Faith and Democracy

As this week unfolds, I will find myself in attendance at my first General Synod gathering as the duly elected and properly installed General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.

I have been a Synod junkie since my first one in Norfolk VA in 1991. For those unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of the United Church of Christ, General Synod is our version of the US House of Representatives. From each of the 38 geographic regions that cover the entirety of the United States, delegates are awarded based on their population and sent to a chosen location for a week every two years.

While there, they will prayerfully debate a wide variety of resolutions. Believing that the Holy Spirit is present when two or more gather, and that the faith is most fully expressed when disciples gather in collective discernment, we open up dialogue, debate, prayer, worship, and contemplation before voting on the matters most relevant to our time and faith.

The Rev. Andrew Weaver, with whom I once traveled on a speaking tour around the country, and who was himself a United Methodist preacher, used to introduce me as his colleague in the United Church of Christ – “the last truly democratic body left in America today.” As a Texan, he was prone to a bit of hyperbole, but his point is well taken. Every voice matters in the unfolding of a faith that is expressed this way – and General Synod is the grand event at which an entire nation of faithful disciples come together as one to discern the movement of the Spirit in our time.

I love this whole process. It is not just an overtly political process, it is at the same time a deeply spiritual one. Sure, arguments will be had and consensus deals will be negotiated and influence will be exerted and sometimes tempers will flare. But none of that hides the simple fact the when the faithful gather later this week in Baltimore, the Spirit will be moving through it all.

She will be not only celebrated, she will be deeply felt. No one who attends escapes her notice. No one who attends fails to feel her brooding, uplifting, and supportive presence.

This particular expression of the faith, one that values every voice and invites all to speak what God has placed in her heart is both one I will never take for granted and one that I that I am proud to preside over in the office that I hold. As Oliver Powell once wrote, we are a heady and exasperating mix. When John Robinson, whose flock was soon to board the Mayflower, reminded them all that there is “yet and still more light and truth to break forth from God’s Holy Word,” he was imaging a faith that would engage every discerning heart attuned to God’s still-speaking voice in the unfolding of a faith that would ever transform and ever be transformed.

I invite all gentle listeners to hold the body gathered in prayer. We are not alone. In the weeks preceding and following our gathering, many other bodies will have met: including the Reformed Church in America, the Unitarian Universalists, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Together, the faith of the future is defined and articulated as discerning bodies gather.

May we all be open to God’s brooding, abiding, mysterious and awe-filled presence and movement.

Let what unfolds bring honor and glory not to those gathered, but to the one who created them, endows them with intellect, engenders love, and induces a passion for justice. May what they commit to be a byproduct of their love for all and lead to a just world for all.

Holy Spirit of the living God, hear this our prayer: for those who will gather in Baltimore, feed us by your presence and sustain us for this, our journey with you Into the Mystic.