Celebration 2000, June 23-25 in Cleveland. National Youth Event 2000, July 6-9 in Ames, Iowa.
The first was a gathering of UCC folks of all ages, most of whom were there for the final meetings of the instrumentalities, their directors, staff and alumni, all of whom came for the inauguration of the restructured national setting. It was a time to rejoice over their respective faithful service through the years, a time of closure of particular corporate ministries.
The second was a gathering of more than 3,000 youth, many of their pastors and adult advisers, from ecumenical partners outside the USA, and supportive leaders from conferences and Cleveland. It was a time of celebrating youth ministry—with and for youth in the UCC, a time of hope.
The Cleveland gathering was a time of looking back and letting go. A time of remembrances and also thanksgiving for the opportunity to serve. Tears were shed, deep emotions were felt. But the future was also in the hearts and minds of those who gathered there. The weekend of board actions of both the old and the new reminded me of a track and field relay team of sprinters, all of the same mind, handing over the baton of mission mandates, bringing a segment to an end, entrusting it to the receiving entity. One such new Covenanted Ministry received gifts from four predecessor bodies that weekend—valuable in themselves but also symbolic.
The Ames happening was one of experiencing the vibrancy and vitality of the here and now, with thousands of our UCC youth worshiping and praising, reflecting and learning together, sometimes unlearning certain assumptions and biases about themselves or others. Invited to say a word of welcome on opening night, I started with an exclamation, "You are an awesome sight!" For, indeed, they were. It was the church gathered in "Cyclone Country" experiencing the powerful wind of the Spirit of the Pentecost. Truly, it was as much the gathered church in Ames in July as it was in Cleveland in June. However, it was an event that invited the young church to look beyond the present, to live in Christ and to shape the future of the church.
One particularly moving moment at the National Youth Event occurred when youth participants articulated their common hopes about the church and about the future. One after another, with symbols and video, they spoke for and represented Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latino/Latinas, Euro Americans, African Americans, the Coalition of Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Persons, and Persons with Disabilities, articulating those hopes in their own words and in their own terms: "We have hopes and dreams for the UCC" ... "to come together and learn from each other" ... "that one day all cultures and races will come together in the love of Christ" ... "the UCC will continue to work for justice for all people" ... "to realize the diversity that surrounds us" ... "for a future where all are free and united in the Body of Christ." Then they held hands together around the table. At that moment I had a lump in my throat and mist in my eyes.
For me, Celebration 2000 and NYE 2000 were really one and the same: a church of today, with a rich history, gifted and empowered by the Spirit, being shaped for the future to do God's mission.
The Rev. José A. Malayang is Executive Minister of Local Church Ministries.