Written by Connie Larkman
Valerie Smith has been the exhibit hall coordinator for what is now seven General Synods. It's a massive job of juggling on Day 1 – making sure all the exhibitors can get all their merchandise, displays, and resources in, set up, and ready for the throngs of visitors who converge on the hall to see what there is to see as the exhibit area opens to the public for the first time. It's a pretty intricate job of coordination. This time though, everything that could go wrong went wrong – the hall didn't come together as quickly as usual, with missing boxes, late deliveries and lots of questions and confusion – until she got a special visitor who made her day.
But, as to why he was special, you need the back story.
"A couple months ago I got a call from a young man interested in our church," Smith said. "He said he stumbled across the UCC website and wanted to know if our church was really okay with homosexuals. In his culture, he said, homosexuality is not acceptable."
After assuring the young man that the UCC is the church of extravagant welcome, Smith said he asked about churches in his hometown of Chicago. He also wanted to know more about General Synod (he pronounced it Sigh-nod), and "he got real excited. He said he wanted to go, and was just thankful that he could find a church like ours. I told him if he came to California, hey, I'm in the exhibit hall and I'd love to meet you."
Saturday, as she was taking a breather during "a pretty rough day," Smith was approached by a young man asking about the Scarf Project. "Some kid comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, what are all those scarves for?'" And as Smith explained that the 10,000 scarves were collected as part of a pledge to stand up against LGBT bullying, the young man said, "Wow, that is deep – this is my first Sigh-nod." That's when Smith knew she'd been sent a message.
"I said, I talked to you a few months ago, and he said, ‘You're Valerie – I can't believe you are the first person I talked to here,'" Smith said, adding that the young man then got tears in his eyes. "After 24 months of work getting ready – this is why we do this," she said. "Changing lives – It really warms my heart."