coming But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will!
Songwriter Sam Cooke wrote "this anthem of hope" 50 years ago, and UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey Black took those lyrics as the text for his renomination speech Saturday morning at General Synod 2013 in Long Beach, Calif.
Black, who was first elected at General Synod 2009, was unanimously nominated by the UCC's Executive Council for a second term. He will need 60 percent of the vote from delegates at Monday's Plenary session for re-election.
In his remarks, Black looked back to the roiling change of 1963 when Dr. Martin Luther King wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail, the March on Washington, Medgar Evers' assassination, the bombing of the Birmingham church that took the lives of four little girls and finally the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
And the radical change of 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War that ended slavery and threatened the union itself.
"It has often been said that the only constant in life is change itself," Black said. "This morning what I have to say to you is all about change, and change comes in many forms. Change is a multi- dimensional phenomenon."
Black focused on two forms of change: Hoped-for change and adaptive change.
"Hoped-for change is what the anti-slavery movement, the movement of the 19th Century abolitionists and the year 1863 were about," Black said. "Hoped-for change is what the Civil Rights Movement and the year 1963 were about. These were forward movements. Those movements took place over time and they happened for the purpose of making hoped-for change.
"Adaptive change is what is called for when the context has already changed and there is a need to make a change in your life or in your institution in order to continue to fulfill your mission or purpose."
Black stressed that the church alive is a church that can adapt to a changed and changing world and restructure the way the UCC does church. He ran through the list of dramatic shifts in justice and freedom that the UCC has help foster over the years and then drilled down on the issues that will encompass the church in the future — climate change and the movement toward sustainability, pushing back against gun proliferation and gun violence and, now once again, the protection of voting rights.
"Unfortunately, because of the most recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, we must now name secure and equal voting rights for all citizens as a hoped-for change," he said. "Many sacrificed their fortunes — and some their lives — to secure the right to vote for all Americans, now we have a court that will not protect that right even though it is clearly in danger."
He underscored that both hoped-for and adaptive change are "part and parcel of our institutional DNA" and that the actions of General Synod 2013 will reflect that commitment.
"As long as we are clear about the change we hope for and the mission that we are on, as long as we hold fast to the belief that our hoped for change will come, we don't need to be afraid of adaptive change or dismayed by the ways we must change."
As Sam Cooke said, "I know a change gonna come. Oh, yes, it will!