Three cities, three churches in 48 hours. Several hundred people from across the United Church of Christ. And a full heart for the denomination's ninth general minister and president. The progressive installation of the Rev. John Dorhauer culminated on Sunday, April 17, with the final worship service at Plymouth Church UCC in downtown Seattle.
"My heart is full. This weekend brought the United Church of Christ family together as one. We worshiped coast to coast, while livestreaming to all parts of our denomination," he 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."
The installation service is seen as a covenant between Dorhauer and members of the denomination. Dorhauer's promise, to move the church from where it is today toward a future envisioned by the Holy Spirit, and to serve the church and it's people faithfully.
The Rev. Charles Buck, Hawaii Conference minister, speaking on behalf of all the conference minsters in the western part of the country in attendance, said, "We do look forward to find times of fellowship, committing to continue our relationships of mutual accountability and finding ways for collaboration."
"We welcome you with prayerful grace, and we are blessed to be together today as one," said the Rev. Brigitta Remole, Plymouth Church senior minister.
First founded in 1869, Plymouth Church has a history of social justice advocacy and service to the homeless. The congregation, which recovered and grew after the Great Seattle Fire in 1889, flourished during the Civil Rights Era and welcomed the Rev. Martin Luther King for a reception at the church after a speaking engagement.
The Rev. Darrell Goodwin, pastor of Liberation UCC in Seattle, delivered the first of three vision statements about a renewed and vital mission for the denomination.
"We envision a church that that is inclusive and has an expansive welcome — a welcome that goes beyond the label 'extravagant,'" Goodwin said. "Folks will experience a faith community that understands, not tolerates, Islam, a church which fully accepts LGBT families and does not tokenize them, and ultimately a church that is willing to changed not assume that those it has welcomed will simply assimilate. A church that has intercultural engagement as its core tenant."
The Rev. Rich Gamble, pastor of Keystone Congregational UCC in Seattle, and the Rev. Sue Artt, conference minister of the UCC Rocky Mountain Conference and moderator for General Synod 2017, continued the theme of a changing church.
"The fires of injustice are burning down our neighbors homes," Gamble said. "It's time to choose a new direction, time to abandon hopelessness. The church is about one thing — its mission. It's time to put out the fires."
Said Artt, "The mission field for ministry is expanding and the Spirit isn't done with us. The face of the church is changing. We may have to give up some older understandings of church if we are to follow the Spirit in this newness planned for us."
The Sunday worship included communion led by Dorhauer and his predecessor, the Rev. Geoffrey Black. The offering of bread as the body of Christ was made in New York City, and the offering of grapes as the blood of Christ was made in Chicago, culminating with Holy Communion for about 400 people in attendance in Seattle.
Dorhauer invited Reema Qadry, of the Seattle Islamic Speakers Bureau, to share a closing thought at the service, a sign of the UCC's commitment to strengthening its interfaith relationships. "Even only speaking with him briefly, I felt connected instantly as if we have known each other," Qadry said. "His interfaith work — standing in solidarity with Muslims in the Phoenix area — is so powerful, especially at a time when Muslim Americans are feeling threatened with heightened Islamophobia."
The progressive service also included a family moment at each location. On Sunday, John's youngest sibling, Jay, introduced his big brother to the crowd, and friend John Eisenhaeur played a pair of songs on his guitar.
"John has a gift," Jay said reflecting on his brother's call to ministry. "It brings me joy that his gift has been shared with so many people, and will be shared with many more."