The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Word from a Church Convention
Can business meetings be an inspiring faith experience?
This past week, I was in Kansas City at the joint national conventions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. Around 11,000 people attended the "Synod/Assembly" with 5 days of business meetings, worship, fellowship events and resource sharing. That gathering, and similar experiences at the Episcopal convention a year ago, lead me to answer that question with a resounding "yes!"
Of course there are moments that are boring or trivial, but on the whole these gatherings are occasions when a diverse group of people comes together to really wrestle with what it means to be the church in this historical moment. More dramatically than many of us find in our local church experiences, these conventions are intentional in reflecting on the interactions between faith, action, structure, and fellowship. This summer, the two denominations wrestled with questions about sexuality, finances, war and peace, Christian unity, many different expressions of justice, and international efforts to overcome violence -- and always with a deeply theological focus.
Among the many business items that were discussed, both the UCC and Disciples passed resolutions dealing explicitly with environmental and eco-justice issues.
The Disciples action, Concerning 'Green' Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Events, calls for environmental sensitivity in the planning of denominational and local church events, and also puts the denomination on record as adopting a broader statement of sustainable living.
The UCC resolution, Call for Staffing to Address Ecojustice Concerns, instructs the four main expressions of the national church to identify those programs and staff that touch on eco-justice issues and themes, and to work more cooperatively with each other in strengthening those programs.
Other resolutions and reports at the meetings touched on issues that have eco-justice components. Neither denomination had a primary emphasis on eco-justice, but it was encouraging to know that the topic was visible and important for both groups.
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The theme for the shared Saturday evening worship was Invited to the Welcome Table of Creation. The service included a video with nature images, a blending of scripture texts that speak to the need to care for creation, a sermon by a Native American storyteller/Methodist Minster who spoke of the ties between humans and all other creatures, and hymns and litanies that were filled with creation language.
The next morning, in a UCC service of worship, the liturgy pointed toward a world which is primarily human; the rest of creation was largely invisible. In the time for prayers of intercession, we were invited to remember "the people" who are close to us, and "the people" who are in need.
On Sunday morning, as the folk around me prayed for the human community alone, I wept as I lifted up in prayer those parts of our world that were ignored by the liturgy: the coral reefs and the diverse communities that depend on them; the ocean fisheries on the verge of collapse; all of the wide-ranging impacts of global climate change. My prayers lifted up people, individually and in communities, and also extended the circle of care far beyond the human. I was grieved by the implication in the call to prayer that we our petitions are only for people.
Thirty years ago, the church was challenged to use gender-inclusive language. Many in the church spoke up in the 70s to say that, for them, the word "man" did not mean "man and woman." It is not true everywhere, and the transition has been hard for some churches, but gender-inclusive language is now a fairly normal experience in congregations.
The new challenge for the church is to find language that is inclusive of both humans and the rest of creation. The word "people" can no longer be adequate to describe the focus of our prayers, our concerns and our actions.
It is wonderful that the church can gather for worship in many settings -- local and national -- and be able to connect the love of God with all of creation. It is distressing that we seem to do that only on special occasions -- Earth Day, the Feast of St. Francis, or a "theme" service at the convention -- while "normal" services are oblivious to creation beyond the human experience.
One of the primary goals of Eco-Justice Ministries is to stretch the worship and prayer life of congregations in their regular expressions. It is our hope that the folk who attend worship on any Sunday morning will be reminded, at some point in the service, that the love of God extends to all of creation. That reminder may be in the prayers, the sermon, or some other part of the liturgy, but each service should somehow draw us to examine how we fit into the whole of life.
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What happens at denominational conventions often foreshadows what is yet to become normal in local churches. I come back from the Synod/Assembly meeting with joy at the positive actions and expressions that I found, and with hope for the deepening awareness that is building in the church. We still have a long way to go, but we are clearly on the journey toward making eco-justice a normal and central part of Christian theology and life.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * 303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org * E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org