But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” ~ Ruth 1:16
I love the UCC. Having been born and raised in the denomination, I learned from an early age what it means to be in covenant with one another. We UCCers stick together, recognizing we are bound together not only to God, but to one another as a member of the body of Christ, living and breathing in the world today. This is who we are and who we are called by God to be, and I am thankful for it.
Yet, we New England Congregationalist are a fiercely independent brood. An often heard quip is, ask ten UCCers who God is and you’ll get sixteen different answers. That independence is part of our DNA, yet sometimes we forget that the Church universal can only thrive through the inclusion of new people, from new places, with new ideas, and a new vision for the future of the beloved community.
We’re also very geocentric. Although most of us live within a stone's throw from the megalopolis that is the land that runs between Boston and Washington D.C., we believe ourselves to be isolated. We tend to be insular in thought and action. Ask any Rhode Islander to travel more than twenty minutes by car and we’ll have to seriously contemplate whether or not to pack a lunch. We sometimes make others feel like outsiders when they visit from another state. We unconsciously tend to state how we do things “here” while not really listening to others explain how they have done it “there.” We tend not to recognize difference and diversity as necessary and good things when we are confronted by them in our faith practices and spiritual life.
Ruth has something to teach us here. Her strength and conviction in the face of a new reality might capture our imagination of the possibilities that can arise for us when we choose to place our trust in God. So bold, so faithful, so courageous was she. She had no idea what would become of her, yet she took a leap of faith that maybe, just maybe, there was a better future ahead of her if she entered into a new relationship with God and Naomi’s people; God’s people. There, she would make a new life and would eventually go on to become the matriarch of Kings.
As the delegates of the Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut Conferences of the United Church of Christ prepare to meet this June, many are fearful of an unknown future. Many are fearful of losing our independence. Many are fearful of losing our distinct individual identities. Still others are asking, “what’s in it for us?” “What’s going to happen to my great-great-great grandfather’s money?” That’s understandable. I get that. It’s not unlike experiencing a church merger. Change causes anxiety.
Yet, as with any change, there is also the potential for great gains. If we are able to act boldly, we might receive the promise of new life. If we are able to cast for ourselves a vision of a more bountiful future together, we might be transformed by a new way of relating to one another. If we are able to faithfully remember that with God all things are possible, than we will find strength for the journey. And, the journey is really what it’s all about.
So, let’s journey together, bound to one another and God, that we may all be one in the body of Christ. Let us give ourselves the opportunity to be transformed by the new life that, as Ruth discovered, will safely usher us into the hands of a loving, merciful God who makes possible all manner of new life. Let us dare to dream of the unimaginable wonders God has prepared for us.
The Rev. Kurt Walker is the pastor of Chapel Street Congregational Church, UCC, in Lincoln, Rhode Island.
(Read more about the proposal for the Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island conferences to join together in forming a new conference.)
The Rev. Kurt Walker is Pastor of Chapel Street Congregational Church, UCC, in Lincoln, RI.