'Telling the family'—a difficult, important bridge toward trust
Written by J. Bennett Guess
November 2003


J. Bennett Guess

Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to know how and when to share troubling news with your own family, and to have the good sense to know that the relationships, if strong, will weather your honesty.

When more than 100 church leaders gathered Oct. 10-12 in Cleveland to wrestle with the UCC's daunting financial crisis, the theme of "telling the family" was one that emerged—organically—over and over again. By invoking the "family" image, church leaders were recognizing what we all learn, eventually, when times get bad enough: The worst burden is the one you try to carry all by yourself.

In some places, truth-telling is more difficult than others. In early October, I met for the first time with my editor colleagues from about 12 other denominations. It's a helpful group. Our agenda, I learned quickly, is intentionally loose, so that we can spend our time discussing the most appropriate ways to cover the pressing issues facing the church today. Naturally, times being as they are, the conversation quickly steered toward church finances. What could we say? What should we say? What words would be better left unsaid?

One colleague stunned me when she compared her church's money problems with a family secret that all knew but dared not reveal, much less discuss. In her tradition, she said, some things—including church finances—are taboo topics.

I realized, again, in that moment how glad I am that the UCC is a church that values honesty. No matter the hard topic, we never pretend to be so saintly that we would rather live in a world of pretense than to tackle the difficult issues head on. For the sake of appearances, I know, some wish it weren't so.

Dirty laundry can be, uh, dirty. But the way I see it, our openness makes us more like a family, a Christian one.

In this issue of United Church News and in the issues to come, we will talk openly about many controversial subjects. Money, alas, is the topic de jour.

One thing for certain, no topdown approach will work in this family. Christ is the head of our household, and the rest of us all have opinions. But our opinions need not get in the way of our commitment. As family, we belong to each other. As family, we need each other. This past weekend, the evidence was everywhere.

When folks join a UCC church, it's our habit—in many congregations—to say to them, "We promise you our friendship and prayers as we share the hopes and labors of the church of Jesus Christ." Two Sundays ago, after some newcomers joined my church, I told them after the service that I felt obliged to begin the building of a new relationship. After all, I said, I had just made a pledge of the highest order—a promise to God that we would be friends and that our lives, from that moment on, would be bound together by prayer. Obviously, that's something not to be taken lightly.

We belong not only to a church, but to one another. Now, we must be about the practical business of making that true. Until we do, our common ministries—those we offer the world in Christ's name—will continue to suffer.

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