The Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, nominee for Associate General Minister of Global Engagement of the United Church of Christ, raised her prophetic and poetic voice addressing General Synod delegates on Friday night. She shared a memory of a clock without hands she’d seen in Clujj-Naropa, Romania, which became for her an image of the contemporary Church. It looks useless, she noted, unable to perform its stated function of telling passers-by the time. Yet it retained power and relevance.
“That clock in Clujj was a source of inspiration for me as a poet and a theologian,” she said. “It reminded me of what the church is and is supposed to be. That clock did not have the ability to tell time anymore, but I could tell from its location and the fact that it was still there that it pointed to a time when things were different.” She read the poem, No Hands for Time, she wrote in response.
And, she noted wryly, the broken clock inspired her to look at her watch as it reminded her of its purpose.
Thompson wove the theme of time throughout her address. Memory of other times comes relatively easy to the Church. Old stories inspire us with the faith and courage of people who have gone before. There is also a history we would prefer to forget, times when the Church has been on the side of injustice. Misunderstood history, anxiety over loss of numbers and resources, and the rise of fascist dogmas all diminish the Church’s faithfulness and effectiveness.
She stressed the power of ecumenical partnerships for addressing these challenges. As the UCC’s Minister for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, she has seen these strengths first hand. In an interview, she contrasted this vision with the one dominating domestic politics, obsessed with closing borders. “I think that’s a challenge to our theologies of love of neighbor and love of neighbor as self,” she said. “We need to be something different.”
Introducing her, the Rev. Michael Blair, Executive Minister of Church in Mission of the United Church of Canada called her “one who loves the church without having a valid reason to do so.” He hailed her as “a leader, big picture thinker, a mystic, spiritually attuned and she has a unique ability to build consensus and shape ways forward.”
Thompson told the delegates: “Yes, the world is changing. Yes, our communities are changing, too. Yes, the resources that are available for ministry and mission are shrinking. None of these markers name or define the relevance of the church, the possibilities we have for ministry, and the services that can be provided in partnership with the communities we serve locally and globally.”
“The time we have is now,” she declared. “The decisions we make are for today. We are living on borrowed time with the commitment to change the world.”
The body affirmed her vision with a standing ovation. Delegates to General Synod 32 will vote on her nomination on Monday.
The Rev. Eric S. Anderson is pastor of Church of the Holy Cross UCC in Hilo, Hawai’i.