‘We are the dawn’: Thompson shares UCC vision in nomination speech

On the evening of June 30, the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson offered her nomination speech to the 34th General Synod to become the next General Minister and President. If elected, she will be the first woman, and the first woman of African descent, to lead the denomination.

In her speech, Thompson described some of the challenges and opportunities facing the UCC as the body recently passed its 66th anniversary the Sunday before, June 25. She described the current moment as one holding the “grief lingering among us” due to the COVID pandemic, the challenges faced by communities “who live on the margins of the world” and the economic challenges that accompany the decline many mainline churches are facing in the global north.

But this place, Thompson said, is one where “hope springs forth” within the UCC.

“Here is the place where we have seen the Spirit of God poured forth among us in many ways. Here is the place where we continue to identify the many accomplishments of the ancestors. Here is where we honor the resilience of those who came before us, took risk and oftentimes did more with less than we currently have. And here is the place we identify as now, as we ponder the call of God to be salt and light to the world,” she said.

‘Opening wider the doors’

Thompson’s speech was introduced by the Rev. Rodney Franklin, board chair of The Pension Boards, and Dale Bonds, a former UCC Board chair, via a prerecorded video. Franklin described Thompson as joining a lineage of women who have “always been making the table larger” for others.

Thompson, too, noted the significance of being the third women to be nominated to serve as minister of the UCC, naming the Rev. Yvonne Delk and the Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund — the two women previously nominated to serve, though neither was ultimately affirmed for the role.

“Their ministries have individually and collectively shaped the UCC and paved the way for women to serve in ministry in the UCC, opening wide the doors of this denomination,” Thompson said.

And she expressed a vision for the UCC to keep “opening wider the doors of the church” to include the “nones” — those who claim no particular religious affiliation — and those who may be spiritual but not religious.

“How do we continue to hold spaces that are safe and afford the experience of God’s love even to those who may be different than what we experience as normative in the UCC?” she posed.

‘Rolling up our sleeves’

A recurring theme of Thompson’s speech was the need for decolonizing the church, which she said “includes attention to the culture, heritage, traditions and spiritualities of those whose lives were disrupted by colonization and a colonial Christianity that decried the presence of God in all God’s people.” She added that this pursuit must “connect to a global movement for a church that is ready to confront a past that has not always been expressive of the love of God.”

Thompson also explored the importance and nuance of doing mission work within the church — something she said must happen domestically, not just overseas.

“We can no longer live as spiritually engaged people while having a NIMBY — not in my back yard — mentality. Mission is a way of connecting love of God and love of neighbor. Mission allows us to be the justice seekers we say we are by rolling up our sleeves and getting involved,” she said.

‘We are the dawn’

Thompson offered one of her trademark poems, titled “today,” that reflected images of the possibility she envisions for the UCC: “We are the dawn, the first light in the morning sky / we are the beginning of new blooms / the evidence that love / has taken root and is at home among us.”

She noted resonance between her message and that of Jamar Doyle, president and CEO of CHHSM, who preached during Synod’s opening worship about allowing the church to grow and change.

“We are not the same church we were in 1957,” Thompson said. “Sixty-six years beyond the moment of becoming a united and uniting church, there are yet possibilities to unfold among us as we create new firsts and new commitments to justice and to realizing God’s kin-dom here on earth.

“We cannot do this alone. I cannot do this alone. None of us here individually have the capacity to do this alone. But I want to tell you that we have the capacity to do it together because we choose to do so with the presence, the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Delegates will vote on Thompson’s nomination, likely in a morning plenary session Monday, July 3.

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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