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Are We There Yet?

by Rev. Dr. David Alicea, UCC Paradise Hills

     “Every journey has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning of every journey is prompted by a “call to adventure” or a reason for going, and a departure. The middle of a journey is made up of different roads, places on the way, people who either help or hinder the voyager, and sometimes other trials and/or obstacles that slow down or stop the journeyer’s progress. The end of the journey is just that: the place of arrival, the goal or endpoint. Some journeys have two legs: the journey to a place and then the journey back home.”
               Christopher T. Parks, The Odyssey Experience (1)

     Every journey has a beginning and an end.  Travelers plan ahead and look forward to enjoying the trip while staying on course to meet  their goals, a scenario which for me brings to mind the classic family vacation, an auto trip complete with continuous “Are we there yet?” queries from the kids in the back seat.  Comparing that journey with our Conference in this article, however, I will ask, instead, “Where are we going?”

     Throughout history, many journeys which started with one goal have by the end of the road acquired a different agenda and purpose, e.g. Marco Polo, who discovered the road to China was searching for new trading routes.  Another example is Juan Ponce de Leon who, while seeking the fountain of youth, discovered what is now the state of Florida and a beautiful oasis for retirees!  Yet another is Christopher Columbus who, seeking the “Indias,” discovered the Caribbean Islands and Central America, a discovery which brought religion and Mayan and Aztec gold to Europe.

     We, too, may experience such journeys, discovering new riches and arriving at “ports” filled with unexpected new possibilities.   As may our conference, which has started a journey toward justice and peace while theologizing both its progressive worship and the event of the Christ.  As a church that confesses and embraces its Open and Affirming lifestyle, let us, as we venture forth, dare to ask  – and to continue to ask, “Where are we going?”  

     The SCNC’s recent Annual Gathering at Chapman College in Orange County was a unique and exceptional moment for our church.  Drawing together in fellowship brought a new air of hope, the opportunity to share our joys and concerns with our Conference Minister and other leaders and the recognition of areas that still need to addressed as we strive to improve our commitment to our journey’s goals.  Among those areas are:

Theological Integrity

     Our church’s position towards scripture is represented in part by our motto, “God is still speaking.”  Theologically our scriptures must be interpreted in a symbolic way and with exegetical and hermeneutical tools that provide an integral interpretation of the text.  This means our church must progress in its theological education. When we refer to “theological education” it is generally understood as a goal related to seminarians only.  That needs to change.  We must equip our members with scriptural understanding that fortifies our beliefs and supports the church in its progressive endeavors. Our Conference Minister is leading us toward just such a goal, a goal which will provide an exceptional and unique moment in our history: an affordable theological academy to better prepare UCCers for full participation in the church’s progressive journey.

Multicultural and Multiracial Commitment

     Our M&M commitment is real, serious and relevant. Recognizing the need to develop a more consistent and systematic agenda with its various ethnic groups while learning of their immediate needs and their contribution to our Conference, the Annual Gathering and its program committee did a very good job in providing space for participation and representation. Our  journey, however, must move us beyond the roadblock of representation on special occasions only. We need a wide variety of ethnic associations, each with an ecumenical foundation committed to integration and inter-relationships within the Conference –African American, Hispanic, Asian and Samoan associations, among others, each with its own leadership and program.  This, I believe, would fortify each group in developing patterns of understanding while improving financial, spiritual, human and emotional resources that can enhance the Conference’s progressive goals.

Our Future Challenges

     Looking to the future, we see many challenges, challenges ranging from meeting our commitment and participation goals for the 2013 General Synod celebration in Long Beach all the way to creating the space and understanding needed for our churches to accept becoming part of an Open and Affirming Conference.   We are a church that honors diversity and, while our congregations are not required to embrace everything we are or want to be, we must, nonetheless, somewhere down the road not only agree to disagree but also to join efforts in walking together while doing so. Walking together demands high levels of commitment from our people, the commitment to work together to meet our many challenges:  breaking down the injustices toward our LGBA, what it means to be ONA, theological preparation, becoming progressive, Pilgrim Pines, financial stability, church closures, M&M development and care, pastoral preventive measures ( Pastoral Counseling for Families, Preventing Pastoral Burnout and Pastoral Training), safe church systems, being a prophetic voice against injustice and getting people involved.  These are but a few of many other immediate and future challenges that need to be met with the same historical courage and sense of justice that this church has always projected throughout its journey. Therefore our concern is not, “are we there yet?” but “where are we going?”  This concern, and all those contained within it, can be met only by working together.

     Shall we get started?

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(1)  http://www.mccarter.org/Education/odyssey-experience/index.html

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