Synod’s assistant moderator ‘still listening’ as he bikes to Synod

Taking seriously the theme for the 25th biennial meeting of the UCC’s General Synod – “Come Listen, Go Serve, God is Still Speaking,” – Smith made the trek from his home in Freeport, Maine to Atlanta, where close to 1,000 delegates will begin doing the business of the church Friday, by bike.

And along the way, he stopped at 23 different local UCC congregations and listened to their stories – about themselves, their understandings of God and their place in the UCC.
“I had been getting into cycling and had wanted to do some sort of long tour,” Smith said recently by phone while waiting out a rain storm underneath a North Carolina freeway overpass. “It occurred to me last summer that it would be a lot of fun to bike to Synod and stop and stay at different churches along the way.”
What he didn’t initially realize, however, was how much his planned trip would end up resonating with this year’s Synod theme.
“I realized that it really gelled with the theme of Synod and the theme of listening,” Smith said. “I decided that what I wanted to do was not just stop at churches and see the buildings, but really visit as much as possible with members of these local churches.”
And that he has done.
Some of the churches held special evening events where church members were invited to come and dialogue with Smith. At other churches he visited only with the pastor. Still other churches threw dinner parties at which members had the opportunity to converse with Smith.
And through it all, said Smith, a life-long UCC member who has served the church at both the local and national levels in a variety of capacities, he has gained an understanding of the church that he never had before.
“I have learned a lot about some of the very unique personalities of our local congregations,” he said. “They tend to be very distinct both from place to place and even within the same town. Each church has its own mark of individuality”
In return, Smith says, he hopes he was able to communicate to congregants the importance of General Synod and build a bridge between the national level of the church and what he says is the church’s heart – it’s local churches.
“I wanted to be able to talk about General Synod,” Smith said. “General Synod is the most representative body of the church and the local churches are the center of the church’s ministry. But too often, I think, there is a lot of disconnect between what happens in the local churches and what happens at Synod.”
In a year when the General Synod will be grappling with a number of controversial and contentious issues – from marriage to ordination to possible Middle East divestment – Smith said it is more imperative then ever that the church come together as community and commit to listening to each other, a task that Smith has spent the past month biking across the country modeling.
“One of the most important things about General Synod is listening to the personal stories of other members of the church,” Smith said. “When I talk about resolutions, I usually explain that they are issues of concern for some portion of the church. They are, in a way, the joys and concerns of our denomination that get lifted up in the same ways that joys and concerns are lifted up during a worship service. A lot of times, these resolutions come from a certain amount of not just concern but pain. Listening to people who you have never met but who are members of your church talk about their pain is moving and transforming.”
And while there might well be some painful moments during the course of Synod this week, Smith says there is no better way to affirm the existence of a “Still Speaking” God then to continue to listen.
“If we affirm that God is still speaking, then communication is in two parts – the speaking and the listening,” Smith said. “If you do not have both of those parts, then you are not communicating. As important as it is to affirm that God is still speaking, part of our role is to affirm the importance of listening for God’s voice in all the ways that it comes to us. When we talk about General Synod speaking to and not for local churches, it is important for local churches to listen to that voice even though it might not seem relevant or in line with where a particular congregation is. Part of our conversation with one another is to listen to one another.”
Categories: United Church of Christ News

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