I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be a delegate from the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ (MACUCC) to the Biennial Synod of the UCC, held from June 28 to July 2 in Long Beach, CA. We spent five very long days worshipping, doing the decision-making work of the denomination, and getting to know each other. I will also be a delegate to the 2015 Synod, which is to be held in Cleveland, OH. The MACUCC delegation stayed on the Queen Mary ship, now a hotel, about 1½ miles from the convention center. Shuttle buses ran regularly, both the free Passport buses provided by the city of Long Beach and private buses hired by the UCC. Even though many chose to walk between the Convention Center and the Queen Mary and the many other hotels housing attendees, there were a lot of us to be moved around, particularly at the beginning and end of each day, as there were close to 3,000 people at the convention! Among those 3,000 people were more than 800 delegates. Anyone interested may attend Synod, and some UCC church members attend every Synod.
Much of Synod was devoted to worship. There was a formal worship service each day (or night) and the worship services (lasting for up to 2 hours) were wonderful! There was a great variety of music – ranging from a glorious organ solo with the Synod organist playing Bach’s Sinfonia from Cantata 29, through familiar hymns (sometimes with new words) and gospel favorites, to praise music. The General Synod dancers enriched several of the worship services. One service began with a processional of a large group of Synod attendees with parasols strutting to Just a Closer Walk with Thee. Communion by intinction was a rich aspect of the Sunday service. Offerings were taken for the Leadership Academy of the Southern California – Nevada Conference of the UCC (the host conference), the National and Global Ministries of the UCC, and the UCC Scholarship Ministry.
Sermons were provided by four leading, very diverse UCC preachers. One noted her church had Pentecostal tendencies, and this was evident in her preaching style. One is a hip hop artist, and he preached a portion of his message in hip hop! The other two were traditional preachers. Each had a powerful message to share. The daily worship services were not the only times for worship and worshipful reflections. We in the Mass Conference began each day with a brief worship service during breakfast (we met at 6:45 each morning). A highlight of the conference, occurring at the end of each plenary session, was a time of reflection led by two inspiring UCC ministers. One evening there was an opportunity to meet members of the writers’ group for the UCC Still Speaking daily devotionals, the UCC “rock stars” to many of us. These devotionals are free and I love them – one arrives in my email early each morning. We were also treated to several motivational speakers (I’m not sure they were necessary as our UCC speakers were at least as motivational).
Before we even went to Synod we were assigned to a work group for one of the 13 resolutions that had been submitted in advance to be voted upon during Synod. We received tons of material in advance, including the submitted version of each resolution. I was assigned to the work group responsible for a resolution directed at local congregations regarding the need to extravagantly welcome and care for our veterans. The Massachusetts Conference sponsored what was arguably the most memorable resolution, one that Jim Antal, our Conference Minister, has been devoted to for many years, urging the divestiture of UCC funds from fossil fuel companies. The most active floor discussions were on two resolutions that did not, on the surface, appear to be controversial – implementing a suggested sixth annual special offering to help fund financial aid for seminary students and including Samoans as a historically under-represented group in the UCC. The former was controversial, although there was universal recognition that seminary debt is a huge issue and keeping people from pursuing ministry, because it would be an additional special offering and might dilute the already decreasing other collections, and the latter was controversial because there was a question whether all UCC churches in Samoa were supporting the proposal. We spent 6-8 hours working with our work groups, getting educated, taking positions on the resolutions, and making some changes to the resolutions themselves. The resolutions were voted on in one of the many plenary sessions – we voted using electronic devices, so saw results immediately. I can’t resist noting that being a moderator for the plenary sessions made running a Pilgrim Church congregational meeting look easy! Amendments to amendments were common!
We broke for meals, and this was another highlight as it was an opportunity to get to know the other delegates (I knew only our local Associate Conference Minister, Don Remick, to do any more than say hello to before Synod). Even when large numbers of us went to the same restaurant, tables were small and so we broke into ever-varying small groups. I got to know some wonderful folks from across the Commonwealth, and met some fine folks from throughout the country. This is the abbreviated version of my notes – I’ll be happy to share more stories with anyone interested!
Lynne Devnew is a member of the Pilgrim Church of Duxbury, UCC