A 12-member task force comprising a diverse group of people, staffed by the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries, recently convened at Franklinton Center (N.C.) to develop an Economic Justice Church Covenant Program.
The group is working to implement a resolution passed last summer at General Synod 27 in Grand Rapids, Mich., that encourages churches to engage in a discernment process of study, witness and action to decide whether to become an economic justice church. The resolution also called for the formation of a task force to develop a program that would facilitate this process.
"The 12-member task force is diverse geographically, racially and in terms of lay persons and clergy," says Edith Rasell, task force convener and minister for economic justice in the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries. The Task Force met over a four-day period in late May, and also heard from members of United Church of Chapel Hill, the congregation that wrote the original resolution. The Task Force also met with members of Community UCC in Raleigh, a congregation that is interested in becoming an Economic Justice Church.
"We made remarkable progress in planning a program that will primarily be web-based," says Rasell. "We heard from the Coalition (of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns) about the Open and Affirming process because that seems to be one of the more successful covenant church programs."
As approved at General Synod last year, the resolution for "An Economic Justice Covenant" reads:
"The Christian faith makes economic justice a priority for the Christian community. The United Church of Christ has long been an advocate for the poor and a witness for justice in all areas of life. This resolution asks that the Twenty-seventh General Synod, the national bodies of the United Church of Christ and its Conferences, Associations and Local Churches commit to a covenant of study, witness and action in pursuit of economic justice in our world."
The United Church of Chapel Hill first brought the resolution to the Southern Conference and then to General Synod, says Rasell. "They developed the idea and went through a process to become an Economic Justice Church. Their experience was so powerful and important that they thought other churches would benefit from a similar process of education, discernment, prayer and action around issues of economic justice." So they wrote the resolution.
The meeting with Community UCC in Raleigh stemmed from an email Rasell received a couple weeks before the scheduled Task Force meeting at Franklinton Center. "I received an email out of the blue from them saying, 'Does this economic justice church program exist? If so, we want to go through this process. What can you do to help us?'
"So I thought, this is perfect, even though we don't yet have a program to provide them, they could share with us their ideas about what would be useful to them. This is a church with a great history of involvement and engagement that now wanted to embark on this Economic Justice Church journey. They could give insights to the Task Force about what would helpful for themselves and for other congregations."
Over the four-day meeting, the Task Force put together an outline of a program that includes Bible study, education, prayer and engaging the community around economic justice issues, says Rasell. "It also will provide resources for personal devotions and reflection around lifestyle issues and consumerism. These will all be part of a congregation's discernment process.
"Over the next six to eight months, the Task Force will be putting it all together," says Rasell. We want to have something ready to go, in English and in Spanish, in time for General Synod next year."
General Synod 28 will be held July 1-5 in Tampa, Fla..