Envisioning a future from the past, Dorhauer delivers final State of the Church address
Outgoing United Church of Christ General Minister and President John Dorhauer addressed the 34th General Synod on Saturday, July 1 with his final “State of the Church” message by looking through the past of his eight-year tenure.
Rev. Dorhauer explained that, after considerable time in prayer, his attention to looking backward more than forward had both a purpose — one of deep gratitude — and an orientation about the shared future of the UCC.
‘A future in which you matter’
“The Holy Spirit envisions a future in which you matter,” said Dorhauer.
He described spending the past eight years “sitting with you, traveling with you, worshiping with you, listening to you, marching with you, agitating with you, advocating with you and bearing witness over and over again to your embodied and incarnated acts of love everywhere.”
While growing accustomed to having someone pull him aside and share their “the UCC saved my life story,” Dorhauer said he never tired of hearing these stories and believes they provide “a very gratifying perspective on why I believe the Holy Spirit will remain invested in your future.”
To help with understanding how he has fallen “more deeply in love with this United Church of Christ” and why he believes “no one will doubt our impact,” Dorhauer focused on two photos from the many he has taken during his travels as General Minister and President.
“These two photos express something very deep and very profound about the unique proclamation of the Gospel that belongs to a people who center their mission on both the prayer that they may all be one and the promise that no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here,” Dorhauer said.
In his story of the first photo, taken deep in the jungle foliage of a small village in Bangladesh, Dorhauer recalled that a woman was sitting just three feet in front of him when he witnessed her joy during a presentation to her co-op supported by UCC funds. He said that her smile “melted me.”
“See her face, feel her exuberance,” said Dorhauer. “And then remind yourself that you did that. That right there is testimony to what it means to carry this Gospel of love to all the ends of the earth.”
Describing the second photo, Dorhauer said that he met Rosie in 2015 just after celebrating a full communion agreement between the UCC and The United Church of Canada.
He explained that her smile had a “much deeper” meaning than he first knew when he greeted her as part of a youth group delegation from northern New York. Upon offering her his rainbow lapel pin when she complimented how beautiful it was, Rosie at first said she couldn’t accept it. But Dorhauer insisted, and he said “her entire visage changed” when she put on the pin.
“I noted that, but I have to say, I didn’t fully understand it,” he told the Synod audience.
Dorhauer later learned from a series of emails that Rosie had just two weeks prior come out to her parents. Two months later, she was attending the church of that youth group with her parents and friends, and six months later was baptized and confirmed.
“This is what my life has been like traveling and bearing witness to the embodiment and incarnation of your love in the world, helping to build a just world for all grounded in that love,” said Dorhauer.
Expressions of gratitude
Such experiences have filled Dorhauer with gratefulness, he explained.
“How can I feel anything but gratitude right now for all of that and for the many ways every day that you embody love in a way that changes lives?” asked Dorhauer.
He proceeded to thank many people, calling them out by group: pastors; chaplains; lay leaders; Conference Ministers and associate Conference Ministers; seminaries and their staffs, presidents and students; internal, ecumenical, interfaith and international partners; staff of the National Setting; and his senior leadership team of Tami Marinella, Alisa Lewis, Heather Kimmel, Cheryl Williams, the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson and the Rev. Traci Blackmon.
“You are the United Church of Christ, and you show up every day to do the work of the Holy Spirit,” Dorhauer said. “Lives are changed by it, and it has been my great pleasure to bear witness to that. And, my God, I will miss it.”
While admitting there were thousands to thank, Dorhauer said there were three who deserved special recognition, calling them to the stage: chief strategy officer Williams, his executive assistant Donyale Copeland and his wife — “my beloved,” he said — Mimi Dorhauer. He also held his eight-year-old grandson, whom he held as a three-month-old when he was elected in Cleveland in 2015.
“Nothing of what I will be remembered for was ever going to be possible without them,” said Dorhauer.
He concluded by asking the Synod assembly to join him in his favorite hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.” After his speech, colleagues paid tribute to Dorhauer and his service to the UCC.
Julie Darnold Atkins, a General Synod newsroom volunteer, serves the Missouri Mid-South Conference as communications specialist.
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