Setting aside disagreements for sake of mission
Written by Shari Prestemon
April - May 2006
May 1, 2006
UCC shines at its best
In the weeks and months following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, prayer shawls arrived at Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Miss., by the dozens. They were sent with loving notes of prayer and heartfelt concern, others hand delivered with strong hugs.
Knit in every shade of God's creation, they were given as symbols of God-with-us in those dismal days. But they came to mean even more than that to me.
The shawls were tangible reminders of something too rarely appreciated in our beloved UCC. We are a church family incredibly blessed by our relational covenants, woven together in a beautiful tapestry of love.
In the seven months since the brutal winds and waters of Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed us, we who have suffered through the storm have been bathed in that love. Scores of letters and e-mails have brought tears and joy. Literally hundreds of work teams have sent word that they are ready to step into the muck and dirty their hands, and many have already done just that.
Precious dollars have been given generously, and just about everything one can imagine has been offered to aid in our recovery and revive our service. These gifts of grace have come from every part of the UCC - from individuals and congregations, Conferences and the national setting, from the UCC's Council for Health and Human Service Ministries and even from global partners. All of it has been the most magnificent expression of our connectedness in Christ's church that I have ever experienced, the deepest blessing in the midst of indescribable loss.
While the stark realities of pervasive poverty and enduring racism in our nation have been important lessons uncovered by Hurricane Katrina, for me the most significant story of Katrina is the church's story - our story in the UCC.
Although we are often a church torn by painful divisions and passionate arguments, we are also a church with an incredible capacity to serve others and expand ministry.
When we unite in purpose and in mission, setting aside our disagreements for the sake of the most vulnerable among us, we are a marvelous portrait of the people God calls us to be. When we are motivated by compassion and characterized by love, we are most authentically the church. And when our intent is to heal and our response flows freely and generously, Christ's astonishing presence is made most abundantly real.
I will not soon forget the incredible beauty and strength of the UCC revealed so clearly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It remains a constant source of amazement and joy, transforming tragedy to hope.
My sincere prayer is that others too may have caught this glorious glimpse of the Church united in service and in prayer, and having seen it, will pause to celebrate it and labor to sustain it. May it be so!
The Rev. Shari Prestemon is executive director of the UCC's Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Miss., where six of the mission's seven buildings were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.