An exuberant opening worship focuses on ‘making all things new’ at General Synod

The excitement was palpable at Opening Worship of the United Church of Christ’s General Synod 34 in Indianapolis, as Jamar Doyle, President and CEO of UCC Council for Health and Human Services Ministries (CHHSM), welcomed a crowd of close to 2,000.

He began with the question, “How good is it to meet in person?” to rousing applause. He continued, “We know that COVID has forced us to learn new ways to gather together, incorporate new technologies into our churches and into our ministries.”

Doyle started his sermon with a call to reflect on the meaning of the theme of this year’s General Synod, “Making All Things New,” taken from Isaiah 43.

“What we’re really talking about here is transformation,” said Doyle. “Transformation is about radical change through an intentional process that leads to action, radical, intentional action.”

He walked the crowd through the three steps of transformation, comparing the Church’s journey today with that of the nation of Israel as they escaped bondage in Egypt.

“Israel would not exist were it not for that divine action,” Doyle said. “So, the first step in making things new is to remember what God has done for us in the past, in our lives and in our ministries.”

Making things new

Particularly, Doyle called for the UCC to remember and look back on all the denominations that came together in 1957 to create this body, to unite in one ministry and faith.

He then reminded the crowd that, while they reflect on the miracles of the past, that’s when God says, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” He said this leads to step two in the transformational process of making things new: “It means releasing the burdens of the past to embrace God’s new work.”

Doyle acknowledged that while the UCC is trying to move forward, we often get bogged down with traditions of the past, “listening to the voices of dead people.” He asked, “Can we be surprised that churches are dwindling? If we are continuing to listen to the voices that maybe are no longer in tune with what God is trying to do?”

This is when many of us go on autopilot, Doyle noted. He called them out: “Cruise-control Christians don’t even realize this disconnect has happened, but yet they want to tell others in the church what we can and cannot do based on what we always do.”

This, Doyle said, is when we need to evaluate and examine our own biases and privileges and called for the crowd to “get comfortable with holy discomfort.”

‘The water is coming’

The third and final step of the transformational process according to Doyle is taking action with faith. Doyle reminded those gathered that God was preparing to transition the Israelites out of exile, but the journey would not be easy.

Walking across burning sands, “there was no bullet train, no Uber to make their way through to the cooling streams on the other side. Are we willing to step out on faith and enter the desert so we can receive our blessings?” Doyle asked. “It means going back out into the desert and putting your own comfort at risk.”

The work won’t be easy, he preached. “So, I say if you are struggling with how to become a more welcoming and inclusive church or community, step out on faith because the water is coming. If you are the lone voice in the room advocating for those who have been silenced by oppression, keep on advocating, because guess what? The water is coming.”

Doyle then reflected on his own personal journey, becoming emotional as he shared that being a Black gay man who grew up in the church and accepted Christ at a young age, he never thought a day where he was on stage preaching would come. He shared, “I am now able to stand here proclaiming the word of God … but it took time, God’s time. But baby, the water came. And if it came from me, it’s gonna come for you too. God is doing something new.”

Land acknowledgment

The first in-person Synod since 2019 kicked off with an exuberant processional. It was followed by a land acknowledgment by the Rev. Louie Blue Coat from Standing Rock Reservation, the Dakota Association of the South Dakota Conference and the Council For American Indian Ministries.

Children play in the the family “Prayground” area during worship.

“The thirty-fourth General Synod of the United Church of Christ recognizes that we gather on the traditional homelands of the Myaamiaki, Lenape, Bodwewadmik, and Saawanwa nations and people who stewarded this land since time immemorial, nations which were forcibly removed from the colonial state of Indiana,” Rev. Blue Coat said.

The stage design for worship depicted a digitally projected garden that will transform over the course of Synod, beginning with a nod to the creation in Genesis.

There is also a space set aside as a “Prayground” area for families, where little children can sit and enjoy toys quietly during the course of events throughout the day.


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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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