Written by Connie Larkman
Calling the United Church of Christ "one of the best kept secrets out there" and praising the work of local churches living into the call to build a just world for all, the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president, outlined the denomination's shared purpose, mission and vision statements for General Synod delegates on Saturday morning, and previewed a common missional initiative called the "Three Great Loves."
Dorhauer, who spent the last two years crisscrossing the country and listening to people at all levels of the denomination, said that the UCC Board and national leadership aimed to write a purpose, mission and vision statement that articulates the core values of the UCC and explores what it means to be in covenant with one another.
The Purpose Statement, the UCC reason for being, is drawn from a passage in Matthew's Gospel: To love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.
The Mission Statement: United in Spirit and inspired by God's grace, we welcome all, love all, and seek justice for all.
The Vision: United in Christ's love, a just world for all.
"We were hoping to find a phase that would pop, that really captured our essence," Dorhauer said. "When we asked you what you would see if we were successful at our mission, these words appeared: 'A just world for all.' The second I saw those words in print, my heart leapt. This vision calls upon all of us — no matter what our political or theological commitments are; no matter whether we identify as an urban, rural or town setting; no matter whether we are a large, small, pastor-sized or family-sized congregation; whether we are a CHHSM [Council for Health and Human Service Ministries] agency or a conference board of directors — all of us covenantally bear now the same responsibility. We must faithfully answer the question: how do we embody or incarnate a commitment to build a just world for all?"
Dorhauer acknowledged that this call for love and justice, to extravagant welcome and grace, is already fueling the ministries of UCC congregations around the country, and he pledged that the national setting would get better at "curating and narrating the stories of impact that you create. Lives will be changed by this mission that you have committed to, and we in the national setting need to get better at telling those stories, both to ourselves and to a world so much in need of the kind of unconditional love that you commit to. Let us all commit to envisioning a United Church of Christ that stops being the best-kept secret out there."
He called out a handful of local churches whose ministries are already making headlines: Woodside Church in Flint, Mich., Countryside Church, in Omaha, Neb., Hillsborough UCC in North Carolina, and Park Avenue Christian Church in New York. And he promised that the national setting will soon be nimble enough to amplify and add to those stories.
"We are pastors of a shared vision and collectors of your stories of impact," Dorhauer said. "It is the work that you do in all of your ministry settings that brings the Gospel alive. And we bear the responsibility of crafting those powerful narratives in such a way that the whole world sees the light of Christ shining brightly through your labors of love."
Dorhauer noted that the UCC Board had worked for nearly three years to amend the denomination's governing documents, to craft constitutional and bylaws changes that "create clear and understandable lines of accountability" and to enable adjustments to be made "as circumstances warrant."
He said that the collegium and the board were now unified in support of the changes. "We are not unaware of the challenges we face to bring the national setting into alignment with these changes," he said, "but we are fully and faithfully committed to that hard work for the good of the whole."
As he neared the end of his report, Dorhauer shared a preview of a missional endeavor he said he would describe more fully on Monday evening. Called "Three Great Loves," the initiative is aimed at building a more just world centered on the love of children, the love of neighbor and the love of creation. Speaking about the love of children, he recalled how Marian Wright Edelman, a keynote speaker at General Synod 2007 in Hartford and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, built her life's work by asking, "How are children doing?" For the love of neighbor, he pointed to the example of The Good Samaritan, and how he cared for the alien and stranger. As for the love of creation, Dorhauer said it was critical that the planet be preserved for future generations.
"What does a denomination committed to love, welcome, and justice look like? You are going to help us answer that question," Dohauer concluded. "Let us continue to practice this life-changing, Christ-centered love. And let the world steady herself for the transformation we continue in the practice of such love. We are the United Church of Christ; called to love neighbor and build a just world for all."