#UCCGS: A Contemplative Progressive Navigates General Synod 2017

#UCCGS: A Contemplative Progressive Navigates General Synod 2017

Thank God that the United Church of Christ is a progressive church with ears tuned, hearts aligned, and feet marching in today’s social justice movements. It’s the reason I fell in love with the UCC and am blessed to call it an ecclesial home; at the same time, I nourish my soul’s spiritual home in contemplative and mystical streams of spirituality. Which begs the question: what is a contemplative to do at General Synod?
First the inspiring: Friday night the Rev. Traci Blackmon, the freshly nominated Minister for Justice and Witness Ministries, brought the house to its feet. She told the story of a tightrope walker, Charles Blondin, who pushed a wheelbarrow on a tightrope over Niagara Falls. “Who wants to get into the wheelbarrow?” he asked. He had no takers. Rev. Blackmon’s analogy is that God is asking us a similar question: To trust and respond to God’s call with courageous acts of love and justice.
Another powerful moment took place when General Synod awarded a “Movement Makers” award to the International Indigenous Youth Council, the group that launched the Standing Rock #NODAPL movement. A video featuring indigenous voices talking about ceremony, sacred land, and the black snake of the oil pipeline brought me to tears. I felt proud to be a part of a denomination whose heart is with today’s movements of justice, morality, and peace. For so long, churches have lagged behind social movements, watching God’s arc of justice in the world from a distance, when we should have been out front. The UCC is out front, and it is beautiful to witness.
At the same time, I’m tired, and it’s only day two of five. Collective deliberation on resolution committees, meeting countless people, conference breakfasts, workshops, even collective worship, all is comprised of much, much talking. Where is the silence? Could planners have dedicated one room to creating a “Soul Spa,” involving a meditation or silent prayer room? A labyrinth to walk?  Could we incorporate moments of pause, intentional silence, to listen to what Spirit is doing in committee and resolution work? What if we shared silence with all 2,700 General Synod attendees? And if any planners are reading this: it’s not too late!
It is a passion of mine to hold both the contemplative and the activist lives together. For sustenance and soul-resilience, the activist needs the contemplative. For mission and movements, the contemplative needs the activist.  Writer-speaker Glennon Doyle held these poles together with grace and hilarity. She spoke of the necessity of facing one’s life pain and the inevitable rising/resurrection that follows. At the same time, she shared honestly about her flawed yet real efforts to be an ally to people of color. She told of asking her son, “Would we have marched with Martin Luther King Jr.?” To which he replied, “No,” which prompted her to realize that if she does not march with Black Lives Matter and other movements today, then she likely would not have been one to march with King in his own day.
I continue to plunge in to the work of Synod with my heart open, ready for God's guidance and surprises, and am tremendously grateful to be here. At the same time, if there’s a guy in a corner sitting on the floor meditating, that might be me. I don’t do it to escape the business, but so that I can be more present to it with my whole self.


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Mark Longhurst

Mark Longhurst is Pastor of First Congregational Church Williamstown, MA.  

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