I love what I do.
This calling to serve on behalf of the United Church of Christ, and to experience and bear witness to what our collective agency in the world creates, is a joy beyond expectation.
To be sure, it is a delicate and arduous undertaking.
The challenges are legion:
- The Church we serve is a Church going through a season of great turmoil and change. I don’t at all feel threatened or beleaguered or despondent knowing that. In fact, I feel enlivened, engaged, called, and equipped to lead in such a time as this. But, helping an institution as large and as diverse as ours, and as committed to core values and traditions as ours is – helping it to live through this season of change is almost Sisyphean in nature. Daunting? Yes. Debilitating? No.
- We are a largely white, Euro-centric denomination moving at a glacial pace to absorb the enormity of societal changes that come with the browning of America. These are happening at warp speed. If we can’t make this adjustment in real time, we could become irrelevant even though our mission matters and lives are changed by it. Daunting? Yes. Debilitating? No.
- We are living in a world threatening to tear itself apart by division. Political liberalism and conservatism, theological progression and fundamentalism, ethical humanism and orthodoxy, cultural pluralism and hegemony all collide today in ways that threaten to undo a way of being church that has always believed that no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. Into this cultural milieu of foreboding intolerance of all others comes the reminder that our motto remains: that they may all be one. Daunting? Yes. Debilitating? No.
- There is a digital revolution unfolding in an institution populated largely by digital immigrants. At his insightful and provocative keynote address to General Synod delegates in 2015 in Cleveland, Paul Rauschenbusch talked about this revolution. As he did that, he implored the United Church of Christ not to sit on the sidelines for this revolution. He called us to invest ourselves because of our vision and mission in a digital infrastructure that kept us in the game for future generations. Daunting? Yes. Debilitating? No.
- Our funding patterns and our donor bases are shifting. One of the adaptations we must make is to radically alter our understanding of how the work we do here in support of the mission of the local church is changing. We are transitioning out of a pattern of loyalty giving when those loyal to our institution send us money, without asking questions, as the obligation they bear for being a part of the institution. Only about 25 percent of our National Office budget is now supported that way. Moving into a new model of developing relationships with individuals whose hearts align with the mission and ministry of the church,who understand, appreciate, and have the capacity to fund our mission, and want to partner with us in it, is not an easy task. Daunting? Yes. Debilitating? No.
Aware of all of this, the United Church of Christ Board affirmed the work of two different Strategic Task Forces and established five priorities for the National Setting, a covenant partner to all local churches of the United Church of Christ called by the Spirit into mission on behalf of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those priorities were what the Board saw as essential if we were to pursue a pathway to future health, relevance and vitality. Knowing that each of the challenges listed above were threatening, they called the leaders in the National Setting to seek:
- Innovative exploration
- Digital sophistication
- Inclusive excellence
- Just World for All resources
- Alignment of human and financial resources with these priorities.
Each of these priorities is a response to one of the threats listed above. This is the work of good stewards trying to maximize the use of our resources for the good of our shared mission.
As I began to prayerfully deliberate whether or not to seek a second term in office, I thought about the work we had begun to achieve and what the Board had called for. It was important work – nothing short of realigning a denomination toward the future hopes, dreams, and expectations of new generations of leaders in a rapidly changing world for a mission that continued to matter.
I felt once again the clear tug of the Holy Spirit at my heartstrings, saying, "You are called to finish this work."
This is the work that for four years, with both joy and toil, I have given myself to fully. It is work that, while underway, is yet unfinished. As I announced at General Synod, these will be my last four years in office. To be sure, when I leave this office, the work begun won’t be finished. My hope is that the foundations that will have been built will be secure enough to sustain a bright and hopeful future hope for my successor.
This is the hardest work I have ever done. And it is among the most rewarding work I have ever done. In the midst of leading through change, I continue to bear witness to what hasn't changed: your ability to move the world through love. The creation of the Three Great Loves campaign was less a way of asking the United Church of Christ to try something new than it was simply a way to remind us of what it is we do so well, and also call us to do it with reckless abandon in partnership with a Holy Spirit who trusts us, believes in us and authors our acts of life-changing love all over the world.
I covet your prayers every day, as I lift you all up in prayer every day. None of us do what we do alone or in a vacuum. I am sustained daily by your prayers for me and for the Church. And, together, let us continue to approach God's throne of grace confidently, knowing that a still-speaking, generous God is with us.
I want to thank you for placing your trust in me to serve a second term. I covenant with you to bring my whole self to this every day. I will do all I can in partnership with the Holy Spirit and through the abiding love of Jesus to use my gifts to God's greater glory in this undertaking. And I invite you to actively partner with me in actualizing a vision cast for a just world for all. Your hopes, strategic ideas, and Spirit-fed energy equip us for – and are essential to – the shared journey.
May the Holy Spirit of the living God and the risen Jesus continue to architect our future, bless us all along the way as we fulfill Her call to us to love one another as Jesus loved us, and sustain us as we seek to do the mission for which She birthed us. May what we do change hearts and lives through simple acts of love and help usher in a just world for all so that God’s vision of Shalom can be felt and seen.
The Rev. John Dorhauer has served as General Minister and President since 2015, when he was elected to his first term by the 30th General Synod. He was reelected in June 2019 by the 32nd General Synod, which met in Milwaukee.