Written by Anthony Moujaes
The upcoming General Synod of the United Church of Christ this summer won't be just business, worship, singing and greeting old friends. Delegates and visitors of the gathering have the opportunity to go out into the community to perform acts of service for the people of Baltimore, and share that life-changing experience with their local faith communities when they return from General Synod.
Local Arrangements Committee Chair Jill White said that in identifying the service projects, the coordinating group wanted to focus on the areas of people, the environment, and animals.
"We see the projects as justice issues surrounding all these different aspects, and we hope that the conference and delegates can support them in some way," said White.
Planning and management of Synod service projects is now a function of the Local Arrangements Committee, with the acknowledgement that the local people are better suited to know the needs of the community.
As part of the event's traditional service projects, visitors of General Synod 2017, to take place June 30-July 4, can participate in what is being called an "Injustice Walk," to help give them a better understanding of the reality of being homeless in a big city like Baltimore.
Groups of 12 to 15 people will get an introduction to homelessness in the area during a one-hour guided walk of the city by representatives of Baltimore Area Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau and Earl's Place. The walk is being coordinated by the executive director of United Ministries, a UCC Council for Health and Human Services Ministries member, and 17-year provider of supportive housing to the homeless. Earl’s Place, one of its programs, a transitional housing site for homeless men, is where the walk begins.
"When asked to do a service project, one place that immediately came to mind is Earl's Place," White said. "We really were looking for issues that are important to UCC congregations here. United Ministries started as a ministry of a UCC church." United Ministries is the vision of the Rev. Eugene Bartell, former pastor of First United Evangelical UCC, and several people who volunteered at The Supper Club, a feeding program at the church.
Service project participants can also learn more about Earl's Place in the exhibit hall, where there will be booths to provide information, and to collect items that can be of use by the people it ministers to. The Central Atlantic Conference of the UCC is encouraging General Synod attendees to bring hats, gloves, scarves, socks, blankets and small pillows to distribute to more than 26,000 homeless people in the conference.
Another project that should inspire delegates and create goodwill will include some urban forestry and volunteer gardening in the city with a program called “Blue Water Baltimore.” Volunteers will learn all about native tree species and urban ecosystems along with all the best stewardship practices and unique challenges that face Baltimore’s tree canopy.
"It will include some type of forestry maintenance — mulching, painting trees, cleaning up a park. But the location will be determined shortly before the event, based on need," White said. No experience is required.
If you are an animal lover, a third service project is collecting donated toys and supplies for the Best Friends Animal Society.
General Synod 31 will be held June 30 through July 4 at the Baltimore Convention Center, located right in the heart of city’s historic Inner Harbor seaport. Information is available on the General Synod website, which will be continuously updated with emerging details. Registration for the gathering is open. The cost of registration is $236.50 if booked by March 31; and $247.50 if booked on April 1 or after. There is also a special rate for seminarians of $150.