‘It's amazing what can happen when we open up a little space inside ourselves'
Sweet Honey In The Rock (above); runner carrying offering basket (inset). ©2001 The Disciple/CBP/Jim Barnett.
Worship played a major role in the joint General Synod/Assembly. With hymns and jazz, puppets and pageantry, sermons and symbolism, humor and drama, it generated reverence, respect and a sense of the presence of the Holy.
Opening night: Gathering in
During the opening worship on Friday evening, July 13, the Rev. Mary Donovan Turner challenged an estimated 10,000 worshipers to open up spaces in their hearts and welcome others.
Turner, from UCC-related Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., used the occasion to encourage participants to reach across the aisle and get to know each other, and also to open their hearts to new ideas.
"It's amazing what can happen when we open up a little space inside ourselves," she said. "Old attitudes must die for the new to be born," she added. "God knows that something sacred must die for redemption to be born."
This being Kansas City, jazz played a large role in the worship, from the opening anthems to the closing concert.
Worshipers responded with foot tapping, clapping and even some dancing.
Saturday evening: Invited to the Welcome Table of Creation
Youth at Sunday worship (above); musician at Tuesday service (inset). ©2001 The Disciple/CBP/Jim Barnett.
To Ray Buckley, telling stories is both a gift, and a responsibility not to be taken lightly. Buckley, who is of both Native American and Scottish descent, delivered the sermon during Saturday evening's worship service.
Growing up, Buckley learned many lessons about spirituality from his grandmother, a Tlingit native of Alaska. Buckley told about a time when he and his grandmother were accosted by three drunk youths while walking home on a winter night. He was only seven, but he remembers how they beat him and stole his grandmother's moccasins. She later lost two toes to frostbite.
His grandmother refused to be angry with the youths. "They do not know that they are sacred," she told him.
Soon after, she began making three pairs of moccasins. On Christmas Eve, she wrapped them up. "We have a trip to make," she told him. He followed her out into the snowy night, up to the front door of a small house. "Why are we here?" he asked. "We are here to do God's work," she replied. A man answered the door and showed them into the house. There, sitting in that living room, were the three young men. His grandmother gave them the packages. "Merry Christmas, God bless you," was all she said before turning to leave.
Then, Buckley realized the significance of his grandmother's generous act. "We had been liberated by the love of God," he said.
Sunday evening: World Beat Festival
K.C. Jazz All Stars (above); World Beat Festival (inset). ©2001 The Disciple/CBP/Jim Barnett.
Sunday night's World Beat Festival had worshipers on their feet. And some of those feet were moving. At the end of the three-hour celebration, hundreds of Disciples and UCC youth were dancing through the aisles.
The celebration showed that Christians could compete with the energy of a rock concert while staying centered on their faith in Christ. Planned by members of UCC and Disciples congregations, the festival combined world-class music, video documentaries about the Disciples-UCC partnership, dramatic proclamation of the Word of God and thought-provoking preaching by Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, on the hard choices faced by Christians in a world in crisis.
After the lighting of a Christ Candle on the holy table, the congregation was invited in 15 languages to meet Christ at the "welcome table." Then the faces of 12,000 UCC members and Disciples came alive like Christmas morning as 30 giant puppets— each 12 feet tall—moved slowly and gracefully through the hall. Draped in colorful robes, they represented indigenous cultures of the world. Meanwhile, on stage mimes acted out the theme of General Synod/Assembly: "Gather at the Welcome Table."
And the music! Jazz musicians kept the momentum going, but the evening's highlight was the energetic performance of the Grammy-winning ensemble, Sweet Honey In The Rock.
Monday evening: You Nourish My Soul
When the youth led worship on Monday night, there was music and movement, shouting and clapping. Monotony and tedium did not exist. The central table set with a red-checked tablecloth and picnic baskets symbolized a welcoming feast for all.
Planning for the service, done completely by the UCC Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries and the DOC General Youth Council, began last October.
The Angklung Ensemble and Intergenerational Choir, both of United Community Church of Chicago, opened the service. Josh Elson and Andra Moran invited the audience to join in singing their song, "Table of Love."
Stories of those who are not always welcome at the table replaced a sermon. The Psalm of the Single Mother, of the Homeless, of the Foreigner, of the Prisoner, and of the Addict were read offstage, while five youth in matching gold masks added movement to their respective stories.
In the Sharing of the Feast, the youth passed bread through the crowd. After Moran and Elson sang "Table of Love" once more, the service closed with a benediction,"Go forth into the world, welcoming all people to God's table."
Closing worship: Sent into the world
Tuesday soloist. ©2001 The Disciple/CBP/Jim Barnett.
Tuesday evening's closing worship service on July 17 began with music by local musicians: the Gospel choir of St. Mark's UCC, the Chalice Bronze of Raytown Christian Church and the Plymouth Ringers of Plymouth Congregational UCC.
The sermon was by the Rev. Zaida Maldonado Perez of the Hispanic Theological Initiative in Princeton, N.J., and a member of Christ Congregational UCC. She said the two denominations "know that we live not to perpetuate ourselves as religious institutions but to proclaim the Good News that God is in our midst."
Holy Communion was celebrated, with the leadership of the two denominations, the Rev. John H. Thomas, the Rev. Richard Hamm and Edith Guffey, presiding over the Welcome Table.
During the closing song each worshiper was given a stone as a reminder that each of us is a living stone. Then came this benediction: "Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Go in Peace."
Tim Kershner, Rebecca Bowman Woods, Jimi Izrael, Andy Lang, Meghan Davis and Andrea Cano contributed to this article.