Synod embraces ‘contemplative’ approach to Christian activism
At the opening plenary session of the United Church of Christ’s first online General Synod, delegates overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling the wider church to base its activism on a “life of foundational spiritual practices.”
With 93 percent in favor, delegates passed the “Becoming a Church of Contemplatives in Action” resolution, which was proposed by 13 local congregations from Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Ohio and Vermont.
“As we know, Jesus rooted his ministry of teaching, healing, and solidarity with others in a life of prayer, solitude, and intimate relationship with God. The Gospels attest that Jesus’s ministry begins with a time of solitude in the desert. He can be found stealing away from the busyness of the crowds to pray,” said Denson Staples, a Southern New England Conference delegate and one of the resolution’s proposers.
“Jesus’s prayerful ‘union with’ the Creator enabled his public witness of creating inclusive community, exemplifying self-giving love, forming disciples, peacebuilding, and engaging in nonviolent resistance. His life of integrated contemplation and action is a touchstone for our Christian life today,” said Staples, a member of First Congregational UCC in Somerville, Mass., and a member in discernment.
The resolution came about after Carriker and the Rev. Mark Longhurst of Williamstown, Mass., noticed how little space there was for silent prayer and contemplation when they attended Synod in Baltimore in 2017. They asked for such space in 2019, and were given a chance to host daily contemplative practice opportunities. They now want to see that movement spread.
Co-proposer the Rev. Matt Carriker, also from the Southern New England Conference, used as an example a recent conversation with “Lara,” who he said had tried to incorporate silent prayer, meditation, and contemplative practice into the life of her church. She became frustrated, he said, because people were either too busy for such things, or just didn’t see the value.
“Lara wonders what makes her church different than a social service or advocacy organization,” Carriker said. “How can our churches live out both the contemplative and activist dimensions of our faith?”
The resolution’s proposers hope to begin to answer that question at an implementation conversation on July 17 at 7 p.m. ET. These conversations are a new feature of Synod this year, and are designed to be a place for supporters of the various Synod actions to discuss next steps.
“Our hope is that this Resolution inspires a groundswell of movement from the bottom up of the UCC,” Carriker said after the vote. “Being a church of contemplatives in action isn’t a controversial issue. It is what the gospel is about at its core! This resolution was inspired because our denomination, though strong in social justice activism, has not been as strong in living out and resourcing churches and faith communities in all settings in the variety of contemplative practices that ground our faith.”
“It is our hope that out of this resolution, new resources for churches, pastors, seminaries, lay leaders and elsewhere will help us to love God more fully, and from that place, to deepen our living out the love and justice of Jesus in all other areas of our ministries,” said Carriker, pastor of the Agape Spiritual Community in Waltham, Mass., and chaplain at Brandeis University. “May this resolution help us to embody the gospel in all its fullness!”
Tiffany Vail, director for media and communications of the Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ, is a General Synod Newsroom volunteer.
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