Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. – Acts 1:24-26
Here we are in the very first chapter of the very first book about the very first church, and just about the very first action those very first believers undertake is…an election. How UCC of them! Seriously, we love a good vote, don’t we?
In The Unofficial Handbook of the United Church of Christ, their not-nearly-as-silly-as-you’d-think book about our denomination, Curtis J. Preston and Quinn G. Caldwell make a distinction between the voting we do in a civic setting and the voting we do in a congregationally led church. Both kinds of voting may look the same. Names are presented on a ballot and a vote is taken, although in my context (and I’m guessing in yours), it looks more like raising hands or checking boxes on a piece of paper than the exotic-sounding casting of lots.
But although the process looks the same, the intent is very different. Unlike in our civic voting, we vote in a congregational setting because we trust that the Holy Spirit’s work can better be discerned in community than in the individual. In the congregational setting, our votes are not just an afterthought to our prayers, they are an expression of our prayers.
So the next time someone invites you during announcements (because we love announcements during worship almost as much as we love voting afterwards!) to “stay after worship for a congregational meeting” don’t spend the rest of worship plotting your inconspicuous escape. Instead, thank God for this opportunity to continue your prayers in this very old, ever new way.
Holy Spirit, Let one move and another second that we use this meeting as an opportunity to worship you. Amen.
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.