Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Alternative to Hartford?

I sat at my local UCC clergy gathering this morning, unassumingly munching on a couple donuts, still waking up. The morning had come earlier than desired, so I was sucking down coffee and listening to a couple anecdotes that illustrated my own Conference's woes. Truthfully, nothing inspired me to contribute to the discussion...I was there to listen, to inhale caffeine, to take advantage of free pastries.

And then the revelation came.

It was suggested by a fellow delegate to the 2007 General Synod, and it went something like this: what if, instead of flying to Hartford, Connecticut next summer to pat ourselves on the back and have a big party to mark 50 years of UCC existence, we all march down to New Orleans and stay at some UCC entity nearby and help people, now largely out of the national spotlight, rebuild their lives? That includes our friends at Back Bay Mission, a UCC-related mission devastated by Katrina much like the rest of the area.

It didn't take me long to latch onto this. My last experience at Synod in 2005 was one of self-congratulation. I recall one instance of someone standing at the microphone declaring, "We are the people we've been waiting for!" and feeling the pride radiate from the crowd.

If we're the people we've been waiting for, maybe we're the people New Orleans has been waiting for, too.

We have this huge population still piecing their lives back together. What if, instead of another self-congratulatory party, we go and help people who truly need it? We roll up our sleeves, step out of the comfortable air-conditioned convention hall, and do what we purport to do? I've shared before how weird it was to be at the last Synod talking about justice for the poor where we largely ignored the homeless guys on the streets begging us for food while we trekked to the hall to do "real justice."

So how about it? How about a grassroots movement in the United Church of Christ to mark 50 years of helping the poor and oppressed by physically going someplace to help the poor and oppressed? Thousands of dollars will be poured into this gathering in Hartford...how about a gathering where it is truly needed? What a witness that would be!

I think Jesus would be on board with this. Call me crazy, but something I read once gives me the impression that he'd like this. I dunno...somewhere around Luke 4...or what the heck, last week's lectionary from James 2.

Hey UCC...let's go to New Orleans. Let's do what we've felt God calling us to do for almost 50 years now. I know lots of UCCers have already been there, and that's good...because the rest of us will need to know where to go and good places to stay.

Maybe it'll be inconvenient because of what the arrangements in Hartford have entailed already, but when has Jesus' call ever been convenient?

Brothers and sisters in Christ and particularly in the United Church of Christ, what say ye?


Anonymous said...

I guess I am still a UCC layperson in addition to being a priest. :-)

I have to say I agree. I mean, obviously it's ok to do celebratory things in our lives even given the presence of poverty and homelessness, but you're right that it's a problem to celebrate our work for justice while ignoring the real situation around us.

One thing that comes to mind is the way church trips always worked in my childhood church. We never just went on trips someplace to have fun. Every summer we went on a "Servant Event," which was a blast and involved sightseeing/camping/fun stuff, but it was always on the way to a service project.

Why couldn't Synod gatherings always involve the kind of volunteer work you discuss? I mean, sure, meet, get stuff done, celebrate, but be there first and foremost as servants to the community you're visiting. I think it's a great idea.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good idea.

And, what if the UCC took all the money they were going to spend on the 50th anniversary convention/celebration and gave that to their efforts in New Orleans?

Jeff Nelson said...

Chris, Synod usually involves some sort of service project, but it's usually relegated to a day before the event begins or one afternoon during. So there is volunteer work, but it is not in great abundance.

Harry, that's definitely another good way to approach it.

Anonymous said...


Another great post. You know, I'm not going to be able to avoid posting on this.


Jeff Nelson said...

Hey James, I didn't know where to find your e-mail, but I made a slight change in the entry. If your quote could reflect that change, that'd be great.

Thanks for the hit, BTW.

Anonymous said...

Jeff - Done.

Bridget said...

Wow, this is great! I love hearing about clergy that choose to walk their talk. YOU GO!

I cam upon your blog randomly on Blogger.

I may be going down their on a trip with Democracy for America (DFA Corps), which is the activist group founded by Howard Dean.