Evening of Celebration honors ‘milestones’
The July 16 virtual event celebrated not just standing the test of time, but keeping good work going in social justice, climate advocacy and health care.
“Tonight we are celebrating some of the milestones of our denomination,” said the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president.
‘A mission that matters’
Louis Blue Coat, a member of the Dakota Association and a leader of the Lakota people, hosted the presentation. The hour featured several video celebrations spanning centuries — from marking the 50th anniversary of the denomination’s Open and Affirming Coalition to lifting up the participants and volunteers in this unusual General Synod.
“We are the United Church of Christ,” Blue Coat said. “We are called to love all, to welcome all, and to seek justice for all.” The evening, he noted, “would recognize ministries that continue to change lives. We will reflect on our shared identity and mission. We will give thanks to God and the risen Jesus for the churches and leaders that continue to engage the United Church of Christ in a mission that matters.”
The program honored the collective efforts of UCC congregations and agencies to rescue people from crippling medical debt. Since 2019, when the effort began in the wake of the UCC’s General Synod in Milwaukee, the campaign has raised more than $750,000 to abolish debt for 51,720 families. The Rev. Sekinah Hamlin, minister of economic justice, announced: “Together we have abolished medical debt in every geographical region of the United Church of Christ. Hallelujah!”
30, 50, 100 years
Among the anniversaries celebrated was the ONA Coalition, organized in 1972, which will soon launch a celebration of 50 years. It was spurred by the ordination that year of William R. Johnson, the first openly gay person ordained by a mainline Christian church. “Bill’s ordination,” Dorhauer said, “widened a circle that through the Open and Affirming Coalition has been ever expanding to this day.”
Also honored at 50 years was the Association of United Church Educators. The organization of lay and ordained members creates and delivers education materials to local church and association educators, sharing faith formation and education ministries across the United States. AUCE’s history has traversed the worlds of publishing and mailing to today’s electronic age. In the past year, the group has “pivoted” to new ways of creating and distributing materials and found “we have moved outside of the church building and outside of the Sunday School box. We are transforming this ministry into what it needs to be for the 21st century.”
The program celebrated the UCC’s 30 years of environmental justice work, launched by the 1991 First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. It also honored Charles Lee, the summit’s lead organizer and a member at that time of the staff of the UCC Commission for Racial Justice. Lee led the UCC’s environmental justice ministries for 15 years and authored CRJ’s landmark 1987 report, “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States.”
It noted the centennial of Back Bay Mission, Biloxi, Miss. And it honored the many member agencies of the UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries, as well as the denomination’s Health and Wholeness Advocacy Ministries.
Actions ‘louder than words’
Dorhauer offered a reflection about living into the mission of the UCC in the midst of the world’s turmoil. He said a theology that does not respond to “the cries of the poor the oppressed and marginalized lacks the integrity necessary to impel a church into a mission that matters.”
In the urgency of this moment, Dorhauer said, there is a role the church must play. “Let it be known the United Church of Christ commits to practice our faith at the intersection of love and justice,” he said, “And may our actions speak louder than our words.”
In a nod to the unique setting for this year’s national gathering, the church honored the many volunteers and church staff behind the scenes who planned and are working the event. The online setting called for new ways of meeting for business, for workshops, and for worship.
Contest winners announced
The Rev. Monica Dawkins-Smith, executive associate, Wider Church Ministries and Operations, announced the winner of the Congregational Challenge. A virtual Synod, she said, made it possible for more people to attend, “without the burden of travel expenses and time away from work.” In addition to the delegates representing each of the church’s 38 regional Conferences, Synod leadership challenged Conferences to see that each of their congregations was represented by at least one delegate or one registered visitor.
The Central Pacific Conference, which includes churches in Oregon, southern Washington state and southern Idaho triumphed with almost 77 percent of its congregations represented. CPC edged out the South Central Conference (Texas, Louisiana and parts of Mississippi) at 69.4 percent, and the Southeast Conference (Alabama, northwestern Florida, Georgia, parts of Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee) with 54.6 percent.
“God is still speaking,” Dorhauer said. “And who are we because of God? We are agents of transformation who pursue new pathways to a church reborn in the image and likeness of a still-speaking oppression busting seed planting creation loving God.
“Our vision of a just world for all calls us to this work.”
Tim Kershner, a longtime General Synod Newsroom volunteer, lives in Campton, N.H., in the New Hampshire Conference.
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