Our History in the Struggle for Environmental Justice.
The United Church of Christ was an early leader in the cause of environmental justice and in the fight against environmental racism. We began with the protest against the establishment of a toxic waste dump in a predominantly Black community in North Carolina. Growing out of that event, the UCC Commission for Racial Justice conducted the now-famous 1987 statistical survey on "Toxic Waste and Race." The UCC sponsored two "People of Color Summit Meetings" and the first of those meetings generated what is now seen as the classic list of ethical norms for the environmental justice movement.
Through the years, the UCC has actively provided support to a variety of grassroots groups addressing specific instances of environmental racism such as hog farming in North Carolina, the environmental destruction from military activities in Vieques, Puerto Rico, and pollution along the Mexico-US border. The UCC’s emphasis on environmental racism has been strengthened by its relationship to our denomination’s strong stands and constituencies related to racial justice, a well-established "issue-based" action strategy, and advocacy methods similar to that used for other justice work within the UCC.
The UCC Network for Environmental and Economic Responsibility (NEER) was formed in the late 1980s and early 90s as a grassroots effort with a broad eco-justice agenda. NEER was active in promoting "Whole Earth Churches" on the model of "Just Peace Churches", and over 300 congregations made that declaration. NEER gathered a large delegation of UCC members to attend the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, and organized several regional conferences for education and leadership training.
In the new century, the UCC has continued its environmental and racial justice advocacy at the Centers for Education and Social Transformation. In 2007, the Energy and Environment Task Force presented a report to the General Synod to combine the strengths of our historic advocacy against environmental racism and the added advocacy for climate justice towards establishing the UCC Environmental Justice Center at Pilgrim Firs in Port Orchard, Washington.
2009 Twenty-seventh General Synod--Grand Rapids
- On the Urgency for Action on Climate Change. Resolution of Witness. The Executive Council recommends referral of the resolution, "On the Urgency for Action on Climate Change," submitted by the Connecticut Conference, to the implementing bodies named in "A Resolution on Climate Change" as voted by the Twenty-Sixth General Synod (07-GS-16).
- Earthwise Congregation: On Mediating Climate Change. Prudential Resolution. The Executive Council recommends referral of the resolution, "Earthwise Congregation: On Mediating Climate Change," submitted by the Minnesota Conference, to the implementing bodies named in "A Resolution on Climate Change" as voted by the Twenty-Sixth General Synod (07-GS-16).
2007 Twenty-Sixth General Synod in Hartford
2005 Twenty-Fifth General Synod in Atlanta
- Call for Environmental Education and Action This Resolution calls on all expressions of the United Church of Christ to implement programs for education and action to address issues of environmental protection, environmental justice and sustainable development. It establishes an Environmental Steering Committee to implement this Resolution in close coordination with Justice and Witness Ministries.
- Resolution on Supporting Congregations and Providing Guidance for Leadership This resolution is offered to initiate exploration by the United Church of Christ of the role of the Church in meeting economic, ecological, and consequent spiritual challenges associated with predicted declines in future oil and natural gas supplies. The UCC is asked to begin a long term program to support faith based actions to create conditions that will foster a movement to sustainable conditions at the individual church, conference, UCC, and broader societal levels.
2001 Twenty-third General Synod
- Call For Staffing to Address EcoJustice Concerns This resolution urges each of the four Covenanted Ministries of the United Church of Christ to designate staff to deal with ecojustice issues and themes and to work cooperatively with the other ministries to ensure that the spiritual, theological, moral. and social dimensions of ecojustice are addressed across the life of the whole church.
Formed in 2005 from a combination of two prudential resolutions Call for Environmental Education and Action and Resolution on Supporting Congregations and Providing Guidance for Stewardship of God's Creation During the Coming Period of Declining Fossil Fuels at General Synod 25 in Atlanta, the Environmental and Energy Task Force (EETF) operates through Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) to help provide resources, networking and guidance for environmental programming in the congregations and conferences of the United Church of Christ
EETF has issued The United Church of Christ: Toward a National Environmental Focus. Its subcommittee, the Energy and Climate Work Group, has issued The next 50 years: sustaining our faith and promoting Peace and justice while using resources wisely to care for creation. Both were reports prepared for General Synod 26 in Hartford in 2007.
In February 2009 a covenant was written between JWM and EETF's Organizing Work Group to further define the partnership of this dedicated team of individuals—environmental leaders across the nation—with the traditional environmental justice work of JWM
The Collegium of Officers issued a Pastoral Letter on Faith and Environment "And Indeed it is very Good" in April 2008 which invites us to offer prayer for care of the earth, and opens our hearts to seek compassionate actions that can be taken to alleviate the suffering of our fellow children (and creatures) of God. "
- Oct 18-20 at Pilgrim Hills Camp in Ohio
- Nov 2-4 at Parkway UCC in Winston-Salem, NC
The UCC Centers for Environmental Justice are centers where participants can come from all over the U.S. and be immersed in a justice-centered response to climate change and environmental equity.
Originally founded at Pilgrim Firs Camp and Conference Center, the program has expanded to Silver Lake Conference Center in Connecticut and other training locations throughout the country. These trainings feature a curriculum designed for diverse participants to take what they learn and return to their home locations and communicate with knowlege of five core themes of environmental justice based on biblical and ethical principles:
Using video, discussions, and hands-on learning opportunities, each session will go far beyond the traditional “greening” of our congregations and communities to promote a transformational message. Upon registration, each participate will agree to teach this new approach to environmental justice at least twice in one year and will be given all the necessary tools to communicate with “the folks in the pew.”
This curriculum is Biblically based and centered on the deep issues of justice and the beloved community. It involves the learner in study, reflection, discussion, and hands-on learning opportunities, and can be tailored for weekly, weekend, and single-day learning opportunities.
The concept of racism involves a value judgment. Because this term is so inherently value-laden, most people tend to restrict their understanding of racism to easily identifiable individual racist acts. This approach fails to acknowledge the far reaching impact of institutional or systemic racism that result from decisions and policies made by established and well respected institutions within society. Such instances of racism are subtle and less identifiable.
It is important that we work to understand the intersections of racism and the many other justice issues we are concerned about. How does racism intersect with issues like poverty, voting rights or environmental justice? Through prayer and reflection we can learn to understand the issue of racial justice in a more holistic way.
*New* The Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery - A Biblical Reflection
Many Americans grow up learning that this continent was "discovered" by Christopher Columbus. The concept of discovery, as if the land was empty prior to arrival and its indigenous inhabitants were somehow "less than" the explorers is, at its heart, racism and cultural superiority against Native Americans. This concept derives its theological rationale from the Doctrine of Discovery, which becomes a legal foundation for U.S. policies regarding Native American communities even to the present today. For an introduction to the topic, see the video clip "Discovered, or Stolen?" To download the study, click HERE. For the history of the Doctrine of Discovery, see here for a 18-min. presentation by Dr. Roxanne Gould, All Nations Church UCC, Minneapolis, MN. See the same video (starting at the 18:40 mark) for Doctrine of Discovery and being a "pilgrim" today, a 10-min. meditation by the Rev. Emily Goldthwaite Fries.
Exploring the Intersections
To deepen the Sacred Conversation on Race and learn how race intersects with many justice issues, a FREE and new resource for congregational use - the "Race and ..." series is NOW available [click HERE for flyer].
These 2-page, easy-to-read fact sheets include stories, examples, prayer, Scriptures, reflection and engaging questions to assist local churches in connecting the dots between faith experience, racial justices and church life.
Click on the following links to download the "Race and ..." resources:
Police in riot gear, fire hoses and police dogs. These are some compelling images of what advocates faced when marching for the right to vote and an end to racial discrimination, in the streets of the 1950-60s Civil Rights Era. Today, the threats of voter suppression impacting communities of color remain real and present. (Read more.)
Race is an historical factor in economic inequity. With the end of official discrimination, many assume that the economic playing field had been leveled. But we are less aware that racial inequities persist in economic practices today. (Read more.)
In 1982, the state of North Carolina chose a poor, mainly African-American community, Warren County, as the site of a toxic waste landfill to dispose of PCBs illegally dumped along the roadway of 14 counties. The residents of Warren County, N.C., enlisted the support of the United Church of Christ (UCC) Commission for Racial Justice (CRJ) to reject this toxic landfill through a campaign of nonviolent
civil disobedience. (Read more.)
Public education inequity is overlaid on the many injustices in housing, the economy, labor, transportation and social welfare, as well as inequity in the criminal justice system. Schools where several kinds of inequities converge often struggle to raise test scores. These systems work together to deny educational opportunity for particular racial groups of students. (Read more.)
The U.S. incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. It holds a quarter of the world’s prisoners. One in every 32 adults in the U.S. is under justice system control in prison, or probation or on parole. Among the currently 2.3 million men, women and youth in prison, there are a disproportionate number of people of color. (Read more.)
“Because you’re an Arab.” That is the reason given to an Arab-American teacher in a Christian school by the principal, who told him that another teacher had been hired to replace him two days after the horrific 2001 terrorist attacks. More than 1000 incidents of hate crime and discrimination against Arab-Americans occurred in the first year after 9/11, according to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). (Read more.)
The intersections of race and women’s issues are numerous. The following are some examples of daily this daily reality.
Politcal Leadership - The recent election resulted in an all-time high of 20 women senators in the U.S. Congress. However, in this “Year of the Woman,” such new statistics actually reveals a racial bias in women’s access to power. The total absence of Black, Native American, and Latina women, except for Mazie Horono, a Japanese American from Hawaii, underlines the predominant White cultural norms in women’s leadership. (Read more.)
Statistics in June 2012 showed that people of color made up 36% of the labor force in the U.S. and 20% of business owners. These numbers correlate with census data that 28% of the general population are people of color. Yet, only about 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are people of color. In 2012, less than 4% of the U.S. Congress were non-White Senators. Nonprofit organizations are guided by boards made up of roughly 15% people of color on the average, and headed predominantly by White executive directors. (Read more.)
Safe Church Policy & Forms
Safe Church Conduct Policy Concerning Prevention
Safe Church Conduct Self Disclosure
Safe Church Conduct Youth Covenant
Safe Church Conduct Young Adult & Adult Covenant
Additional Safe Church Resources
UCC Safe Conduct Workbench
State Laws and Regulations for Camps
Good Samaritan Laws
The United Church of Christ historically has opposed capital punishment. We first formalized this position in 1969 and we have reaffirmed it many times in the years since. In 2005 our General Synod passed a resolution calling for the common good as a foundational idea in the United States. We simply believe that murder is wrong, whether committed by individuals or the state. Currently our churches are working for abolition of the death penalty.
Call on Governor Kasich to Grant Clemency for Arthur Tyler
(April 2014) The UCC has long opposed capital punishment. Now the state of Ohio is ready to execute a man who was wrongfully convicted. Please call Gov. Kasich on Friday, April 25, and urge him to grant clemency to Arthur Tyler.
Ndume Olatushani: Finally Home
(June 2012) Ndume Olatushani (Erskine Johnson) was released from a Tennessee prison on Friday, June 1. He served 26 years, 11 months and 5 days – most of them on death row.
Troy Davis Executed
The State of Georgia executed Troy Davis on September 21, 2011, even though seven of the nine witnesses who testified that he committed murder have recanted their testimony, and one of the two remaining witnesses has been implicated as the actual killer. The original judge in his case said his ruling was “not ironclad” and the original prosecutor has said that he has reservations about Davis’s guilt. Read reflections from the UCC:
CALL TO WORSHIP (Genesis 2:7; 3: 19 Psalm 104: 29-30; John 1: 18)
One: Friends and neighbors, in the middle of our busy week,
we pause to observe Ash Wednesday together as a faith community.
All: We come to remember that God made us from fragile, blessed dust
And breathes through us the breath of life and love.
One: From dust we are created in God’s image
and to God’s good dust we shall return.
All: With dust and oil we claim the mark of God’s beloved creature.
One: Today we begin our 40-day Lenten journey
to discover who we are created to be as God’s beloved.
All: In daily practices of prayer and service
we will embark upon this Lenten journey.
One: We follow Jesus, God’s Beloved Child,
bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh
In whom we see God’s image most clearly.
All: So come, let us pray for strength and imagination
to follow Jesus wherever he will lead us this Lent.
SONG Let Your Spirit Come No. 17 Sing! Prayer and Praise
Have four stations set up around the sanctuary, one for each meditation. Invite the members of the congregation to make their way from station to station if they wish, in no particular order, or to choose one station and remain there. Have a leader or two assigned to each station, ready to lead, assist, make people comfortable. Schedule 7-10 minutes for each station, then 1 minute of “travel time” between stations. A simple song can signal the time to change stations.
1. MEDITATION ON THE BREATH OF LIFE (Psalm 46:10a)
Needed: a leader to welcome the people and lead the meditation.
Settle into your seat, close your eyes and imagine a place that brings you comfort and peace. Breathe in the goodness of that space. Breathe forth the goodness that is within you. (After a minute or so, when people seem to be breathing deeply together, begin the spoken meditation. Pause at the end of each phrase to let the meaning settle in. Each phrase grows shorter and shorter, until the leader reaches the last word. After that is silence.)
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know that I
Be still and know that
Be still and know
Be still and
2. MEDITATION ON LETTING GO
Needed: a leader to offer introduction; art materials with which to write down what we need to leave behind this Lent
Tonight begins our journey through Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.
And like any well-prepared traveler,
we confess that we want to pack our bags to make sure we are comfortable
for our 6-week journey.
But Ash Wednesday is about leaving baggage behind
and braving the unknown carrying nothing but the mark of God’s beloved.
In this vulnerable place,
we confess that we want to be surrounded by all of the things
that make us feel better about ourselves,
including things we think that God needs in order to love us.
And yet God whispers to us that we are made in the divine image
and that faithfulness to that knowledge is all we need for the journey of life.
So let us ponder what it is that we may let go of this Lent,
in order to help us hear more clearly the stories
of Jesus’ extravagant love for all, and to follow him more bravely and confidently.
Invite the people to take the art supplies and create images of what they want to let go of this Lent.
3. MEDITATION ON FRAILTY AND FORGIVENESS Traditionally Ash Wednesday is a time to consider the reality of sin in our lives, our failures to live up to the promise of the image of God. Psalm 51 is known as the classic “Penitential Psalm” used to give voice to our sorrow for sin and to our hope for forgiveness.
Needed: a leader to lead the Psalm; a bowl of clean water and a small evergreen branch with which to sprinkle the people as a symbol of forgiveness. (This may be an appropriate station for the pastor to staff, to offer comfort and assurance where needed.)
Leader: Have mercy, tender God, forget that I defied you.
Wash away my sin, cleanse me from my guilt.
People I know my evil well, it stares me in the face,
Evil done to you alone before your very eyes.
How right your condemnation! Your verdict is clearly just.
You see me for what I am: frail, a sinner.
You love those centered in truth; teach me your hidden wisdom.
Wash me with fresh water, wash me bright and clean.
Fill me with happy songs! Let the bones you bruised now dance,
Shut your eyes to my sin, make my guilt disappear.
Creator, reshape my heart, God, steady my spirit.
Do not cast me aside stripped of your holy spirit.
Save me, bring back my joy, support me, strengthen my will,
Then I will teach your way and sinners will turn to you.
Help me, stop my tears, and I will sing your goodness.
Lord, give me words and I will shout your praise.
Adapted from The Psalter, translated by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy©1995 Archdiocese of Chicago
Words of Assurance of Blessing:
Know that God loves you,
welcomes you and
rejoices in you.
Let the coolness of this water refresh remind and reassure you of God’s transforming love.
(Sprinkle water on the people.)
4. MEDITATION ON THE POSSIBILITIES OF DUST
Needed: a few leaders to welcome and guide people in this exercise; a table set up with work stations: modeling clay out of which to create small containers for ashes; a heavy metal bowl in which to burn dry palms from last year’s Palm Sunday service; potting soil and oil to mix with the burnt palms to create the ashes. (It will take a bit of experimentation to get the proportions right). Some people can work on fashioning small containers for ashes; some can work on burning the palms, some can work on mixing the ashes. There should be a spirit of gentle “happy chaos” as the dust of the earth is used to create these sacred symbols—lots of imagination and variety at work here. It could be that everyone makes their own container and then spoons the ashes into it. They could then bring the container forward to the leaders at the time of the imposition of ashes and receive the ashes from their own creative effort.
HYMN Traditional Lenten Hymn from TNCH
MARKING WITH ASHES
All are invited to come forward to receive ashes on their foreheads or hands; the leaders say to each:
Remember that you are God’s beloved dust,
and to God’s beloved dust you shall return.
May we give of ourselves as a symbol of our appreciation
for receiving the mark of God’s love in such beautiful and meaningful ways.
As you have been given the mark of God’s love, may you give in return.
Creator God, may the gifts we offer today
be used to share your love with all –
in our church, our community, and your world. Amen.
Blessings, like God’s love, are not one-way experiences.
As you have been blessed with the mark of God’s love
you are now called to go out from this place and bless others.
May the God who created you create opportunities of serving others.
May the Christ who teaches you teach you during Lent how to love all.
And may the Spirit of Gentleness be your companion along this Lenten journey. Amen.
MUSIC FOR ASH WEDNESDAY WORSHIP SERVICE:
#505 “Sweet Hour of Prayer” New Century Hymnal
#488 “Be Still My Soul” New Century Hymnal
#509 “How Deep the Silence of the Soul” New Century Hymnal
Beloved Dust to Dust: Service Prayers for Ash Wednesday was written by the Rev. Dr. Ginny Brown Daniel, pastor of Plymouth United Church, UCC, in Spring, Texas.
Copyright 2012 Local Church Ministries, Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team, United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115-1100. Permission granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education. All publishing rights reserved.
Beloved Dust to Dust - Ash Wednesday - February 22, 2012
Let this day, this Ash Wednesday, be a day for fewer words all day long. Let it be a day for some stillness, for paying quiet attention to mystery, to beauty, to the sacred.Read more
Sometimes religion can be a means of escape from the urgent realities of now.Read more
President Obama says the U.S. “will do everything we can” to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and consequently would not rule out military action. However he said “[o]ur goal is to resolve this issue diplomatically, that would be preferable.” The President is right to favor the plowshare over the sword, but should be wary of sparks that could lead to the next conflagration in the Middle East.
The U.S. cannot afford another war. The American public is just coming to terms with the devastating cost, in lives and dollars, of two ill-considered wars. We will not casually accept another. There is little international support for a war. Europe is preoccupied with economic crisis, and global heavyweights Russia and China, who so far have agreed to economic sanctions against Iran, just vetoed UN actions against Syria to prevent military intervention there. While Arab states also want to keep Iran from getting the bomb, hearts and minds in the Middle East would not favor another U.S. war in the region, especially with the “Arab Spring” showing that democratic reforms are possible from within.
But even if diplomatic pressure grows, and Iran can “feel the pinch” of economic sanctions, there’s a risk a spark could ignite a war despite Washington’s preference for diplomacy. One spark might be Israel. Israel might act more precipitously than the U.S. to keep Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. Israel took unilateral strikes against Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007 to knock out their nuclear facilities. Israel may not wait for United Nations’ nuclear inspectors currently on the ground before deciding to handle the matter itself.
But even a limited Israeli airstrike risks enflaming the region. Not only would Iran retaliate, but its ally Hezb’allah could launch an attack from Lebanon. Syria’s regime, currently divided against its people, may regain support if it joins the fight. The U.S. would not stand by if Israel is attacked. Consequently, to avoid being drawn into a much wider conflict, the U.S. should do everything possible to restrain Israel from attacking.
A careless move by Iran could also ignite the region. Though not committed to confrontation itself, Iran has threatened actions that might provoke an armed response. Iran has boasted it might disrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. This waterway facilitates up to a quarter of the world’s oil, and a blockade would have a severe global impact. The U.S. and its allies would promptly force open the Strait, but the price of oil could double. A spike in fuel prices would be politically costly in this election year and a big hit on businesses in this fragile economy.
However much Obama wants to avoid war, the situation is highly volatile. Any spark could inadvertently enflame the region and entangle the U.S. in another war that would cost lives, dollars desperately needed at home, and America’s political capital around the world. However, if the U.S. is committed to vigorous and creative diplomacy with Iran, and successfully constrains Tehran’s nuclear ambitions through negotiation, then Washington will gain much-needed support for addressing more urgent situations in the region and around the world. Most importantly, though, President Obama will have avoided the “next” war in the Middle East just as the previous ones draw to an end.
The United Church of Christ has more than 5,277 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.
This dialogue is the second in a series entitled "Dialogues on Christian Faith Formation and Education" and is offered with the intent of promoting conversation around the past, present, and future of faith formation in the United Church of Christ.
Doug Pagitt is the founder of Solomon's Porch, a holistic missional Christian community in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is also one of the founders of Emergent Village, a social network of Christians around the world. Pagitt is an author, professional speaker, and consultant for churches, denominations, and businesses on issues of postmodern culture, social systems, and Christianity. Pagitt's works include Church in the Inventive Age (SparkHouse), A Christianity Worth Believing (Jossey-Bass 2008), Church Re-Imagined (Zondervan 2004), Preaching Re-Imagined (Zondervan 2005), and BodyPrayer (Waterbrook 2005). He is the co-editor of An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (Baker Books 2007) and has contributed to numerous books, including Practioners (Regal 2006) and Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Church (Zondervan 2007). Pagitt seeks to find creative, entrepreneurial, generative ways to join in the hopes, dreams, and desires God has for the world and also hosts a weekly Radio Show on AM950 in the Twin Cities and online at DougPagittRadio.com.
What, do you believe, are the emerging church's overall approaches to/philosophy of education/faith formation? How are these different than mainline denominational or strictly evangelical approaches?
Spiritual formation is an act of community life together. Community life is spiritual formation; and the role of the community is to help people grow and develop as full human beings. There is no distinction between being spiritual and being healthy as a human being; we are just doing it in a Christian context and in conversation with church history and the Bible, as opposed to having a professional in the religious services industry who is administering something like a program or service. We're trying to think in more holistic terms—what people do in their lives, how do they do it in meaningful ways, and how that impacts our community—because we don't have a denominational connection or a typical Protestant way that swaps the Bible for tradition.
How are these approaches lived out/actualized in these settings (i.e. programs, studies, group activities, etc.)? Who creates/facilitates these experiences?
We engage in learner-centered experiences as opposed to teacher-centered experiences. Experiences are initiated depending on who the people are and what appeals to them. Solomon's Porch is the smartest, most theologically engaged church that I've ever been around; but other people would say it's a gritty, organic, hippy-like place. All of those descriptors are true—we don't have an opinion about which experiences are better for someone. We are agnostic on the question of how your experience "should" be played out because it is so community centered. There is no agenda on behalf of organizations to push people or get them to go down a certain path.
We are also in the process of opening a Faith and Wellness Center through remodeling a wing of our existing building. It used to be a Christian Education wing that was added on in the 1950s, but we are not doing education through curriculum. We have mental health practitioners and yoga practitioners, and we are stepping that up to a new kind of involvement through the creation of this Center.
Additionally, I can describe to you the activities that take place at Solomon's Porch in a week to get a sense of who we are. Monday nights there is a knitting group, and there is also an artist collaborative group that meets. On Tuesdays, there is a meal for the homeless and working poor called Loaves and Fishes. We also do a sermon discussion group to craft the sermon for Sunday. On Wednesdays, there is a play group for people who have kids. We also have community dinners hosted at someone's house—sometimes there are 80 people! On Thursdays, there is a Torah teaching class in connection with a Rabbi in our community. Sunday night gathering is the most religious, "churchy" thing we do. We sing songs that we create, read poems, and may read through whole chapters of the Bible at one time. This is also communal space created when we engage in the blessing of a child when someone is born. In these blessings, we ask people to make commitments to follow the leadership of the little ones in our community, as they have much wisdom for us. Some people live in intentional community together. We also have book clubs, documentary clubs, and other clubs organized as people initiate them.
Overall, our events tend to have a single focus—if it's a breakfast, it's a breakfast. We don't really do small groups or organize by group size. So, we don't ask what the needs of the group are; but we center around the activities themselves.
One of the things I felt pressure about was to respond to the question, Could you do community engagement in medium and large group commitments, not just small group commitments where you know every person in the group? Is community only relegated to relational, connectional dynamics? Small groups follow the rule of "I know you and you know me and we will exchange a relational engagement." We are trying to be in community with a larger group where people feel accountable to someone that they don't really know on a relational level. This is similar to monastic communities—what does it look like if you share a life together that doesn't require the kinds of interpersonal, relational dynamics that make life in traditional churches much more problematic?
For example, we have many people in our community who have serious mental illnesses; but because of our commitment to have the kind of community where we hold each other accountable—as people who have a larger shared commitment to living faithfully—we are able to address conflicts and challenges in healthy ways. In many Protestant churches, people spend a lot of time managing the emotions and issues of others, and conflict causes people to accommodate those individuals' issues because of their relational commitment. We are doing something completely different here. (For more about this, read Pagitt's book Community in the Inventive Age.)
What language do you use to talk about "education" or "faith formation"? Why?
The language I use in my professional life as a church consultant in the Protestant world is "spiritual formation." At Solomon's Porch, however, we don't use that language. What can we do in our collective life is live together as people of faith. For us, that kind of language creates a false set of distinction between faith and life and confuses people much of the time.
What challenges do you face (or have you faced in the past) with regard to education/faith formation in your church, and how might/did you deal with those challenges?
There is a constant need to renegotiate leadership in a community like this, and it takes a lot of work. People bring the "old storyline" back in from other churches that they have left, so it takes work to continue to forge a new imagination in co-leading our community together. It's my job to help do this as a kind of church pastor, which is a different role than being an authorized figure that leads the community and performs certain functions. Helping others to lead in a structurally flat organization and communicating and figuring out how to do this is not easy. It's easier to have one person decide all of that; it's harder to have many people involved. For example with regard to money, we have nine leadership groups who all manage the funds. It automatically increases the level of participation and engagement of people, even if it's not as efficient or easier. All of our issues have been handled in really healthy ways and are not dominated by a narrative of strife. They have been handled by a narrative of hope and possibility with one another.
There is less to fight over because power is distributed over the whole system. There's not this "golden ring" of power to grab onto, so maybe that's part of why we have such little strife and conflict. One of our goals is that if we are doing something that is harmful for people's spiritual formation, we will stop doing it. Pain is an indicator that something is not going right. There's enough trouble that life brings that we don't need to hurt ourselves. Too often, there is unnecessary pain inflicted in churches.
What can the UCC and other mainline denominations learn from the ways in which faith formation is carried out in emerging churches?
People aren't busier than they were in the 1930's. This is a common myth. There's just more competition for their time. The reality is that what churches are doing is less interesting than other things. So we need to ask: How can the church become a meaning making system, not just a volunteer-organizing system? People don't care about the old categories of paying dues and volunteering, or the distinction between clergy and laity. What people want is to live their life in a way that makes meaning in the world. Things within a church are only meaningful to the church itself. The church is functioning as a solution to a past period and answering none of the problems for our current time. In a traditional church system, all of the important stuff is reserved for clergy. All people should be doing it! The entire community should have to do what the pastor is doing. Most pastors stay pastors because they get to do the good stuff.
There is another systemic problem in mainline churches—infatuation with crisis management. There is so much time is spent putting in place rules and responses to crises that people get addicted to crises, and you are constantly managing people. From a family systems perspective, every Sunday many churches are reinforcing a bad system on one another. At Solomon's Porch, we decided that fighting and being angry is not something we're going to do anymore and that people were not going to be rewarded in that system.
Ultimately, people aren't afraid of change. They are afraid of loss. The church must deal with things as a loss issue rather than a change issue.
Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi serves as Minister for Christian Faith Formation Research on the Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team, Local Church Ministries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.