Traci Blackmon: Embrace the power of the WE in the UCC
As the Rev. Traci Blackmon asked for the blessing and support of the General Synod to continue in her role as Associate General Minister, she spoke about the work of the “We.” The “We” the church must be to effectively follow God’s call.
“The work of the church is not a singular call,” she said. As a matter of fact, the UCC began with the ‘We.’ Everything in the United Church of Christ is because of the ‘We.’ Anything the United Church of Christ has ever been able to accomplish is because of the ‘We.’ Anything we accomplish in the future can only be possible because of the ‘We.’ Even General Synod is a testament to the power of ‘We.’
“And yet, the most challenging part of church work, the most challenging part of the Gospel, and the most challenging part of following Jesus, is the ‘We.’”
Blackmon spoke in a video presentation on July 11, during the opening plenary session of the biennial national meeting of the UCC – the first ever to be held entirely online.
Beginning her speech with deep gratitude for the Rev. Davida Foy Crabree, “at times, my Conference Minister, pastor, mentor, colleague and friend,” who presented her for election, Blackmon spoke of her journey in ministry, her commitment to justice — “Justice for me is best understood in close proximity with those most pained by injustice” — and her desire to continue to lead the Justice and Local Church Ministries team.
“I have been privileged to travel the breadth of our denomination and beyond, proclaiming the goodness of God, the faithfulness of God’s people and the call for justice in places and ways that have literally knocked me off of my feet,” Blackmon said. “I am grateful for the journey.”
She called out each member of the JLCM staff by name, and thanked them for the gifts they bring to the work.
“This moment is only a consideration because of the work ‘We’ have been able to accomplish together,” she said. “Thank you to each of you and all of you … I see you and I love you. It takes us working together to answer the call of discipleship, my friends.”
She pointed out how different the Bible would be interpreted if one heard the ‘We’ in the sacred texts.
“Take for example 1 Corinthians 3:16-17. Paul writes to the church in Corinth, ‘Do you not know you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy them. For God’s temple is holy and you are that temple.’ The ‘you’ in these verses, my friends, is plural. What a difference it makes in our understanding of the ministry of Jesus and the mission of the church when we discover our sacred text is not all about me, not all about you, but rather it’s all about ‘We.’ How might our understanding of these verses and others be impacted if we read them with the intended ‘We’ in mind?
“Do you all know that you all are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in all of us? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy them. For God’s temple is holy, and y’all — all of you — are that temple. Do we not understand when we crush the spirit, the creativity, the heart of any of God’s people, we damage ourselves? We desecrate the holy, we damage the temple, because the temple, my friends, is us. All of us.”
‘What is God up to?’
Speaking from the Wehrli Chapel at Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Mo., Blackmon noted that Eden, her seminary, remains an essential partner in her theological engagement and growth, both key to her ministry.
She shared the one question she asks herself everywhere that ministry takes her.
“’What is God up to in this place?’ I’ve asked this question throughout my pastoral ministry, I asked this question throughout my time serving the national setting, I’ve asked this question in each of the 264 UCC congregations, 73 ecumenical spaces, 12 seminaries and six synagogues I’ve been invited to directly engage over these last four years,” Blackmon said. “How do I know? Because after each visit, I record in my journal the answer to this question — ‘Where did I see God at work in this place?’ It’s an act of spiritual discipline for me and it brings great joy. It also reminds me that ministry is never mine alone. Ministry is only possible in the ‘We.’’’
‘All over the UCC’
Emphasizing “God is at work all over the United Church of Christ,” she shared these examples:
- Plymouth UCC, Des Moines, Iowa, held a commissioning service for 4-year-olds, so they could “live their faith in big school in the upcoming year. The entire congregation surrounded them and their families as the pastor talked to them about the responsibility of sharing their love for Jesus and love of one another in big school. And then the congregation laid hands on them as an affirmation of this blessing.”
- Mayflower Church UCC Minneapolis, helped build Creekside Commons, 30 units of workforce housing on property adjacent to the church. “Most of the residents aren’t members of Mayflower, but they are a part of ‘We.’”
- Dixwell Avenue Congregational UCC, New Haven, Conn., the oldest Black church in North America, shared powerful worship services and bible studies “curated particularly for those suffering with addiction that they might know they are beloved of God.”
- Old South Church UCC, Boston, welcomed children into the service in preparation of communion, “and all of a sudden the doors flung open and young children from church school ran in directly to the communion table to participate in the blessing of the elements by waving their hands as the pastor prayed.”
- At Covenant Baptist UCC, Washington, D.C., after entering the sanctuary, “I found myself surrounded by stained glass windows with images that looked like me.”
- At Plymouth UCC, Lawrence, Kan., “when a man without permanent shelter greeted me at the door of the sanctuary and thanked me for coming to his church before retrieving his bags and his dog from the hall and heading out the door. Ownership, my friends, is a sign of belonging.”
“The gift of this ministry for me has been to ability to see the ‘We’ that is the United Church of Christ. Whether we are gathered as a few or as thousands, God is the same, my friends.”
Blackmon spoke of the challenges of the last four years – the wounds left by a deadly pandemic and “a political process fueled with hate.”
“The racial chasm has widened and more of us are needed to stand in the breach. My hope is you will allow me to continue standing in that breach with you, serving with you. Together we are more powerful than we might imagine.”
Blackmon shared a number of accomplishments of a united church:
- “Together, my friends, we have already abolished $70 million in medical debt for 50,905 families and we are still going.
- “Together, we have been recognized for leadership in climate justice; together, our anti-racism work is being used globally and translated into German even as I speak.
- “Together, our voting efforts are impactful and are changing the game.
- “And our public witness and voice is sought after in every area where injustice breeds.
“This is good work and this is holy work, but please understand we are not done, we are not well, we have not arrived. There is much work to do.
“And yet healing is possible in the “We.’ Love is possible in the ‘We.’ Justice is possible in the ‘We.’
When ‘I’ becomes ‘We’
“My heart’s desire is to continue to serve God and justice in my role as Associate General Minister, giving my best to whatever task is placed before me,” Blackmon said. “My promise to you is to continue asking myself ‘what is God up to’ in every place the United Church of Christ is found. And doing all I can to make certain we show up, to be involved in whatever God is up to, wherever we are found.
“Malcolm X is quoted as saying, ‘Even illness becomes wellness when “I” becomes “we.”’ I covet your permission to continue our work together until the world we imagine becomes a reality. May it be so.”
Delegates will vote Sunday, July 18, on Blackmon’s election.
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