General Synod 27 took place next to water. Water was a central element in the stage design, and was present during all worship and meetings. And water again played a key role as Synod closed Tuesday evening with worship.
The Rev. Patricia E. deJong recalled Matthew's Gospel story of Jesus and the disciples and the Sea of Galilee. While Jesus walked on water in the Sea of Galilee, it is Peter who provides the drama. Will he or won't he step out of the boat and walk with Jesus?
“Are we ready to take the risk and step out of the boat? Are we willing to go where Jesus is standing?”
The senior pastor of First Congregational UCC in Berkeley, Calif., deJong also reminded visitors and delegates that “anybody who rocks the boat takes a tremendous risk. Water is mighty powerful, and it can also be impersonal and downright mean.”
Peter, she said, took a risk. “He may have lacked faith to walk on water, but Peter was the one who dared to try,” said deJong. “He was not put off by the impossible.”
The Synod's five days in Grand Rapids, Mich., have been filled with conversations on race, questions regarding national church structure, and calls for action of a number of theological, social and environmental issues.
Said deJong, “Here we are tonight, all in the same boat, all out at sea. We can simply put our anchors down and take a rest. But out in the darkness I hear the voices of those who have already left their boats, who are taking risks.
“These are the voices of fluid faith.”
Recalling her own journey from Grand Rapids, growing up when women's gifts for ministry were often overlooked, deJong expressed gratitude that she found a home in the UCC. “I cast myself out on the waters,” she said, “and I have learned the hard way to let the water hold me and to trust I will be supported.”
She recalled some stories of “voices of fluid faith” she has encountered. The Iraqi colonel who appealed for peace: “We are tired of war.” The Catholic priest, living in the shadow of a divided Jerusalem hoping for an end to divisions worldwide. And Raheem, an Iranian professor who reminded her that nuclear weapons are “contrary to both the teachings of the Koran and the Bible.” She has not heard from Raheem since his internet connection disappeared.
In summing up, deJong said, “For their sake and for the sake of a planet in crisis, the actions and the voices of Christians must be strong, radiant, sacrificial and unmuffled.”
“We have been given a remarkable set of gifts that have helped us maneuver our boat to sea. We've worked together as we've rowed.
“Peter took the risk. When this happens to us, it is both exhilarating and terrifying and we will never be the same again.”