DIVERSITY - Challenges and OpportunitiesBy Rich Pleva - June 30, 2015, 10:05 am
UCC folk have a nearly infinite range of opinions and convictions about everything. Included on the list would be General Synod itself – our every-other-year denomination-wide gathering which convened on Friday, June 26 (in the past as you read, but in the future as I write). Might GS have something to teach about the foundations of community? To put it bluntly – what constitutes an adequate foundation for community that actually means something?
While it is certainly true that some kinds of communities find their organizing principle around rules (constitutions, statutes, behavioral expectations and so on), the United Church of Christ seeks to find its unity NOT in a set of rules, or social mores or even creeds. Our center is found in Jesus Christ. Our foundation is found in relationship rather than in rules – relationship with God and with each other. Admittedly, this is easier said than done, but certainly it is this to which we aspire.
At Synod we argued and fussed nearly endlessly – about Israel and Palestine, about mass incarceration, about our denominational rules and much more. We didn’t presume to find our unity on the floor of a plenary business session, however – we found our unity when we set aside our differences and gathered at one font and one table to be awed by the love of God for all humankind and commit ourselves to the service of that God (and God’s creation) through his son, Jesus the Christ.
I don’t always much care for General Synod, but I DO value the opportunity to gather with fellow disciples with whom I agree and disagree and experience (again!) that we can disagree and still love God and each other.
This is a lesson the whole of the human family has yet to learn. But this small experience of unity in diversity gives me hope that by God’s grace this small experience of unity and diversity can and WILL be expanded….and expanded….and expanded….until all God’s children are one.
Hmmmm….I’ve heard this before. “That they may all be one.” Yes indeed, it is this to which we aspire.
Thank you for sending me to General Synod and allowing me to get a tiny taste of the someday realm of God.
Come Lord Jesus. Come!
By Rich Pleva - June 30, 2015, 10:05 am
UCC in Iowa
Travel With Us in Prayer to Unexpected PlacesBy Jonna Jensen - June 25, 2015, 9:00 am
As I write these words to you, staff, delegates, and visitors from the Iowa Conference are packing their bags or already on their way to the 30th General Synod of the United Church of Christ, meeting in Cleveland June 26-30. The theme of our 30th General Synod is “Unexpected Places”, rising from the story of Jacob’s dream at Bethel found in the 28th chapter of Genesis and especially the 16th verse: “Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place-and I did not know it!’”
In your daily time with Scripture these days, I invite you to prayerfully read and re-read and linger in Genesis 28:10-22. Imagine the places in your life and the life of your congregation where the LORD has been without your knowing. Remember those wondrous moments in your life and in the life of your congregation when you’ve felt as if you were waking from a dream as you recognized the presence and leading of God. Yearn prayerfully to be led to yet more unexpected places and be surprised there by our God who still speaks.
If you’re neither packing nor on your way to Cleveland, may I ask you to travel with us in prayer? In your daily prayers and in your congregation’s prayers on Sunday morning, please raise the 30th General Synod of the United Church of Christ:
- For the well-being of all participants as they travel and through five intense days and nights of discernment, deliberation, learning, connecting, worship and witness.
- For our General Synod preachers and presenters, that they blessed with clear hearts and strong voices to serve as deep vessels of the Holy Spirit.
- For John Dorhauer, our candidate for General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, that he may be blessed with all needed gifts to lead the United Church of Christ toward the voice of God calling from places we have yet to imagine.
- For the witness of our 30th General Synod, that within the words of many faithful followers of Jesus, some echo of holy Word might be heard.
- For the reach of our 30th General Synod, that the labor of bold followers of Jesus might stretch the world round with gifts of divine healing, justice, and peace.
Grateful to God, who shows up and surprises in places beyond our imagining,
Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
By Jonna Jensen - June 25, 2015, 9:00 am
What do you love about your church?By Brigit Stevens - June 19, 2015, 7:25 am
As Rich, Jonna, and I go to visit with various congregations, we often ask a question of the gathered group that sounds something like this, “What do you love about your church?” It’s a great opening topic that presumably everyone in the room can answer safely and is a nice way to set the stage for the further conversation in an uplifting and positive way. Without much variance, the answer we most often hear is, “We are a friendly church.”
Being friendly is cause for much pride for most of our congregations. As someone offers this as their description of the church, there are warm smiles shared around the room and often a few people sigh and comment, “That’s what I was going to say.” It feels good to be friends with our fellow pew-sitters. It feels good to tell them in that gathering that their friendship matters to us. It feels good to hear that someone values our friendship.
I’m curious, however, about what it would take to begin to hear, “We are a faithful church,” in response to my opening question of, “What do you love about your church?”
I trust that being good friends with one another is a lovely part of good community, and that is a good and honorable part of being a faithful church. But I don’t think it’s big enough. I don’t think that “friendly” is the first adjective (or only adjective, as is the case very often) that ought to be used to describe the prophetic, powerful, communities of faith that Jesus was referring to when he looked at Peter and said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’” (Matthew 16:18-19, NRSV)
Imagine for a moment that you are Peter. Jesus knows your very soul. And as Jesus looks into your eyes and calls you into being the Church, you begin to plan for the awesome coffee fellowship that you’ll organize for next Sunday? I doubt it.
If I were Peter, I would tremble. I would stammer and make excuses about how I was unworthy and unable to do such a thing. I would question Jesus’ sanity for even considering the idea of giving to me, and the rest of us ragtag disciples of his, a copy of the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Because I would know in my bones that this endeavor of being the Church was too big. The task of baptizing new disciples and introducing the inhabitants of the world, the WORLD, to God, would be beyond the wildest imaginings of even my most egotistical dreams of success and pride.
Maybe that’s why we sometimes settle for being friendly. We’re trembling at the thought of how hard a task it is to be faithful. The beauty of our faith, however, are those gentle eyes of Jesus, who knows our souls, and invites us to follow him. He knows the way, we just need to follow.
And he calls us his friends. (John 15:15)
Blessings for the Journey,
Brigit Stevens, Associate Conference Minister
By Brigit Stevens - June 19, 2015, 7:25 am
Letter from the Conference MinisterBy Rich Pleva - June 19, 2015, 7:12 am
Dear Friends and Colleagues in the Iowa Conference,
On Wednesday night our nation again encountered the intersection of violence and hate – a young man visited Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, and after sitting with the small congregation in Bible study for an hour, opened fire and killed 9 of those present.
This tragedy raises AGAIN important and intersecting questions about the trajectory of American society. It raises questions about our collective inability and/or unwillingness to address simmering racial inequality. It also raises questions about the health of a society where violence is such a pervasive part of our collective experience. Whether everyone in our churches will agree or not, these are FAITH questions – questions which must be addressed in Bible study and preaching.
Praise be…..there ARE places where the racial questions are more and more being addressed. This is good and must continue. I hope our churches – YOUR church – is a place where this difficult and uncomfortable conversation is happening. Assuredly this is a conversation in which God has an interest.
And then there is the question of the place of violence in the American experience and psyche. This violence runs the gamut from domestic abuse to video games….from sports to road rage…..from capital punishment to our nations increasing wont for military action far and wide (to say nothing of the near reverence with which the military is held). And of course it raises questions about the nearly sacred role of guns in American life.
I think it is safe to say that at no point in my lifetime has the gun lobby been more powerful and ascendant than it is today. We have become so inured to the novel idea that the gun should have a visible place in ordinary life that we hardly even blink when extremist legislators constantly and persistently push existing boundaries on the place of weapons in everyday life. Have you read about the latest in this aggressive push to make guns as commonplace as mobile phones? If you haven’t, then read about Texas’ new law about guns on the campuses of state universities.
I’m tired of being silent about this….because I’m pretty sure God’s heart is breaking at American foolishness in these regards.
I don’t know the specific policy answers to all these questions. I’m assuredly not advocating that deer hunters lose their rifles. But we’ve gone overboard and unless folk like you and me begin to question the morality (to say nothing of the sanity) of our collective presumptions….nothing will change. And God knows (and many of you do too) that things must change.
So please find places to talk about smarter ways for this society (of which you and I are a part) to handle race and violence and weapons. And please, look to God as you do so.
Thank you and God bless you.
UCC in Iowa
By Rich Pleva - June 19, 2015, 7:12 am
What is the best gift I can give?By Rich Pleva - June 12, 2015, 1:26 pm
Thank you! I’ll get back to this in a bit.
For the past three months – mid February through mid May – I’ve been given the gift of time away. I didn’t “earn” it; it was a gift from the churches and people of the Iowa Conference. Most employees never ever get something like “sabbatical.” I’m a bit awed at the privilege of this experience.
The role of clergyperson is an odd one. We teach and preach faith, we care for souls (and bodies too, sometimes), we encourage the flagging and challenge the over-confident. We advocate for justice and for peace and for grace and for love….and a whole lot more, at times. Hopefully we especially teach those things by living them as well as advocating for them.
Those responsibilities are God given and they are very important. But there’s something else the pastor is enjoined to do – in the words of the UCC rite of ordination, the pastor promises “to be diligent in…private prayers…”
I’m interested that the charge to pray is modified with the word “private.” The ordination vow is referencing something other than prayer in worship and other corporate occasions. I’m sure prayer is right and good in those places and times, but as ones set aside for ministry in and on behalf of the United Church of Christ, we are enjoined to pray….to pray privately.
The shape of my prayer life has evolved significantly over 37 years of pastoral ministry. One constant has been struggle. As a younger person, I inherited rather specific understandings about prayer. To put it simply, prayer may have been private, but it was assuredly rational – it consisted of “words” – whether spoken or not. I think rational prayer is very good, but the older I get the more I’m drawn to prayer that is…well….non-rational. I don’t mean irrational….I mean other than heady. For me, at least, this kind of prayer can only be entered as I slow down and set aside the objective expectations of everyday life.
And that’s what sabbatical became for me these past three months: A time to slow down and leave space for God’s ministrations.
Obviously prayer is appropriate for every follower of Jesus, but long ago the church learned that it benefited when it made it possible for some of its members to pray in wider spaces (literally and metaphorically) than what the incessant expectations of everyday life make possible for most of the baptized.
So here’s the barb: If I’m right about this, then those of us privileged by God to serve the church for pay probably owe the church LESS activity rather than more.
We live in very busy times. Efficiency is a byword of the 21st century economy and we – I!! – are not exempt from the harsh task-mastering of the call to be efficient.
Thank you for giving me three months to pray. I did it in a variety of ways. Sometimes I did the classically meditative thing and sat quietly. Other times I read (but not mostly theological works….though I did read Brueggemann’s recent little book on Sabbath, and I recommend it), I travelled and cared for my grandchildren (and my wife and my landscape beds, too!).
I prayed, believing that doing so was part of my call to care for you and to lead you.
I hope you’ll pray too. I hope you’ll pray just a bit more than what you think you have time for. It might be the very best gift you can give those whom you are called to serve.
With Gospel hope!
By Rich Pleva - June 12, 2015, 1:26 pm
UCC in Iowa