The preamble to the Constitution of the United Church of Christ reads, in part, that the United Church of Christ “…affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own.”
Two weeks ago in Baltimore, we gathered to do just that.
In the midst of worship, debate, workshops, mission projects, sponsored meals, and lengthy conversations around tables in restaurants, bars and hotel rooms visitors and delegates alike participated in the ongoing work of building a church for the 21st century.
The abolitionist poet James Russell Lowell once wrote that “time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onwards still and upwards who would keep abreast of truth.” I quote that often because participating in a church that, not only in its founding document but in the opening paragraph to that document, assigns the responsibility in each generation to make the faith its own means we all must be diligent in our efforts to respond in this time to that which calls for new truth to teach new duty.
What is often missed in this ongoing evolution and transformation is the movement of a Holy Spirit promised to us by Jesus himself who, on the night of his death, told us that it was to our advantage he leave; for if he did not our Advocate would not come. That Advocate still invests herself in our life, health, vitality, and missional relevance.
She was not absent from our gathering. In fact, She was fully invested from the start in messiness that erupts any the Church gathers to prayerfully discern through a truly democratic process what God is speaking to this generation of the faithful.
Young and old alike stood to have their voices heard on matters diverse and with opinions widely divergent. Without rancor or regret, one by one people of faith took to the microphone and shared insight, experiences, and conviction on some of the most impactful and at times controversial issues of our day. Topics ranged from climate justice to immigrant justice, compassionate aid in dying and ongoing care and support for adult survivors of child sexual abuse, bylaw changes to governing documents and the election of an officer of the denomination.
In worship, we certainly all felt the power of the Holy Spirit’s movement among us, keeping alive a faith called for by our Creator and incarnated by our risen savior, Jesus the Christ. The music had us dancing. The preaching had us weeping, laughing, clapping, and shouting AMEN! again and again. The artful adornments of the space itself inspired us, lifting up our own spirits as God’s Spirit moved.
I also felt her presence in the days of peaceful, irenic dialogue and debate in the committees, the hearings, the caucuses, the plenary, and the voting. The Church came together, came alive, and bore witness to the world what commitments to build a just world for all looks like when people of faith take the love of neighbor seriously.
That I am proud to participate in such an endeavor almost goes without saying, but I will say it anyway. To see the Church in action as it seeks to make the faith its own makes me very proud. To feel the ongoing investment of God’s Holy Spirit in the process gives me hope and confidence that, if we remain faithful to our mission and follow through with the actions that the words inspire, the world will come to know the peace that passes understanding.
May it be so.
May the work the Spirit began in Baltimore help the Church to not only redefine itself in this time, may it also bring about a Shalom envisioned by God at the Creation of the world. And may that peace begin with each one of us as we wind our way through the pathways of justice entrusted to us on our journeys Into the Mystic.