; charset=UTF-8" /> Synod 29: Starting the Ball Rolling : Connecting Voices
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Synod 29: Starting the Ball Rolling

by Mary Domb Mikkelson, Senior Editor Connecting Voices

     “If you go you’ll never be the same.”  A compelling claim.  One crafted, perhaps, as bait?   Not at all.  It was the spontaneous  – and heartfelt – affirmation of someone who had, indeed, been there – “there” being a General Synod of the United Church of Christ.  Fleshing out the speaker’s assertion were her next words, “It is one large goose bump of an experience!”

     “Synod” to some of the people in the room was a rather alien term, something others “did.”  One, a long-time UCCer, even confessed to having no idea what a synod was.  And yet they were there, ready and willing to volunteer to help the SCNC (Southern California Nevada Conference), their Conference Minister and assorted representatives of the national church start the grand adventure of hosting General Synod 29 in Long Beach, CA in 2013.

     Convened at the United Church of Christ of La Mesa, CA (UCCLM) on October 16, 2011, they would soon find out just what they were volunteering for – and learn the whys and wherefores of a program requiring the raising of 300+ volunteers and $300,000.  They had questions…lots of questions.  They wanted to know what was involved…what was needed…what they could bring to the table.  And, most important, where Synod 29 would take them…take the church…lead the world.

     The answers were soon forthcoming.

     After opening worship – a musical interlude, Rev. Dr. Ben Guess, Executive Minister, UCC Local Church Ministries and one of UCC’s five-member Collegium of Officers, got the show on the road with a video of Synod 28 (2011) in Tampa, FL.  Scenes of incredible energy – the energy of faith-rich community – spilled across the screen.  There were liturgical dancers – and impulsive dancers turning a stretch break into a celebration.    “God is still rocking,” their verve proclaimed.”  There were chats with children happily ensconced in the vast “sandbox” between audience and the stage and a march, 350 people strong, to a nearby Publix Market to support better wages and working conditions for Florida’s farm workers.  Singing, prayer, cookies, business, discussion, voting (electronically for the first time)…a seemingly endless list.  Most of all there were the people, some 2600 of them, joined in celebration of God and the joy of doing God’s work, united in fulfilling Synod 28’s theme, “Imagine what’s possible.”   And, indeed, their smiles and energy suggested, they would never be the same.  Synod would live on in and through them, through the fire and passion with which it filled them.

     The audience at UCCLM was getting the idea…began to think in terms of “hey, maybe I am” when Rev. Dr. Jane Heckles, Minister for Our Church’s Wider Mission, asked “Who’s ready to go to General Synod?”

     But first they wanted to know what was involved…what was needed…what they could bring to the table.  And, most important, where Synod 29 would take them…take the church…lead the world.

     Accepting the challenge to be part of Synod 29 is, they learned, an invitation to articulate who we are as a community of faith, to share our vision, values and voice.  Those values, as listed by Guess, are that we are a church of continuing testament (“God is still speaking”), a church of extravagant welcome and a church which believes in changing lives, transforming people, systems and structure.  They are what make us uniquely UCC.

     Guess then urged them to turn that vision, those values into goals, to give them voice.   Not just “goals” but GOALS. “BHAGs” to be exact – BIG HOLY AUDACIOUS GOALS.  Among those to be celebrated at and accelerated by Synod  – and by our participation in it – is that within 30 years:

1.  UCCers will be known to all as people of deep theological engagement
2. Thanks to our bold public voice, when people think about Christianity UCC will be known as the voice of progressive religion
3. The church and its people will have reclaimed excellence as a gospel imperative
4. Looking back, people will recognize that UCC led with passion on environmental issues (as they have in civil rights and the LGBT movement)
5.  We will be transformed spiritually enough to transform and embrace the world

     Sharing our vision and values and achieving those goals, Guess continued, calls for expanding the range – and the passion – of our public voice, demands that we proclaim who we are and what we stand for loudly and proudly.   As at Synod 28, banners, billboards and eye-catching big ads will abound, Facebook will be flooded with news and commentary, as will the media.  And those are just for starters.  Local connections will be stressed, local congregations involved.  Every opportunity to connect with others will be explored.

     SCNC Conference Minister (and former UCCLM Senior Pastor), Rev. Félix Villanueva was up next, talking about the Conference’s expression of core values – church vitality, growth in diversity, youth and young families – and its goal that every healthy church continue to provide a vital message to the world.  Another, synod-specific goal was that the Long Beach gathering in 2013 be a showcase for the Conference’s uniqueness and diversity and an opportunity to lead the UCC into what the church can become.

     Accomplishing all that means volunteers – those in the audience and hundreds more like them – are needed.  It means you are needed.  As Villanueva, who took office only 10 months earlier, emphasized, “The first things I was told were that there was no money and very little staff and, guess what, Synod is coming!  I was excited by the prospect and I want you to share that excitement, to let everyone know that there’s a great opportunity – and a big party – coming to Long Beach.”  

     Another need, of course, is money – money to pay the Conference’s share of Synod costs, money for an aggressive marketing campaign to “tell the world” about UCC and the SCNC, and money to give to UCCs Centers for Spiritual Transformation (among them Centro Romero’s Border Ministry in San Ysidro).  Donations – “from one dollar to two million!” are wanted, as are names of potential donors, allocations from church budgets and…Watch the SCNC website, http://www.scncucc.org, the SCNC E-News (sent electronically on the 1st and 15th of the month) and Connecting Voices, http://www.scncucc.org/voices, for ways to give – of yourself and from your purse.

     Questions were taken next – and there were many, and suggestions made for making Synod 29 uniquely SCNC.  Among the suggestions were providing border immersion experiences, involvement in an intercity project in Los Angeles, extensive youth participation, a 200-voice choir, making a “Hollywood connection”…the list grew and grew, as did the contributors’ enthusiasm.  Capitalizing on that, Villanueva urged attendees to be creative and to start thinking NOW about what and how much you can do, stressing that “we’ll work with what you can give.”

     The Synod 29 ball is rolling.  It’s in your court and mine – let’s keep it moving.

     See you in Long Beach!

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