Written by Anthony Moujaes
As the religious landscape in the United States continues to shift, the United Church of Christ must lead from the front. That sentiment, shared and repeated during the weekend installation of the Rev. John C. Dorhauer, was underscored by the three-city progressive worship service for the ninth general minister and president, taking him coast-to-coast in a unique and unifying moment for the wider church.
The three-day service also marks a pivotal point in time for the future and mission of the denomination, one that the ninth general minister and president is eager to tackle.
"If this installation was intended to inspire me to go out and do what I have been called to do, then each host congregation has done its work well," Dorhauer said. "I am proud to say that Jesus has shown me down pathways of peace, humility and justice. I feel blessed to have been in the presence of so many this weekend."
The service began April 15 at The Riverside Church in New York City, continued April 16 at Trinity UCC on Chicago's South Side, and concluded April 17 at Plymouth Church UCC in downtown Seattle.
At each location, those in attendance were invited to gather around Dorhauer and lay their hands on him and each other. Three past and present officers of the church — Justice and Witness Ministries acting executive the Rev. Traci Blackmon in New York, former general ministers the Rev. John Thomas and the Rev. Paul Sherry in Chicago, and Wider Church Ministries executive the Rev. James Moos in Seattle — offered a prayer, asking God’s blessing on Dorhauer’s new ministry as he guides the denomination.
"As we lay hands upon you and upon one another, know that the prayers of our global partners are also present," Moos said, laying a scarf from India around Dorhauer’s neck. "May all of us in this moment be renewed by God's grace as we hear a calling to new things through the Creator and Redeemer with the Holy Spirit, in your holy church."
Also bringing greetings to each host church were ecumenical guests from the UCC’s partner denominations — including the Rev. Jordan Cantrell, moderator of the United Church of Canada, the Rev. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church, and the Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
"I am confident he will provide the strong leadership and innovation that your church is looking for," Cantrell said in New York City. "The installation of a new leader is an exciting time in the life of any organization. Fresh leadership brings innovation and new approaches."
"I am sure I speak on behalf of all [the UCC’s] partner churches when I say I am truly looking forward to working with Rev. Dorhauer in the very near future," Cantrell said.
The progressive services were woven together through a shared call to worship, the debut of new music commissioned for the occasion, and "vision sermons" from a trio of UCC pastors and leaders at each location sharing their thought on the church of the future. They were distinct in that each church’s unique identity — Riverside’s neo-gothic congregational style, Trinity’s unapologetically black distinctiveness, and Plymouth’s modern and multi-ethnic tapestry — often shined through.
In New York City, speakers alluded that the time is upon denomination to step into a new movement propelled by the Holy Spirit.
In Chicago, people heard God’s call to be a church that revolutionizes the world through its ministry of healing and lifting those in need.
In Seattle, the service included communion led by Dorhauer and his predecessor, the Rev. Geoffrey Black, culminating with Holy Communion for about 400 people in attendance.
"My heart is full. This weekend brought the United Church of Christ family together as one. We worshiped coast to coast, while live streaming to all parts of our denomination," Dorhauer said. "The well wishes, prayers, and words of support were uplifting. The Spirit was fresh, alive, and renewing. More than installed, I feel fully charged by the Spirit's restless and abiding hand moving us forward into a new day."