Partnership, work and worship dominate General Synod/Assembly 2001
Written by Curt Miller
UCC and Disciples address variety of internal procedure, church unity and social justice issues while cooperating in mission work and demonstrations in the streets of Kansas City.
Delegates and visitors were wall-to-wall in one of the country's largest hall. W. Evan Golder photo.
"Christian unity is very dangerous to the powers and principalities that thrive on division," said Dale Bishop, Executive Minister of Wider Church Ministries in the UCC's national setting. These powers and principalities withdrew to other realms as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ worshiped, prayed, sweat and played together in celebration of their ecumenical partnership at General Synod/Assembly 2001.
A total of 8,108 Disciples and 3,394 UCC members gathered in Kansas City, Mo., July 13-17 in the second joint gathering of the two denominations. The first joint meeting was in St. Louis in 1993.
The two churches, ecumenical partners since 1985 and in "full communion" since 1989, acted on a wide variety of church unity and social justice issues as well as internal procedural matters. The two communions also cooperated in mission work, and staged demonstrations and vigils in the streets of Kansas City.
Social justice witness
Speak Out! sessions gave speakers 60 seconds. ©2001 The Disciple/CBP/Jim Barnett.
Before and during Synod/Assembly, more than 2,200 volunteers repaired and rehabilitated 40 houses and a community center in Kansas City's Ivanhoe neighborhood. Disciples and UCC justice groups protested that society ignores the voices of homeless people and other marginalized groups. The UCC held a candlelight vigil in favor of reproductive choice and staged a public witness against Missouri law that criminalizes sexual contact between persons of the same gender.
Young people were a strong presence in the Kansas City event. Some 440 UCC youth and 1,249 Disciples youth attended "Big Jammin' Youth 2001," a gathering that ran parallel to Synod/Assembly. The young people had their own assembly hall and worshiped, played, danced and prayed together. They also were a significant part of the volunteer work force in the Ivanhoe neighborhood mission work. Some young UCC members and Disciples also responded peaceably to a small group of out-of-town anti-gay/lesbian protestors outside the convention center.
Passed joint resolutions
Youth danced in the aisles, in the halls and at after-hours events. ©2001 The Disciple/CBP/Jim Barnett.
The Disciples and UCC each passed resolutions to join with seven other denominations in "Churches Uniting in Christ," an ecumenical relationship to be inaugurated in January 2002. It calls for the participating denominations to engage in mission and worship together as often as possible. Moreover, it calls for a vigorous effort to eradicate racism in the churches.
Both communions approved resolutions condemning the sale of "conflict diamonds" sold by rebels in Sierra Leone to finance a brutal war there. They also approved resolutions for their denominations to participate in the World Council of Churches "Decade to Overcome Violence." U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher spoke July 14 in connection with that resolution. His office recently released a study showing that violence among young people is far worse than official statistics show.
Another jointly approved resolution calls for both churches to study the issue of reparations for slavery. The measure also calls on the U.S. government to officially apologize to Americans of African descent for slavery. A UCC variation seeks additionally to differentiate between "reparations" and "restitution."
Aisha Kahlil of Sweet Honey In The Rock had the audience rocking. ©2001 The Disciple/CBP/Jim Barnett.
General Synod adopted a pronouncement, "Ministry and Witness with Micronesians," a teaching document about an injustice in the Pacific.
The U.S. government is currently negotiating a "Compact of Free Association" that will govern relationships with the two island nations of Marshall Islands and Micronesia for the next 15 years. The islanders charge that the United States will continue to dominate Micronesia through control of its defense and security programs and will not agree to pay the $2.7 billion that Marshall Islanders claim is adequate compensation for victims of nuclear testing.
Since the first "Compact" was signed in 1983, Washington has released only $150 million.
UCC delegates approved resolutions supporting:
Federal funding of research on human embryonic stem cells;
Preservation of three Native American languages;
Universal access to excellent public schools;
Heightened UCC response to the crisis of AIDS in Africa;
New strategies against youth tobacco use;
Education on the effects of drug eradication on Colombian farmers;
More humane direction for economic globalization;
The study of lower compensation and pensions among American-Indian clergy;
A boycott of Taco Bell on behalf of tomato pickers;
Redistributing tax relief to the poor;
The need for "essential conference ministry," action to prevent the collapse of family farms;
An end to the presence of the U.S. Navy in Vieques, Puerto Rico;
Equal treatment for all in juvenile justice; and
An effort to end anti-Semitism.
And within hours of voting to join Churches Uniting in Christ, the UCC also agreed to begin a new "intentional relationship" with the Alliance of Baptists.
Josh Elson and Andra Moran were favorites of both youth and adult events. ©2001 The Disciple/CBP/Jim Barnett.
Synod delegates also re-elected the Rev. John H. Thomas as General Minister and President and the Rev. José Malayang as Executive Minister of Local Church Ministries, each for four-year terms.
Synod referred to Executive Council a resolution calling for increased sensitivity to diverse theological beliefs, and to Justice and Witness Ministries a resolution supporting humane treatment of immigrants seeking illegal entry to this country.
Synod delegates chose not to adopt measures calling for:
Suspension of cooperation with Unitarians;
Scrapping all previous Synod actions and resolutions to start anew;
Mandatory language in all General Synod news releases;
A retraction by the Rev. John H. Thomas of his support for a declaration that calls for the blessing of same sex unions and the ordination of "sexual minorities (homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender persons)" and "allows for abortion on demand."
The Coalition Choir sang for the Saturday evening worship service. ©2001 The Disciple/CBP/Jim Barnett.
The Disciples General Assembly passed a resolution admitting that racist practice exists throughout the life of the church. It also endorses the creation of an anti-racism commission to guide the church's anti- racism work and to institutionalize anti-racist and pro-reconciliation values.
Disciples representatives also approved resolutions calling for:
Justice for Asian women forced into sexual slavery in WW II;
The release of Lori Berenson, an American journalist imprisoned in Peru;
Measures to make future large meetings environmentally-friendly; and
A renewal of the Disciples relationship with the National Farm Workers Ministry.
Assembly also endorsed the ministry of Humane Borders, which works to provide basic human necessities, such as food and water, to persons crossing desert areas into the United States from Mexico.
Assembly chose not to adopt an emergency resolution calling on the Disciples Pension Fund to reverse its decision to extend family health care coverage to domestic partners of church employees. By only 35 votes, the Assembly turned back a bid to return to a fall-summer rotation for the Disciples biennial General Assembly.
The steering committee on the Process of Discernment on the Participation of Gays and Lesbians in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) presented a means for all expressions of the church to enter the discernment process. The seven-step process includes: an introduction, spiritual reparation, listening to stories, Bible study, telling personal stories, "next steps" in relating to gays and lesbians, and consecration.
Disciples watched an Assembly presentation on a program called "2020 Vision," a vision for revitalizing congregations, starting new ones and developing new leaders in the years leading up to 2020.
Kyle Greening, Shelby Fratz, Katherine Dye, and Lyndsey Arnold in the exhibit hall. ©2001 The Disciple/CBP/Jim Barnett.
General Synod paid tribute to Joan Brannick, executive vice president of the UCC Pension Boards, who retires this year. She came to the Pension Boards in 1980, and has been chief executive since 1996. General Assembly honored the Rev. Donald Manworren, who will retire at the end of this year. Manworren has served as Disciples associate general minister since 1986, and has been the denomination's general assembly manager.
A pre-Synod/Assembly event, the National Evangelistic Workshop 2001, drew 1,300 persons from 14 denominations, 48 states and three foreign countries.
Special offerings taken at General Synod/Assembly
Joint offering for AIDS in Africa: $34,976.67
UCC offering for New Church Starts: $10,546.51
UCC offering for K.C. Harmony: $12,352.17
Disciples Pension Fund offering: $33,878.00
Youth offering for three K.C. organizations: $2,886.50
Miller is Executive Director of Communication Ministries for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Many thanks to these persons who served in the press room during General Synod/Assembly: Mart Bailey, Jim Barnett, Ron Buford, Andrea Cano, Patricia Case, Meghan Davis, Lee Foley, Bob Friedly, Dan Gangler, Evan Golder, Dan Hazard, Cathy and Mick Hinkle, Hans Holznagel, Nozomi Ikuta, Jimi Izreal, Tim Kershner, Andy Lang, Curt Miller, Bob Seater, Alice Scott, Ray and Wilma Shuffit, Gayle Starling-Melvin, Don Tuttle, Randy Varcho, Bill Winslow and Rebecca Woods.