State of the Church webinar invites people to ‘envision church differently’
“We are the church, and we are shifting.”
Those words from Bishop W. Darin Moore summed up many of the insights in “The State of The Church,” a Feb. 4 United Church of Christ webinar. It was the second in the UCC’s online series, “The State of the Matter.”
Moore is the presiding bishop of Mid-Atlantic District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. He was the guest of the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president, for the one-hour live event on Zoom. A recording is available here.
Both are board members of the National Council of Churches. Moore is a past chairperson of the Board; Dorhauer is the current one.
And though they spoke briefly of their own two denominations, they focused mainly — as Dorhauer put it — on the church “writ large.”
Church in a ‘tri-demic’
The shift, of course, is coming in what Moore called not just a pandemic, but a “tri-demic: a health pandemic, a financial crisis for many, and social unrest.” It is all speeding up “the challenging realities that faced the church pre-COVID,” he said. In the United States, declining attendance was long one of those.
Indeed, as with COVID itself, “the churches most at risk are those with underlying prior conditions,” Moore said. One of those is an unchanging “museum ministry” mindset.
But for others, closing their buildings “has not resulted in the shrinking of church ministry but the thriving” as they embrace their neighbors’ needs, especially on “the margins of society.”
The context for change
The range of topics the two speakers touched on included:
- White supremacy, and what Dorhauer called the church’s “ongoing love affair with whiteness”
- Climate change
- Political divisions and nationalism
- The fact that real reconciliation, especially when racism is involved, can come only after steps of confession, repentance and reparation.
Dorhauer called on the white church to cede power to “those who, as Bishop Moore talked about, live on the margins and who see the world and the articulation of the body of Christ differently.”
‘Why return to a mediocre normal?’
The church’s future, Moore said, belongs to those “who are daring enough to engage this cultural moment and shift with a fresh missional imagination.”
“Can you envision church differently for you and our congregation? Can you embrace new methods of connecting with people beyond your church walls? Can you learn from the changed realities we are now living into?
“I certainly pray so. Because many things are not returning to the pre-COVID normal. In fact, why would we want to return to a mediocre normal when God is calling us to reach toward new possibilities — to experience fresh winds of healing, hope and resurrection?”
Inspired by the annual U.S. State of the Union address, the “State of the Matter” series addresses issues of concern in church and society. The kickoff episode on Jan. 26 featured the Rev. Starsky Wilson, the UCC minister who heads the Children’s Defense Fund. The schedule so far includes these live webinars (times and registration links will be posted at the UCC “Events” page):
- Thursday, Feb. 18: The Rev. William Barber II, “The State of Poor People.” Barber, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, is national co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.
- Tuesday, March 2: The Rev. Jim Antal, “The State of Creation.” Climate activist and author Antal, a retired UCC pastor and Conference minister, serves as a special advisor on climate justice to the UCC general minister and president. (NOTE: This new date differs from one announced in the Jan. 26 webinar.)
- Date TBA: The Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, “The State of Black Bodies.” Brown is dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at UCC-related Union Theological Seminary and author of the 2015 book “Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God.”
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