Written by Gregg Brekke
A disastrous oil flow along the Gulf Coast threatens the environment and economy of an already besieged area. Deadly flooding in Tennessee. A frightening new anti-immigrant law in my beloved Arizona. Demonstrations paralyze Nepal and its fragile new democracy. A promise to keep in our prayers the UCC folks traveling to the Philippines as election observers at the invitation of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines, a church in which pastors have received death threats (or worse) for their advocacy for justice for all.
People, places, and issues that so many of us in the United Church of Christ have cared about and worked so hard to influence for the better for so long: the environment, immigration reform, health care reform, peace with justice for all people. Can't you hear the plaintive cry, "How long, O God, how long?"
As our Wider Church Ministries staff gathered for our weekly prayer and sharing time recently, the needs of the world seemed overwhelming. Our colleague who organizes our UCC Volunteer Ministries, the Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss, admitted feeling really down that morning until she remembered the lectionary gospel passage for the week from John 13: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Mary shared the apocryphal story about John: "John, Jesus' beloved disciple, grew to be an old man. As he grew more feeble, people carried him into church and up front, to a place of honor because he had known the earthly Jesus personally. Week after week, the people would ask what Jesus was like and what Jesus would have us do. John would feebly raise himself up and say simply, "Love one another."
The people would nod in agreement and then turn away from John and go about their morning. One day when the people had asked and John had replied, "Love one another," someone anxiously added, "But we want more." John raised himself up to his fullest height and said, "Love one another. That is enough."
Love is the answer. Not just the love we enjoy between friends or family members or for people who are "like me". Love as a commitment to the common good. Love as the force that can change the world. Love as a life-style, 24/7. Personal love, yes, and love for the whole.
Love embodied in concrete daily actions of service. Love that motivates political advocacy. Love that has the last word over death and destruction. Love that is inclusive. Love that keeps on expanding. Love for the whole world - no exceptions. Love as the glory of God
Modeled after a "volunteer corps" developed at Westmoreland UCC in Bethesda, Md., more than 25 years ago and still going strong, these are intentional communities in which the perceived chasm is bridged between the worshiping, educational, and fellowship life of a local church and participation in God's mission both locally and globally.
Young adults in their 20s serve with a host congregation, work with a local organization engaged in direct service and/or justice advocacy, and are part of an intentional community where they can reflect with each other on their experiences, the breadth of gifts and places of service, and what it looks like to commit one's whole life to God's whole world. Additional host churches are desired.
This UCC Young Adult Service Communities program is currently finishing its first year and now concluding the placement of volunteers for the 2nd summer and for the ten month programs. Mary told about her visit last August to the community in Sahuarita, Ariz., at The Good Shepherd UCC. This church hosts a community group called the Samaritan Patrol through which people drive into the desert along paths often used by migrants and provide humanitarian assistance of water, first aid and socks to prevent deaths in the desert.
The weekend that Mary visited, Sarah was scheduled to offer a Moment of Mission in worship. Sarah told the congregation about how she had worked as a grant writer for the summer with the emergency assistance programs. She talked about how her plans for her life's commitment had been transformed during the summer, that she had already wanted to go into medicine but could only visualize the highly paid specialties.
Now, because of her volunteer service experience, she wants to become an OBGYN who will work with very poor women like those she worked with daily during the summer. And finally, Sarah told the congregation, "Here I have experienced a church where these things happen all together – a church on fire. Thank you for this opportunity."
Mary reported that as the call for the offering was given and everyone reached for their wallets, an older woman sitting behind her leaned over to her friend and said, a bit louder than she intended perhaps, but just as loud as God intended: "There's hope for the church."
Love one another. That's enough.
The Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte is the UCC's executive minister for Wider Church Ministries and co-executive minister for Global Ministries. She is also a member of the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers.