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Annual Gathering 2013: A Sharing of Gifts

by Mary Domb Mikkelson

Photos by Neal Washburn

AG - Jaramillo“Veni Creator Spiritus…”

The image of God’s hand reaching out to Adam’s filled the chancel screen.  It was easy to imagine a measured Gregorian chant filling the massive sanctuary and somberly robed monks moving slowly down the aisles.

“O Finger of the hand divine, the seven fold gifts of grace are thine; true promise of the Father thou, who dost the tongue with power endow.”

The medieval hymn, often credited as the inspiration for Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, enumerates other endowments from God   – “Thy light to every sense impart, and shed thy love in every heart; thine own unfailing might supply…”AG - Villanueva

Bequests and with them the obligation of solidarity, the sharing of those gifts in support of others, a point emphasized throughout the Annual Gathering of the Southern California Nevada Conference (SCNC) of the United Church of Christ (UCC), a one-day conference hosted by the Samoan Congregational Christian Church in Carson, CA.

The concept of solidarity permeated the day, from the Rev. James Moos’[1] story of 10-year-old Zachary’s amazement that people would come to Egypt’s City of the Dead to help and to listen to him, to Keynote Speaker Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo’s[2] “Solidarity begins with a fundamental respect for the dignity of all.”  This concept, from which she declared “a wave of liberation must emerge,” fueled her challenge to the church “to influence culture, not just be a part of it.”

AG - TanuvasaSolidarity we there in the music as we sang “In the Midst of New Dimensions,” dedicating ourselves to follow our “God of rainbow, fiery pillar” to “…where the eagles soar.”

It was heard in shout outs that spread the word of outreach – the training of youth foresters in Peru, special needs camp programs and Welcome Home Ministries work for veterans with PTSD, for example.

Solidarity was shared by our ecumenical and interfaith guests and given life in the recognition of new ONA churches and in the welcoming of two “outside the box” new UCC churches in Las Vegas.  One, Friends of Mary Magdalene UCC, is working to provide a safe haven for members of the LGBT community and heterosexual men in abusive relationships; the other, Abundant Peace UCC,  strives to be “community builders” and “agents of change and liberation.”

It shone in the presence of Bill Johnson, “the first openly gay person ordained in the UCC and the first such person ordained in the Christian Church in modern times”[3] and in those other gay pastors and teachers present who stood to “let him see what he has done.”AG - Moos

It was evident, too, in Conference Minister Felix Villanueva’s summary of the year and his excitement about the new generation of leaders emerging in the Conference and resonated in the Samoan hymns and the Long Beach Sanctuary Choir’s beautiful “Angus Dei.”

Celebrated in reports of the early successes of UCC’s Mission 4/1 Earth program, it was also at the heart of Linda Jaramillo’s exploration of an age-old question, “Does God really have a plan for us?”

Looking ahead to General Synod 29, coming to Long Beach, CA in late June, solidarity was evident, too, in programs planned for the occasion – among them, immersion in the realities of the U.S.-Mexican border, a food bank program, a prison visit and a project for homeless veterans.

A smorgasbord of programs, projects and opportunities – opportunities for solidarity, openings for God to empower our tongues, enlighten us, open us to love, strengthen us for service…

AG - Choir“Veni Creator Spiritus…”   Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Thus prayed we all.

[1] Executive Minister, UCC’s Wider Church Ministries and Co-executive, UCC/Disciples’ Global Ministries
[2] Executive Minister, UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries
[3] The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Religious Archives Network

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