How have you found God in an unexpected moment or place? That's a question people from across the life of the UCC will ponder during General Synod 2015 next summer as part of the gathering's theme, "Unexpected Places."
Members of the General Synod Program and Planning Committee hope the theme brings unexpected love, passion and spirituality to General Synod 2015, which will be held June 26-30 in Cleveland.
The Honorable Brian Holeman and the Rev. Sue Artt, who will serve as moderator and assistant moderator for the denomination's 2015 Synod gathering, presented the theme to the full United Church of Christ Board on Saturday, March 15, during the final day of the group's regular spring meeting.
"We hope it will inspire conversation, donors and our people to a greater level of faith and a greater experience at Synod, and perhaps a place they have not gone before in their local church," said Artt, who serves on the General Synod Program and Planning Committee.
The scriptural inspiration for "Unexpected Places" comes from Genesis 28: 15-16, part of which reads "Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it."
The theme is a nod to the notion that humanity encounters the Stillspeaking God in unexpected places and moments. The committee believes the theme blends with bringing General Synod to the home of the denomination's national setting, will focus on service to the Cleveland community and speak to the American populous.
"One thing a theme like this should be is a faith formation component and a marketing component, something people will be intrigued by and want to find out more about," Artt said.
"We believe it's tuned to today's cultures and provides excitement and testimonials used throughout the year that people experience things that were unexpected," Artt added. "It invites guests to do something unexpected with Synod.
One of those unexpected experiences may involve the Cleveland Gay Pride Parade, which will take place near Synod headquarters at the Cleveland Convention Center on June 27, 2015. During the 2013 event, area UCC congregations made up the largest group of people participating in the event. It is hoped that delegates and visitors of the biennial gathering with embrace the unexpected and join the parade.
Holeman announced that General Synod 2015 is expected to bring 4,000 people from the denomination to Cleveland and will cost about $1.3 million. One final tidbit from Holeman: "The committee will allow UCC cookies to be brought into General Synod 30," he said, drawing a mix of laughs and applause from the board.
From Cleveland to Baltimore in 2017
Not long after the theme for General Synod 2015 was approved, the UCC Board accepted an invitation by the Central Atlantic Conference UCC to take General Synod 2017 to Baltimore. This will mark the second time the conference has hosted a General Synod – the previous gathering occurred in 1977 in Washington, D.C.
"We view it as a phenomenal UCC-identity opportunity to celebrate what the UCC is in the conference, as well as nationally and internationally," said the Rev. John R. Deckenback, conference minister for the Central Atlantic Conference.
Among the amenities visitors to Baltimore can expect during General Synod 2017 are a convention center just steps away from the Inner Harbor, the city's historic seaport and tourism area, and hotel accommodations that are all just a few blocks away from the convention center.
"There's been substantial rejuvenation in the Baltimore area to host events like this," Deckenback said. He described to the board how the convention center expressed an interest in hosting General Synod by making a financial grant of $20,000, along with rebates on hotel rooms, to offset event costs.
"Truly the city did extend us an extravagant welcome when we toured there that day [in late November]," said Lee Foley, chief administrative officer of the UCC.
Foley said there are key considerations in choosing a location for General Synod. The conference has to want to host a Synod gathering, it has to have a volunteer base and financial wherewithal to support the event, and the host city needs accommodations and an airport. The Central Atlantic Conference and Baltimore meet those criteria.
Deckenback said the conference will brainstorm different ways to showcase Baltimore and the surrounding area. He ran through a list of attractions that included museums and aquariums in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. – a 40-minute train ride away from Baltimore – historic Civil War sites at Gettysburg and Frederick, and Maryland's legendary crab cakes.
The Central Atlantic Conference also had one other bit of good news to share, announcing to the board it had a $12,000-surplus from its 2013 budget, which it graciously donated to the UCC national setting.
The next regular meeting of the UCC Board is scheduled for October 16-18 in Cleveland.