Sunday we had community worship led by Rev. Dwayne Royster of Living Water UCC of Philadelphia, who blended an ONA, Still Speaking God, UCC presence with fiery Baptist-style preaching to call us up and out into the world. I struggled with his style at times, especially when I heard him calling out his fellow UCC pastors to make our gospel message real in the world. But I could also hear around me the cheering and calling out of so many people of color that it was clear he was setting their spirits on fire. I loved hearing so many of them get swept up in the worship as he led, and as more white folk like me relaxed into it and started calling out ourselves, standing up, cheering . . . tears came to my eyes and I thought, this is what a multiracial church is like. It is in reach. This is MY church.
Today, Monday, as we moved to vote on our new General Minister and President, John C. Dorhauer, a man and later some women came to the microphones and spoke about two things: their respect/support for him, and their sadness that a woman was still not yet called to lead. Frankly, they mirrored a conversation I’d been having with other Mass. Conference friends over a late snack the night before. With Rev. Dorhauer’s election, and some retirements, the leadership of the National UCC becomes two straight white men and one gay white man. Many who rose to speak in support of Rev. Dorhauer identified as ethnically diverse or LGBTQIA people, but were fine with his election, and I realized I was feeling all of it at once: intrigued, drawn to and excited about the passion and theology expressed by Rev. Dorhauer, AND a very real sense of invisibility at the same time. Some said they felt certain that if the right female candidate had emerged, she would have been picked, but that he was the right candidate. And I couldn’t help but wonder about the internalized sexism that taints all the systems in our country and our church that lead a person to rise up in a leadership structure – the messages from families and friends, schools, employment, social and political and economic systems that keep people from viewing women as equally qualified, including both men and women. There is no doubt I internalize the messages of our history and our culture, and I know I am not alone in this. And of course, that’s just one “ism” that is absent from the national face of the UCC for another four years. So maybe the right woman IS here, NOW, only both she, and those around her, can’t see it yet. How can we, how must we, birth that new sight?
But I do know change is happening. It takes a long time for the vision of our minds to become the passion of our hearts and then the action of our lives. I am here at Synod surrounded by bold, beautiful, faithful people of all the diversity our church is trying to extravagantly welcome and those numbers are increasing. I feel sad and challenged by the struggles to live this inclusive vision but I am also proud and full of hope and trembling with excitement at the path we are on. Today I am thinking to myself, this is what an extravagantly welcoming church is like. It is in reach. This is MY church.
The Rev. Ms. Marisa Brown-Ludwig is Chair of the MACUCC Task Force on Ecumenism & Interfaith Relations and Interim Associate Pastor of First Church of Christ in Longmeadow.