Worship invites UCC to become a 'living water change'
Written by W. Evan Golder July 3, 2011
At a time when around 60
percent of UCC churches have fewer than 100 members, nothing teases
our imaginations about what might be possible in our own local church
like worshiping God in a General Synod setting.
Our worshipers may not
sing like a Synod congregation of 3,000 and we may not incorporate
liturgical dancing or an original hymn in each service. But as people
of God we are called to flex our imaginations, open ourselves to new
possibilities, and invite our members to think anew about God and our
place in the world where God has placed us.
This theme, example and
challenge permeated Sunday afternoon’s General Synod worship
service that began with children being invited to play in a large
sandbox set up on the floor at the front of the auditorium. Situated
in front of a stage floor painted as ocean and in front of a huge
wall backdrop of Florida scenes, the liturgy acknowledged the Florida
Conference as Synod’s host and blessed the worship space.
Recognizing the diversity
of the UCC’s membership, the call to worship was in both English
and Spanish. Rich symbolism was woven through the service and to
stimulate worshipers’ imaginations. It included the “greening”
of a large cross mounted on the stage, a new hymn “We Know that God
is Speaking,” a communion option of “gluten-free” bread, and a
“Time of Passage” litany.
This “Time of Passage”
service recognized the contributions of three Collegium members whose
time of service is coming to an end: Edith A. Guffey, the Rev. Cally
Rogers-Witte, and the Rev. Stephen L. Sterner. Also, the Rev. John F.
Gundlach, retiring as the UCC’s Minister for Governmental
Chaplaincies, was invited to read the scripture.
The sermon was based on
that text, Genesis 21:8-21, the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar.
As explored by the Rev. Laurinda Hafner, senior pastor of Coral
Gables (Fla.) Congregational UCC, this melodrama became the venue for
exploring the distances we put between ourselves and those we don’t
want to hear or see.
“What is the distance,”
she asked, “that we too often put between those who seek living
water and those of us well-established and well-settled into the pews
and fabric of our churches?
“Is it clinging to old
familiar ways: hanging on for dear life to what has always been;
keeping the lid on the pot by not boiling up the subversive nature of
the gospel; or boiling everything down to a mush that will keep
everyone full but far from fed?”
Quoting Episcopal bishop
John Shelby Spong, she said, “The vocation of the United Church of
Christ is to walk the theological frontier… No church that forces
engagement with new thinking will ever appeal to the masses… Your
call is to be a faithful church, a witnessing church.”
concluded, “we need to stop thinking of ourselves as a dying
denomination and start thinking about ourselves as a movement for
living water change.”