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Beautiful, Diverse, Complicatedly Holy

By Nicole Havelka - July 15, 2019, 3:33 pm

A Reflection on General Synod 32

I stood at the back of the convention hall with a cup of coffee in hand. I watched people strolling in, chatting among themselves, then suddenly growing silent as they heard the music in the air. A jazz ensemble is leading worship with contagious joy. Nearby an organist sits tall and ready to play when the time comes. I know that when the organist taps the keys, I will feel the strain of a little liturgical whiplash. But the echoing transition between jazz ensemble and organ remind me what I know already is true: the United Church of Christ is incredibly diverse. Across our denomination our worship styles differ greatly as do our theologies, beliefs, and practices; our backgrounds, cultures, and geographies; our ages, gender identities, and sexual orientations; our life experiences, bodies’ abilities, and embodiments. When we, the United Church of Christ, are gathered, we are collectively the beautiful, diverse, complicatedly holy Body of Christ.  

After several days at the UCC’s recent biennial gathering — General Synod 32 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in late June — I looked around at the thousands of people who had gathered and wondered what is it that actually brought us here?  Some would say it was the desire to worship together. For others the chance to see friends. For some it was the workshops. For others it was the hope to work on meaningful resolutions that would either help focus the direction of the denomination or offer a public statement of witness to the world. Whatever it was that brought us all to this place, what we have done collectively is BE church in its fullness, messiness, and beauty.  What unites us in this room is a love of the United Church of Christ and an abiding hope its future. What brings us together biennium after biennium to gather as a General Synod is to discern where God is calling us next and to discern how to be light, love, and hope in this world.  

That is what we did. Among the actions of General Synod: we declared support for the Green New Deal and affirmed the intersectionality of climate justice with all justice issues. We directed the UCC to bring bylaws revisions that include non-binary gender language. We passed a resolution for a working group to explore how local churches, conferences and the national church can better live into their covenantal relationship. We committed support for survivors of rape and sexual violence and asked for ongoing church-wide observance of Break the Silence Sunday.  

Other resolutions were passed as well, each important in their own right. Some other resolutions were tabled. Some were not recommended by their committees. Others were defeated. Through it all, fallible and human as we are, we engaged in learning and dialogue, listening and reflecting, wondering and discerning, and ultimately, found words to articulate what we see as our way forward. This is Church.

It is true that the General Synod’s statements and decisions do not dictate what other settings of the church have to do, but it is even more true that we are a covenantal denomination. This means that each setting of the church — whether a local church, association, conference, covenantal partner, or national setting — is expected to lean in, listen with holy openness, and discern how they are called to live into these decisions in their own communities of faith.  

Friends and siblings in this wonderful United Church of Christ, the work of General Synod was hard but it was good. There were painful moments and also moments of hope and grace. I invite you to look at the resolutions, to reflect on them, to wonder how they speak to your own church, and to engage them in ways that will spark life-giving, Spirit-inspired energy for ministry. Read more about resources that are available to you as you begin to learn about, and perhaps wrestle with, resolutions coming from General Synod 32. I look forward to partnering in this work with you.

 

Rev Ellis Arnold portraitRev. Ellis Arnold

Associate Conference Minister

By Nicole Havelka - July 15, 2019, 3:33 pm


  • Nancy Jensen says:

    Thank you, Ellis, for this beautiful envisioning of what you experienced! In this time of ugly strife that we are living in, it brings a glimmer of never-ending hope.

  • Karen Peters says:

    Very good article, Ellis.

  • Sandra Rehder says:

    Very good article Rev Ellis. I believe in all UCC beliefs and projects! My heart is very diverse and I hope it shows in the way I live! There may be trying days but always have my church family!

  • Heidi Hulme says:

    Thank you for this. It was hard and holy work. It was an honor to view my first Genera Synod through the eyes of our youth. It offered hope, passion, grace, and love that I wouldn’t have experienced if I went without them. Thank you for your perspective.

  • Rev Steven R Mitchell says:

    Ellis, thank you for this article. I will be including it in our Sunday bulletin this coming Sunday as it can easily relate to this weeks lectionary Gospel reading of balance work and listening (in part.)

  • Linda K Cron says:

    Thank you for your clarity, compassion, and perceptions. The UCC is home to me. You described it so well.

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We Are All Artists

By Samantha Houser - June 4, 2019, 2:04 pm
Artist painting on wood block

I am an artist. It has been a hard thing to claim because it isn’t my profession, but it is one of my callings in this life. To create.

In fact, I believe that we are all artists in some capacity. Creating with various mediums the feelings that we have, the change we want to see around us, the beliefs that we cling to, the doubts and fears that we tuck away until no one is around, the curiosities that we whisper into our safe spaces.

In the origin story of our Sacred text, we are given the narrative that the Original Artist chose to work with many different mediums in order to create as well. It was in the beginning, in the separating of dark from light that God invented negative relief. It was in the extracting of the waters from the dry earth that God created the ability for the earth itself to shift and move and dance. It was in the up bringing of trees and foliage and all things from the ground that bursts of color beyond light were played with in a cascade of prismatic beauty.

It was in the creation of the birds of the sky and the whales and sea monsters of the deep that music was brought to life. It was in creating humans that words were formed and prose and poems came into being. All of this as a way to continue, to expand the creativity that is ingrained in all of us, in all of creation.

In this season of ministry together, I hope that we can take time to unpack these truths. To allow them to give each of us the ability to create and to express ourselves in exciting ways as we worship and discern what it is that God has in store for us in the Tri-Conference Ministries.

Rev. Samantha Houser

Associate Conference Minister

By Samantha Houser - June 4, 2019, 2:04 pm


  • Carrie Hansen says:

    Thank you for this Sam. What a beautiful and gentle nudge for all of us to not let our creativity get lost. To allow it to come through in whatever way it needs to and to appreciate the special and unique way that we all can join in the joy of creating together.

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Listening, Gathering and Paying Attention

By Jonna Jensen - May 4, 2019, 2:41 pm

Grace and peace, dear saints of the Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota Conferences.

I pray that whether it is so powerful that you reach for sunglasses or so faint that you squint to seek it — the glorious light and hope of Easter abide with you.

Executive Conference Minister Brigit Stevens has named the specialized portion of my new ministry portfolio “curator of culture of call.” I’ll be listening and gathering stories and paying attention to how the followers of Jesus in the Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota Conferences of the United Church of Christ are experiencing themselves as called by God to particular ways of being and doing.

As you used your own voice to say yes to your baptismal vows at confirmation or as you joined your congregation, your “yes” was a yes to a call. We are each and all called to use the gifts God has given us for ministry in the service of others.

How do we experience our calls? How do we talk about them? How do we put them in motion? How do we feed and fuel them? How do we strengthen and stretch them? My ministry of listening/gathering/attending in the congregations of the Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota Conferences will be a ministry of presence in congregations, partnering with you in paying powerful attention to each person’s call. 

I’ll also be listening, gathering, and attending to particular calls. As the entire Body of Christ changes shape, as congregations change shape, more and more ministers serving congregations will be bi-vocational, earning some of their living in another way. Pastors will more often be discovered close at hand, a short distance away or even already within the congregation. Congregations with fewer members may seek bi-vocational ministry for the first time in a long while. Congregations just beginning are most often served by bi-vocational ministers, too. I’m looking forward to listening to and gathering stories from and paying attention to persons who might be wondering about this particular kind of “yes!”

I’ll also be bringing this listening/gathering/attention ministry to our congregations as members look both around and within for the persons who would be ready to step up and serve in the absence of an authorized minister. Who might preach? Who might offer spiritual care? Who might teach? 

I’ll also bring this listening/gathering/attending ministry to congregations as members look and listen around and within for calls to ordained ministry. Our geographic area in the UCC is not lavishly served by our national pastoral search process. We certainly recruit diligently. And we need to be not only on the look-out, but also on the look-in! I look forward to collaborating with our Committees on Ministry as I cheer on the holy work of looking in.

I’ll watch for your invitations and conversation-starters in my inbox. I look forward to serving you in the holy work of listening, gathering, and paying attention.

Rev. Jonna Jenen
Associate Conference Minister
“Curator of Culture of Call”

By Jonna Jensen - May 4, 2019, 2:41 pm


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    “Today You Are My Brother!”

    By Darrell Goodwin - April 1, 2019, 7:44 pm

    A few weeks ago, amidst the chaos of natural disasters and senseless shootings, I arrived in Omaha to serve the Iowa-Nebraska-South Dakota Conferences of the United Church of Christ as an associate conference minister. As I was getting settled, I made an appointment with a primary care doctor in the area. As is routine, the doctor performed a checkup and encouraged me to do some additional vitals to create a baseline in my new medical record.

    When I went to do my bloodwork, the gentleman who prepared to assist me began our engagement with normal pleasantries. Then he suddenly asked, “What is your faith?” The question caught me off guard. For a moment, I wondered if faith statements were a requirement for blood draws in the Midwest.

    I answered, “I am a Christian!”

    The gentleman continued to prepare my arm for the blood draw and followed with another question. “What kind of Christian are you?”

    I admittedly had no idea exactly what he was asking but attempted to answer. I explained that I am a progressive Christian who belongs to an overall liberal denomination. He followed up by asking me the name of this denomination and I shared a little about the United Church of Christ.

    He paused and then replied, “So is the progressive church the one that says certain people aren’t allowed, and not everyone can come?” 

    I realized that there had been a misunderstanding. I attempted to explain again the United Church of Christ, our commitment to extravagant welcome and a still speaking God.

    “This must be a very small church, I have never heard of a church like the one you are describing,” he said.

    I explained that we have over 5,000 churches throughout the country and about 300 in the Iowa-Nebraska-South Dakota Conferences. His eyes widened at the reality of this information.

    As we walked into the hallway he grabbed my hand and said, “I am a Muslim!” Holding his hand, I looked into his eyes, expressed condolences for the senseless violence in New Zealand and shared with him the outreach our conferences provided to the Muslim community the previous week. I also assured him that he would be welcome in our congregations just as he was.


    He looked back with great sincerity and told me, “Today you are my brother.”

    And I replied, “Today we are a part of the same human family.”

    Though this exchange was odd to have during a routing blood draw, I am convinced it was a sign of the Holy Spirit alive in our world. I was reminded that a missional point of the Tri-Conference Ministry is that no matter who you are in the Iowa, Nebraska, or South Dakota Conferences of the United Church of Christ you will be welcome there. I invite us all to share the witness of our extravagant welcome as often and as widely as we can — to remind a world sorely in need of extravagant welcome that God’s relationship with us does not have a period, but a comma.


    Rev. Darrell Goodwin

    Associate Conference Minister

    By Darrell Goodwin - April 1, 2019, 7:44 pm


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      A Year in the Life of TCM: Learnings, Surprises, Challenges, Joys and Hopes

      By Brigit Stevens - March 4, 2019, 4:53 pm

      Just over a year has passed since Rev. Brigit Stevens began as executive conference minister of the Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota Conferences UCC and the experiment of a shared staffing model for the Tri-Conference Ministries began. Here’s Rev. Stevens’ reflection on the past year of transition, learning and experimentation:

      What have you learned in this past year?

      I am continuing to learn the many great assets, skills, interests, experiences, and wisdom of the leaders of our church and how to network and resource those for our shared ministry. I feel responsible to work hard and do a great many things. And sometimes, I forget that one of my jobs is to give work that comes my way over to others. This isn’t a new lesson for me, and I suspect I’ll get to keep working on it for my lifetime.

      What has surprised you?

      The intricacies and volume of details for each conference has been surprising. The nuances of how each Board of Directors works, plans for each and all of us to participate in General Synod, and the assumptions about what a conference staff “normally” does are examples of the layers of details the whole staff are learning and tending to.

      What has been the greatest challenge?

      Time! We have great big hopes and plans and everything requires more time than any of us would like.

      What has been the greatest joy?

      The good people of our church! I am beginning to get to know a wide variety of amazing people throughout our conferences. I know I’m biased, but I’m convinced that we have some of the best church folks in the UCC among us. What a gift that I get to work with so many of them!

      What is your hope moving forward?

      My deepest hope is that we will discern together the vision God has for us and our role within God’s church in this particular time and place. More practically, that we’ll figure out our niche in this world, where our talents and resources meet the world’s needs most accurately, and boldly follow Jesus’ lead into those places.

      Rev. Brigit Stevens
      Executive Conference Minister

      By Brigit Stevens - March 4, 2019, 4:53 pm


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