Rev. Ellen Jennings
~ John 13:31-35; excerpt from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s God Has A Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time ~
Some of you know I grew up Episcopalian, with a father raised Presbyterian and a mother raised Catholic. Which means I’m one of many UCC members who grew up in another denomination and ultimately found herself drawn to the eclectic and non-conformist union known as the United Church of Christ. And this makes sense, because the founding premise of our denomination is that, under the leadership of Jesus, we’re all one. Thus, in 1957 the Evangelical and Reformed churches merged with the Congregational and Christian churches to become the UCC, a “United and Uniting” denomination that celebrated its 50th Anniversary at our bi-annual General Synod this June.
I’ve been to Synod before, but this year was different. For me, it was both profoundly reassuring and deeply inspiring. In the midst of this challenging and contentious time in our nation, the UCC leadership spoke out, loud and clear, in defense, support and active promotion of love, peace and justice. And they’ve put their bodies where their words are. Traci Blackmon, our Justice and Witness Minister, has protested, rallied and advocated in support of health care, racial justice and immigrant rights; to the point of getting arrested for claiming her right to speak at the Capitol Building and putting her safety on the line in the chaos of Charlottesville. John Dorhauer, our General Minister and President, has traveled across the country, speaking out on the same issues and urging all people of faith to work together for the good of humankind.
The reason I asked Carol to read about Ubuntu from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s book this morning is because I think it captures much of what our denomination tries its best to embody. Ubuntu means: “I am because we are.” We don’t exist independently; rather, we’re all interconnected, interdependent, and part of the same Body, God’s Body. We are the hands and feet of God, and there will be no Kingdom of God unless we do Her work in the world.
Of course, I wasn’t the only one to attend Synod: Four of our teens (Sarah, Innes, Cole and Tate) attended with Teen Group chaperones, Katie and Meg. And, Jane Hardin, Carol L. Rogers, Jennifer Singleterry, Laura Kisthardt, Ashley Holst, Dan Sack and Lisa Jenkins came for some or all of the weekend. Last, but not least, 9-year-old Beatrice joined us, wanting to know more about this larger world of which our church is a part. We jointly agreed that the time spent at Synod was powerful, and since then, I’ve wanted to find some way to share this excitement with the rest of you.
So, this morning, in addition to my words, six congregation members are going to tell you not just what they gained from Synod but, more broadly, why they’re glad to be part of the United Church of Christ. And as we move into this new church year, a year that will include the kick-off of our 100th Anniversary, I encourage all of you both to listen to the excitement of these six members and to think about what the UCC—and this congregation—mean to you.
Before the adults begin, I’ll share a few words from Beatrice in absentia. She told us that, in a worship service of three thousand, she was curious about the different way communion was served to accommodate such a crowd. In fact, she was impressed by how it was done so quickly! She also liked hearing people with different perspectives talk about their faith; it made her think. Finally, she was delighted by the rubber duck nativity set we each collected from a series of vendor tables in the exhibit hall. In short, she’d like to attend another.
I’m also going to share Ashley Holst’s words. She thought she’d be here this morning but had a last-minute work assignment so asked if I’d be willing to share her thoughts (which I’m happy to do):
I am glad to be part of the UCC because throughout my whole life it has been the rock to build my values on while also being a soft and supportive comfort in times of difficulty, questioning my faith, or defining myself. I have been drawn to the pew on days where I needed to feel a part of something bigger and on days where I needed to inwardly reflect in solitude. While I was literally born into the UCC, my dad was in seminary when I was born and ordained when I was 3, I have never questioned that the UCC was the right denomination. When I have experienced other denominations, I find myself reflecting on our UCC values and being so thankful that we are diverse, justice and advocacy oriented, and positive. We focus on the values the bible can teach us through parables and stories instead of picking apart verses to shame, scare, or negate history and science. We welcome difficult discussions and meet people where they are. And most importantly we, and especially Pastor Ellen, are forgiving and flexible, when life’s curveballs makes being a “good member” challenging. This is especially important to me as I do life as an over-scheduled mid-20s young professional on the DC rollercoaster!
Carol L. Rogers
Thank you so much for these testimonies!
I have little to add, except to say that, after listening to Traci Blackmon preach more than once, I said to myself: This, this message is why I’m still here. This is why I can call myself Christian. This is why I choose to be a part of this amazing denomination, the United Church of Christ.
As you can see on the front of your worship bulletin, the UCC now has a new symbol, not its only symbol, but one that, in shades of blue, represents the waters of new life and the never-ending circle of rebirth. In addition, under the leadership of John Dorhauer, we (the UCC) have recently updated our Purpose, Vision and Mission Statements. To craft these statements, partners from the board, national staff, Historical Council, Council of Conference Ministers, and youth representatives were brought together with survey results from thousands of voices across the denomination. Because that’s how we do things in a denomination based on covenantal relationships! Thus, we, as a congregation in covenant with the UCC, are committed to learning about, considering, and deciding how and whether to use these statements.
So, as we prepare for this afternoon’s mid-year “un-meeting,” I share them for your consideration:
- The UCC purpose statement comes from the Gospel of Matthew: To love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.
- The vision: United in Christ’s love, a just world for all.
- The mission: United in Spirit and inspired by God’s grace, we welcome all, love all, and seek justice for all.
What I hear in each one of these statements is a clear focus on love of God and love of neighbor. And this sounds familiar, yes?! John Dorhauer offers the following summary: “Love in action envisions a just world for all.” Or, in our words: let’s get down to the business of “nurturing love of God and love of neighbor in the world.”