After four years of planning, the joint General Synod/Assembly was here and gone in only five days. Was it worth the effort?
Christian unity is like the gospel itself: it can't really be explained, you have to experience it. This common meeting of the UCC General Synod and the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was an experience!
But how to explain it?
Think about how the gospel writers tried to explain their wondrous experiences of Jesus. Mark wrote that some folks didn't experience the same Jesus because Jesus tried to keep it a secret who he was.
Matthew, in experiencing the Messiah, explained Jesus all the way back to Abraham and had him acknowledged even by pagan wise men—but not the Jewish king.
Luke, having experienced Jesus as the friend of marginalized people, explained it by talking about Jesus' humble parentage, his birth in a stable with poor shepherds as witnesses, his mission to the poor and oppressed, and "good" Samaritans. And John, trying to explain Jesus to Greek minds, used the symbolism of the word made flesh.
The unity of Christians must be experienced, too. No one can tell us what happened in Kansas City from July 13-17 and let it go at that. If we don't experience something similar in the local church, it hasn't happened for us.
Back in the 1960s, leaders of the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) experienced what they called a "foretaste of union." They felt it in relation to each other but they couldn't explain it to others.
Their Plan of Union crashed and burned. So they retooled and set about trying to have Christians "live their way" toward union—in other words, experience it in a local church setting.
Now, in Kansas City last month, the UCC and the Disciples of Christ became the last of the nine COCU churches to sign on to the highly experiential "Churches Uniting in Christ," due for inauguration in January. In fact, with our already-in-motion "ecumenical partnership," the UCC and Disciples may be the testing ground for Churches Uniting.
Churches Uniting and the Disciples-UCC partnership are intended to increase serious contact and commitment—and risk—across denominational lines in local church settings.
Historically, daring to risk helped form both our churches. In Kansas City, delegates ran risks as they debated such social justice issues as reparations for slavery, stem cell research, anti-Semitism and the best stewardship of the forthcoming tax rebates—and as they voted to participate in Churches Uniting, with its radical vision of racial inclusion.
Will any of this "play in Peoria"?
That will take some individuals who have experienced the exhilaration and holiness of Christian unity—perhaps at General Synod/Assembly in Kansas City—to initiate and prod and cajole and sacrifice to make something happen locally.
What's more, it will take time to experience.
When the United Church and the Disciples convened together eight years ago in St. Louis, it was a little like acquaintances lunching together at separate tables.
But in Kansas City in July, there was a conscious effort to do things together, or at least alternately in the same hall, so that celebration could be together.
When the two denominations meet separately in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Charlotte, N.C., in 2003, there will be an emptiness for many. There may even be a lingering question, "Why meet separately?"
Friedly is a former editor of The Disciple magazine.