Written by Gregg Brekke
A giant, musical thank you note was delivered Saturday night as GS28 paused for a celebration of journeys completed, possibilities achieved and one nearly successful invitation.
The music — in a dozen different languages — was presented by Amanda Powell and her group from Cleveland. She was joined midway through the program by Brian Guffey, the oldest son of Associate General Minister Edith A. Guffey. Visitors and delegates danced in the aisles and bounced through the arena in conga lines to the infectious beat all evening long.
The thank yous were delivered in music and video to the three departing members of the Collegium: Guffey; the Rev. Stephen L Sterner, associate general minister for Local Church Ministries; and the Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte, associate general minister for Wider Church Ministries. They were honored on screen and several choruses of “We are thankful, O God, Allelulia” from the stage and the audience.
All three appeared on stage to receive wrapped gifts and, once again, the ovation of the crowd.
The possibilities achieved honored the six churches, one in each region of the United States, which won the Imagine What’s Possible contest that led up to General Synod 28. Those churches included Everett UCC of Arlington, Wash.; Zion UCC of Burlington, Iowa; Central St. Matthew UCC of New Orleans; First Congregational UCC of Ypsilanti, Mich.; First Congregational UCC of Wallingford, Conn.; and New Covenant UCC in Williamsport, Penn.
The winning “possibilities” included a project to assist undocumented workers who were facing an immigration roundup (Ypsilanti), the decision of two churches in one city with radically different congregations to merge into a single congregation (New Orleans), a major physical renovation that lifted a depressed congregation to vitality (Everett), a program to address a town on the mat from the recession (Burlington), a housing-for-the-homeless initiative (Williamsport), and a project that delivered 18 tons of coffee to American soldiers in Iraq through Holy Joe’s Café (Wallingford).
However, it was up to the Rev. Susannah Davis of Kirkwood UCC in Atlanta, Ga., to bring down the house with the possibility that a months-long campaign to bring comedienne and television personality Ellen DeGeneres to GS28 had succeeded. The blonde Davis, in Ellen’s signature trousers and vest, is a near DeGeneres look-alike (at least from 50 feet!) and when she danced her way onto the stage near the end of the evening, a noisy surge pulsed through the crowd and young people pushed their way to the front.
The cheers turned to sighs when Davis moved to the microphone, confessed that she really wasn’t DeGeneres and introduced a video montage of many of the YouTube segments that UCC groups across the country had produced as a moving invitation, perhaps even an unofficial draft, to bring DeGeneres to Synod.
The video that received the loudest cheers from the audience was one of a haircut that revealed a “birthmark” reading “UCC (hearts) Ellen.” Ellen didn’t come, but the invitation campaign was an imagined possibility that energized many across the UCC in the lead-up to GS28.