How will the United Church of Christ National Setting program a virtual General Synod with moving worship, interesting workshops, educational intensives, church business, youth programming and service projects? There are working groups for that.
Presenting General Synod 33 as a totally online event for the first time demands a lot of creativity. The staff in Cleveland has a structure in place to convert the biennial gathering from an actual to virtual experience.
The Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, associate general minister of Wider Church Ministries and Operations, is serving as Synod administrator, with Valerie Smith as assistant Synod administrator. They are convening monthly meetings with working group leaders, each overseeing a specific focus of GS33. Here’s the list of the areas of operation and those overseeing the groups:
- Youth and Young Adults at Synod – The Rev. Trayce Potter
- Worship – The Rev. Tracy Howe Wispelwey
- Workshops – The Rev. Chris Davies
- Logistics – Valerie Smith
- Revenue – Jacqueline Owen
- Marketing and Promotion – Cindy Bailie
- Digital Strategies – Chris Gabriel
“This group of UCC staff will be bringing to life the vision for a virtual General Synod that has been shaped by stakeholders in the UCC,” said Thompson. “Each working group is comprised of representatives from the settings of the UCC. Along with the staff to guide the work of each team, we are ensuring that a variety of voices are at the table, reflecting the diversity that is present in the UCC.”
The dates for the UCC’s first virtual General Synod are July 11-18, 2021. The Sunday to Sunday schedule is the first in a series of changes planned for this event, themed “Rooted in Love, Special Edition.” Daily sessions will run from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Pre-Synod events will occur July 7-10.
The GS planning team is meeting bimonthly to take what they know about arranging in-person Synods and adapting to virtual reality.
“I think it was Albert Einstein who said something like, ‘If you always do what you did, you will always get what you got,’” said Bailie. “Working to market and communicate the UCC’s first virtual General Synod is an incredible opportunity for the entire church to fully participate and meaningfully engage in this seminal event in the life of the church. Our group is having fun thinking of all the creative ways to bring that to life.”
“While congregations are getting accustomed to virtual worship services, we are quite certain the nature and experience of GS33 will be both faithfully UCC and groundbreaking in expression and form,” said Howe Wispelwey. “We (the Synod Worship Writing Group) have scheduled a series of virtual retreats over the month of October to study together and discern collectively both the continuing, never changing presence of God and the specific embodiment of the Still Speaking Living Spirit moving with, in and through our churches and world right now.”
“The Workshops Team is working through what platform to offer digital workshops for General Synod on, how many workshops and what content will be featured for best use by local churches and beyond,” said Davies. “We are imagining a way forward wherein workshops are part of General Synod, and also available thereafter for people to use in their own programming.”
”Our team is excited to put together a program that intentionally focuses on a segment of the church that is often overlooked and undervalued: the young adults!” said Potter. “The goal outlined for the planning team is that every youth who attends walks away with a deeper understanding of their faith and connection to the church; creates authentic community; and finds a way to put their faith into action. A key component of the young adult program will be relational and building communities that can continue to live post-Synod.”
“This is not just a new way of engaging the wider church. We see this as an opportunity to build something the future will recognize as a turning point,” said the Rev. John Dorhauer, general minister and president. “Karen Georgia has taken to calling this a ‘Special Edition Synod.’ We are breaking new ground.
“We don’t want this to be a ‘normal’ Synod forced into a virtual reality. We want it to exist in a virtual environment with integrity and authenticity. This will be hard work.”
“The working groups are energized and very excited to take on this task of crafting and implementing this first virtual General Synod,” said Thompson. “We are looking for new ways to conduct business and to invite a new generation to participate in General Synod online.”
“There is a good deal of enthusiasm about what this new thing will be – and our role in giving birth to it,” Dorhauer said. “There will be a lot – a lot! – of work to get this done. But what an amazing opportunity for us all.”