Written by Anthony Moujaes
The 31st General Synod of the United Church of Christ will "make glad" the holy places where God dwells.
The theme of the 2017 biennial gathering, "Make Glad," unveiled at the UCC Board of Directors spring meeting on Saturday, March 18, will invite the denomination to re-energize discipleship in service of God's work. General Synod 2017 takes place June 30 through July 4 in downtown Baltimore.
The scriptural inspiration for the theme comes from Psalm 46:4, which reads, "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells."
"The water theme is an illusion to baptism, so maybe this gives us a chance to re-experience our discipleship in expanded ways we haven't been called," said the Rev. Sue Artt, moderator for the upcoming General Synod. "Water is a universal agent of healing, cleansing and renewal. It's essential for life, and we anticipate this Synod to be a renewal of how we embrace the future for our church and also our shared culture."
The imagery of water, Artt explained, illustrates a celebration of both the Fourth of July and the venue of Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
"This is a superb location. You can assure people in your conferences and local churches that they will not be disappointed by General Synod 31 in Baltimore's Inner Harbor," Artt told the board. "Visually it is just stunning between the blue waters, and the skyline of oranges and yellow. It's a beautiful setting… The Central Atlantic Conference is doing all sorts of wonderful things to help us feel their warm hospitality, and I have confidence the Rev. John Deckenback (conference minister) and his team will make us feel welcome."
The board also approved the operating budget for the 2017 General Synod, pegged at $1.58 million. That amount is an increase from the previous General Synod in Cleveland in 2015, which cost $1.36 million and included a $296,000 surplus. It was the first surplus for General Synod since the gathering was held in Hartford, Conn., in 2009. It's also the largest Synod surplus on record.
The larger budget for Baltimore reflects what UCC Chief Administrative Officer Lee Foley called "spending pressures," including the need to contract out additional help because of reductions to national staff, emerging technology (such as free wifi for guests in the convention center, electronic voting devices and a new mobile app planned for 2017), and some cost differences of hosting a General Synod in Baltimore compared to Cleveland.
One other change to General Synod is the integration of the Youth@General Synod program, which previously was a concurring event for youth and young adults during the gathering. Artt revealed that the Rev. Barbara Kershner Daniel, pastor of Evangelical Reformed UCC in Frederick, Md., will be running the youth program. "I think that's going to be exciting," Artt said, "and she will have ways for them to bring their value directly into the General Synod experience."