Commentary: Casting ballots
Written by Lillian Daniel
October - November 2006
November 1, 2006
In nation and church, every vote counts
I still get a little thrill every time I read a notice about a congregational meeting.
Perhaps you do not generally associate the words "thrill" and "congregational meeting." But at the risk of sounding like someone who doesn't have much excitement in her life, let me confess that I always get a thrill at the idea that a) congregational meetings exist, and b) I get to go to one.
Since I was not raised in our UCC tradition, I do not take it for granted that the congregation gets to make its own decisions about the local church. I am still amazed that we get to vote on budgets and key issues that in some other traditions would be decided by a mysterious hierarchy, top down.
In this year's Da Vinci Code media frenzy over bizarre religious practices, secret societies and wacky conspiracies, our tradition of the congregational meeting stands out in its clarity and simplicity. At the local church, we're like a household, and the congregational meeting is where we gather around the kitchen table to look at our vision, our finances, and hear from one another about what God is doing among us.
Ideally, there should be no self-flagellation, secret codes, proclamations from on high or, heaven forbid, dramatic chase scenes. Just one vote for each church member and the chance to show the world what Christian community looks like when the members lead their local church together, as the body of Christ.
To me, the congregational meeting is like our nation's election day - something that reminds me that my vote is precious, and that not every Christian has the opportunity to participate in this way. But sadly, congregational meetings have something else in common with our nation's election day - low voter turn out.
I wonder if, in both cases, we are suffering from a lack of gratitude.
When you look at all the countries of the world, you can see that it is an enormous privilege to be able to vote for your national leaders. Even when we are disappointed in our leaders, we still have the opportunity to address that by voting, or at least the chance to widen the debate in the public square by our engagement.
The old New England meeting houses loved their large clear windows. The light of the gospel could shine out into the world, but the concerns of the world would always be visible to the worshippers. Some historians say that Congregationalist polity was the foundation of the democracy movement in this country. The church vote and the national election vote share a common root in those old meeting houses.
Not that those Congregationalist forebears were perfect. Early on, you could only vote if you were a white, landowning male member of the church. But that is yet another reminder to me that my vote, either in my congregation or in a national election, is precious. Generations of faithful people fought long and hard so that I could have those votes, in my church and in my nation. I believe God calls me to bring all my faith and discernment to that task whenever I have the chance.
This November 7, let's do more than simply show up. As you stand in those long lines at the polling places, don't just let that little "I voted" sticker be your reward.
Instead, as we take the time out of a busy day to cast our ballot, let's engage in the spiritual practice of gratitude. And even recover the thrill.
The Rev. Lillian Daniel is senior minister of First Congregational UCC in Glen Ellyn, Ill., and author of "Tell It Like It Is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony." (Alban Institute, 2006). In addition to being "thrilled" by congregational meetings, she's often giddy when studying medieval mystical nuns.