During the waning days of our former structure, I attended meetings of the instrumentality executives, which we fondly called ÒXX.Ó During one of these sessions, we were dealing with that bane of all church meetings, the issue that in itself is relatively trivial, but nevertheless seems to consume enough time to push the more important business to those frantic last minutes of the meeting. As the discussion droned on, my attention was drawn to my colleague, Thomas E. Dipko, executive vice president of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, who was seated opposite me. Tom, nearing retirement, was looking at me with an expression that I interpreted as Òsmug.Ó After the meeting, I accused him of being just that. ÒDale,Ó he said, Òthat is not smugness. It is introverted joy.Ó
Because of United Church News production exigencies, I am writing this column before our General Synod in Minneapolis. It is, of course, impossible to predict what will happen at a General Synod. Synods always carry a full measure of surprises. But some things are predictable. I can safely predict that this Synod, like all of the Synods I've attended since 1981, will be Òearnest.Ó And there is much to be earnest about. We will be dealing with concerns about the future of our church, and about our church's witness in a world that continues to be plagued by war, injustice and a deepening and debilitating poverty for so many.
We in the United Church of Christ do ÒearnestÓ very well. What we don't do as well is Òjoy.Ó Joy is not the mindless, smiley-face of Òdon't worry, be happy.Ó Joy is the sister of hope, and hope, we are reminded, is what is not seen, and yet is more real than our perception of the material world. Joy cannot exist outside the shadow of the cross; it is, in fact, the cross that gives joy meaning. I am convinced that we can never understand, let alone experience, joy, unless we know something of the cross, unless we have experienced the suffering and the pain associated with the cross.
Our partners around the world understand this well. In the depths of injustice, in the face of death, they laugh and sing with an exuberance that we, with all of our material comfort and security, can only rarely match. I think it's because they take the Gospel seriously; they find joy in precisely the right place. Already disappointed by the false gods of materialism and illusory security, gods that we in the West continue to pursue with all the enthusiasm of children entranced with the prospect of acquiring the latest toy, Christians in the two-thirds world know that the Gospel really is good news, that it is, in itself, something to celebrate.
This is my last ÒFrom the CollegiumÓ column. Although I am an introvert, just writing this has been an experience of extroversion. I have been given the priceless gift of joy by this church and by our partners around the world.
Thank you. Thank you.
On Sept. 30, Dale L. Bishop completes his four-year term as executive minister of Wider Church Ministries and as one of the UCC's five-member Collegium of Officers.