‘Special Edition’ General Synod to record a number of ‘firsts’
The United Church of Christ “Special Edition” General Synod is a first-of-its-kind event. The biennial national meeting – the first-ever to be held entirely online – opened at 3:30 p.m. ET on a Sunday, first with youth and young adult gatherings and then with worship.
An opening plenary session followed the 5 p.m. ET service on July 11, with Moderator Penny Lowes and Assistant Moderator Bob Sandman dropping the gavel at 6:34 p.m. ET and calling Synod to order.
Synod by the numbers
The 2021 General Synod runs eight days, July 11-18, instead of the usual five. There are four plenary sessions scheduled instead of the usual eight. Some fast facts:
- This “Special Edition” event has 2,596 registered attendees, of which 715 are voting delegates. Of those delegates:
- 634 represent the 38 UCC Conferences.
- 48 are members of the United Church of Christ Board, with the other 33 representing the Historically Underrepresented Groups: the Council for American Indian Ministry; the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries; Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice; the ONA Coalition; Pacific Islander and Asian American Ministries; the UCC Mental Health Network; United Black Christians; United Samoan Ministries; UCC Disabilities Ministries; and the Colectivo de UCC Latinx Ministries.
- In addition, there are 88 associate delegates, who have a voice, but do not vote.
- In the virtual exhibit hall, visitors will find 82 vendors.
- 39 optional events are on the schedule.
- Forty-one sponsors have committed $187,000 to support the event. The UCC financial ministries – the Church Building and Loan Fund, the Cornerstone Fund, the Insurance Board, the Pension Boards and United Church Funds – the five Gold-Level sponsors – contributed $75,000 to that total.
- The events team has secured 25 Zoom licenses to pull together an online event of this magnitude.
- Planners have recruited more than 100 ‘Special Synod Support,’ which include 52 volunteers from across the church and 53 national staffers on special assignment. They also trained 30 people to staff the Help Desk to answer calls about navigating the online event.
A change for volunteers
“A volunteer slot is a combination of time, place, task and talent – the talent is the volunteer!” said the Rev. Elena Larssen, UCC minister for volunteer engagement. “Volunteers bring the energy of the church to the needs of the world. For this ‘Special Edition’ Synod, they are bringing the energy of the world and their local faith lives to the needs of the church.”
The role of volunteers is different in this virtual environment. When Synod meets in person, the Local Arrangements Committee of the host Conference does the recruiting, gathering church members from across the conference. Hundreds of volunteers provide thousands of hours on-site at the convention center to check folks in, answer questions, work the business sessions, and get participants from point A to point B.
This time, volunteers are comprised of national staff and interested parties from across the UCC. They are serving as ushers in Zoom sessions — opening and closing the meeting for the presenter and supporting the Zoom room with any other type of help. Others are working as chaperones in the youth program, acting as scribes and secretaries for the Committee Process, manning the phone lines and monitoring chats to answer questions about navigating meet.ucc, the platform providing access to all scheduled activities — business sessions, keynote speakers, optional events, workshops and worship. It’s also the way to get into the exhibit hall.
The Church House IT and web teams can help navigate the technical process. All the parliamentary support to the Help Desk are volunteers from the wider church.
“One of our happy successes is that a volunteer has helped the volunteers,” Larssen said. “Heather Fosburgh, the associate Conference minister in the Southeast Conference, volunteered to provide the training for Zoom Ushers.
“She’s helping people move from ‘comfortable attending a Zoom’ to ‘comfortable tech-hosting a Zoom.’ Twenty-seven national support staff and volunteers took the training so far and have reported that they really appreciate the training and feel more confident.”
More Synod firsts
Another first at this Synod: Most events on are occurring in the later part of the day, Eastern Time, to give more people across the country the ability to get involved.
The youth and young adults each have their own Synod tracks, a first for the program. They will also have a daily challenge to complete, tied to the Synod theme, “Rooted in Love.”
Also new this year – each young person will have an opportunity to join a small ‘home group’ with the same people that will meet daily in community.
“They will have the opportunity to talk about what is happening at Synod … they can also talk about what’s important for them,” said the Rev. Trayce Potter, minister for youth and young adults. “For many, this will be the first time our young people will have the chance to share what they have gone thorough in the last year. It’s an opportunity to process together, learn together and heal together.”
This Synod, there is no stage or backstage. The Synod production team has taken over the 9th Floor Conference Room at the Church House in downtown Cleveland, creating a master control room, a studio for the moderators and production and editing suites for the video crew.
A hi-def worship experience
One of the most exciting elements to many people is sure to be the high-definition worship experience. The public is invited to attend all three General Synod worship services. During an in-person Synod, the second, Sunday service welcomes the public, attended by people from the host Conference and surrounding community.
“Worship has always been an important part of General Synod,” said the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, Synod administrator. “And this General Synod, though virtual is no exception. Worship will be spirit-filled and vibrant, and streamed on a variety of platforms.
“Imagine if you will, the entire United Church of Christ gathered on Sunday, Wednesday and Sunday for a common word, worshipping in a way we have never experienced before!”
Interested participants can watch the services on the General Synod website, using the links below, on Facebook and on YouTube at the scheduled times.
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