Written by Connie Larkman
One weekend, three cities. The Rev. John C. Dorhauer will be formally installed as the ninth general minister and president of the United Church of Christ in April, in a weekend of worship services in New York, Chicago and Seattle. The three-day installation, April 15, 16 and 17, underscores Dorhauer's pledge as the leader of the denomination to forge a greater connection between the United Church of Christ national offices and the local churches.
"The whole of the United Church of Christ is engaged in mission together; and the work of the national setting belongs to us all," said Dorhauer. "We are literally going coast to coast with this as a way of giving testimony to that shared mission."
"This three-day sacred celebration is a rare opportunity for the United Church of Christ to come together liturgically to celebrate a general minister and president," said Cheryl Joseph Williams, UCC chief strategic officer. "A service like this doesn't happen often."
The Riverside Church in Manhattan, New York City, Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side, and Plymouth Church United Church of Christ in Downtown Seattle will be the host congregations on April 15, 16 and 17. Each of the churches is firmly rooted in the UCC national mission of social justice, civil rights and national activism.
"It is an opportunity for church leaders to be present in places where church is," Williams continued. "The national setting of the UCC is located in Cleveland, but the Office of the General Minister and President exists to serve the church in its entirety in all of the places where church is. In collaboration with UCC Board leadership, we have sought to find meaningful ways to shape John's installation as invitation. We believe that the three-day series of services will help people feel invited to celebrate across the country, and model new ways of being church together."
"The style of worship is going to reflect our commitment to changing times," said Dorhauer. "Instead of one preacher, there will be nine: three locations, three preachers — all in short, digestible bites, rather than each delivering a full meal."
Participants in the three services will include UCC Board officers and UCC national officers, who will be engaged in worship with members of our local congregations. Each of the participants, with the exception of Dorhauer, will be involved in one service. The installation celebration opens with the service in New York, will continue in Chicago, and close with communion in Seattle.
A core installation service planning team — the Rev. Sue Artt, Acting Conference Minister for the Rocky Mountain Conference and United Church of Christ Moderator, the Rev. Ivy Beckwith, UCC team leader for Faith Formation, and the Rev. Susan Blain, UCC curator for Worship and Liturgical Arts — is already working with a liturgical contact in each host congregation.
"The three of us are tremendously honored and excited to be planning this important and joyous event for the United Church of Christ," said Beckwith. "Our hope is to create worship services linked by theme, scripture and sacrament that reflect both Rev. Dorhauer's deep faith and vision, and the excitement stemming from our belief that the United Church of Christ matters in God's future. While we're eagerly anticipating the work of God's spirit in these worship services, we see them as a springboard, allowing God's spirit of change and hope to infiltrate all corners of the denomination."
While the series of three services will be more expensive than the traditional single service, Williams said that costs are being kept to a minimum, with the planning team using congregational resources in each host community. The three locations around the country were intentionally selected so that livestreaming can be provided during each service, giving people across the UCC an opportunity to be present at Dorhauer's installation.
"While we may be slightly increasing costs, we are greatly increasing participation in and ownership of the mission of the wider church, increasing attendance at and participation in one of the more celebratory moments in the life of the church," said Dorhauer.
The Rev. Brigitta Remole, senior minister of Plymouth Church, said she is "thrilled Rev. Dorhauer accepted the invitation to be installed at Plymouth. John is both a mystic and social activist. I look forward to his leadership as we lean into how we may all be one. What does it mean today that all can be one, and how can we the UCC live that out? Extravagant welcome, a core UCC value, means something different now."
"We want installation weekend to lift up this new beginning for the church as a holy opportunity for members of the UCC and the communities we serve to establish stronger connections — not only with the general minister and president, but with each other," said Williams.
"I don't see this as simply a means of affecting my Installation into the office to which I have been called and elected," said Dorhauer. "I see this as a way of giving voice and visibility to the narrative themes that will call us together into mission: themes of collaboration and interdependence; themes of shared mission across all boundaries; themes of come one, come all; themes of a national setting rooted in and connected to the full width and breadth of this remarkable denomination; themes of access to and presence with leaders from all settings of the church; themes of a worship style less committed to ritual and form than to a sacred presence and substance."
"I see the UCC becoming an increasingly safe harbor for those whose voices are being lost in their faith traditions and for those without faith," Remole said. "This is what excites me — that we can become catalysts, and partner with John's vision in a world where God's voice is still speaking."