I have been to General Synod twice before as an exhibitor with the Eden Theological Seminary Bookstore, which I used to be the director of. This time around I was excited to be able to participate in all of the Synod events without being stuck in the exhibit hall all day. Attending as a visitor gave me the freedom to participate in whichever of the events I wanted to, and for any duration. So, why would someone who is not clergy and who is not a delegate choose to attend Synod? First, I am a church nerd. I cannot help it. It’s who I am! I want to be a part of what the church is doing, at the local and national levels. I am also fairly new to the denomination, coming from the United Methodist Church, like Emily. I began working in the UCC in 2012 and officially joined in 2015. So this was an opportunity to witness our polity and theology in action.
When I sat down for opening worship and saw in the bulletin that we would be asking permission from the Ho Chunk people to hold General Synod on their lands, I was brought to tears and reminded why the UCC has become the denomination of my heart. No denomination is perfect, and we were reminded that we certainly shouldn’t think of ourselves that way by one of the speakers at Synod.
Like Emily, I was very interested to witness the debates that happened regarding the resolutions brought forward during the plenary sessions. Some resolutions went through will little conversation, while others inspired passionate debate that spanned more than one session. The Synod delegates displayed respectful, healthy debate, while still communicating strong emotions and perspectives. Witnessing this reminded me that we do not all agree about each path forward, and yet we are still in community with one another. The moderators allowed for all perspectives to be heard, and only stopped debate when it seemed clear that no new information was being presented. Some of the debate, like that over “Stewardship of Exhibit Space as a Resource for a Mission of Justice” (read more HERE), surely left individuals struggling and with deep emotions, and was another reminder that what we were doing has an impact on real people and lives.
It was also interesting to see the connections between what we are doing in worship this summer at First Congregational Church and the worship and work at Synod. At FCC we have been in A Neighborhood Summer, exploring what it means to be a neighbor through a different lens each month. In June, we used the lens of the Arts, and specifically, prayer stations, visual art, music, poetry, and architecture. The worship at Synod included artistic components as well. Three theological interpreters created art during synod to share with us: a painting, a poem, and two original songs. During worship Christopher Grundy also shared his song “I Will Sing of Your Love, Love, Love,” which was commissioned to accompany the UCC’s Three Great Loves initiative. We have been using this song as our “theme song” each Sunday during our Neighborhood Summer. And throughout Synod I was reminded of the UCC’s continuing exploration of what it means to be a good neighbor in our world. We discussed and passed resolutions about caring for creation, abolishing private prisons, our commitment to interreligious relationships, denouncing racism and white supremacy, supporting survivors of rape, and more. We delayed plenary one day to march to the local ICE office in protest of the treatment of migrants, and especially children, at our southern border. Worship included representation from people of differing physical abilities, multiple cultures, and in multiple languages. The voices of youth and women were raised up. All of these actions demonstrated how we as a church can relate to the world around us and be good neighbors.
Synod for me was a great experience, from the reconnections with former classmates and colleagues, collecting swag pens and buttons, small group discussions, visits with exhibit hall vendors, moving worship, inspiring art, and copious amounts of Wisconsin cheese curds.
Some exciting news is that in 2021, Synod 33 will be hosted jointly by the Missouri Mid-South Conference and the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference in Kansas City. I’m sure there will be lots of ways to engage in that effort in the next two years!