The national setting of the United Church of Christ will collaborate this fall with Old South UCC in Boston to provide a broad-based forum on the renewal of the ancient practice of blessing - a rite that has breathed new life and energy into Christian communities.
The national conference of worship leaders titled "Bless!" will take place Nov. 10-11 – the final two days of the UCC Mission:1 campaign. Old South clergy will present blessing as theology, ecclesiology and Christian practice, as well as demonstrate how the church’s vitality is directly related to the learned art and the oft-practiced act of blessing.
"Old South has found that in developing this practice over the last few years, a wonderful and somewhat expected renewal of community life has taken place within the congregation," said the Rev. Susan Blain, UCC minister for worship, liturgy and spiritual formation. "They have reflected theologically on the practice and on its fruits and congregation, and want to share what they have learned with other congregations."
Presented by UCC Local Church Ministries (LCM), Old South Church and the SALT Project, the event will include the introduction of a "Bless!" video and study guide designed to inspire worship leaders to reclaim blessing as a means of revitalizing congregations.
In addition, the "Bless!" closing worship service Nov. 11 will be the nationwide blessing for the conclusion of the UCC "Mission: 1" anti-hunger mission campaign. The service will be web-streamed live.
"We want to share one of the ancient Christian practices we have recovered at Old South and which we use often and liberally," said the Rev. Nancy Taylor, the church’s senior pastor. "We want to speak about one of the ways we are empowering the history of the laity (women, children, men, young and old) to remember themselves as priests, to act as priests, to lend their bodies to serve as conduits of God's love and blessing."
The meeting will be the first in what LCM hopes will be many collaborations among congregations becoming known as Centers of Excellence in various areas of congregational life.
"We want to be very clear that our chosen Centers of Excellence demonstrate ministry that can be replicated in nearly every church," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of the UCC’s Local Church Ministries. "It must be something that almost any congregation can modify and implement regardless of their size or location. We’re looking for churches where people can visit, learn something profound, and leave saying, ‘We can do that too.’ "
LCM provided a grant to Old South Church, asking it to create a teaching video and study guide that will serve as a church-to-church teaching tool.
"What they have produced for us is nothing less than brilliant," said Guess. "It inspires, challenges and teaches each of us to be a blessing — literally — in our relationships, in our communities, and in the world."
Participants will receive a complimentary DVD with registration. The video and study guide will be available for purchase after Nov. 11.
Coinciding with the conclusion of Mission:1, the closing service of Bless! is "kind of a natural," said Blain.
"As we work toward gathering up the harvest of food, letters and actions to confront hunger, we are moving into the blessing moment, giving thanks for God's abundance and the privilege of sharing and it, praying that the blessing experienced in Mission:1 may extend into our world far behind our mansions," she said.
For more information or to register for Bless! please visit ucc.org/bless.