At our first in-person Michigan Conference Annual Meeting in years, we beat our pre-pandemic registrations and literally packed the place. In what will heretofore be referred to in church history as the “Michigan Miracle,” we ended the business session ten minutes early.
Getting to preach at worship, hearing everybody sing, and eating lunch in a noisy social hall are all blessings that I do not take for granted. I’m so grateful to the Planning Team, Conference Staff, Michigan Conference UCC Board of Directors, and our hosts at Plymouth United Church of Christ, but most of all I’m grateful to God that we didn’t have to do another Annual Meeting sitting at a screen.
Of course, screens have their place when it comes to connectivity and catching up. On our website, you’ll find my sermon from the Annual Meeting and the recording of our Keynote. On our YouTube channel, you can view last month’s lively Leadership Lunch with Bishop Will Willimon whose take on Advent preaching was both holy and hilarious. I hope these recorded resources inspire you to register for the live ones. Our December 6 Zoom at lunch time will feature Still Speaking Daily Devotional author Quinn Caldwell. His Advent devotional book All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas made him my first choice to boost the spirits of our clergy and church members during this Advent Season.
Before we get to December, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the November holiday that precedes it. Yes, I am well aware that most nations around the globe do not acknowledge the occasion. Even in our country, it is a day that is not celebrated by all people, a day with a complex history, a day that some increasingly choose to ignore and others denounce outright. But the fact is November 18 is still my birthday and I won’t condemn anyone who celebrates it with a gift to the Friends of the Michigan Conference.
In all seriousness, my heart is filled with prayers of thanksgiving for you all. In a culture of crass commercialism, consumerism, colonialism, and conflict, our brave Michigan UCC churches stand up and stand out as a lighthouse to the spiritually ship-wrecked. I know of UCC pastors who are not invited to their town’s clergy meetings because they have defended the local library’s mission to include all authors, all readers and to invite free speech. I know of UCC church members who are told by other so-called Christians at the grocery store that our search for salvation does not count because it is not exclusive enough, as if cruelty will be our ticket into heaven. I know of UCC youth who are shocked to discover that their loving local church nest hangs on one of the smaller branches of the ancient Christian family tree, a thin branch that cares about Trans Day of Remembrance, that takes unpopular stances long before the rest of Christianity catches up. I know it’s not easy out there. I know that there are times when you feel alone. You are not alone. God is still speaking and the Spirit knits us together.
By now each Michigan Conference UCC local church should have received a personal letter, thanking you for what you have shared over the years in the Basic Support of Our Church’s Wider Mission. Those Basic Support dollars are as precious and essential to us at the Michigan Conference as the donations of church members are to the local church, especially in these tough economic times.
In the United Church of Christ, we are connected, not by commandment but by covenant. We give, not because we must but because we may. I pray that the Michigan Conference provides the momentum for many more moments like our Annual Meeting when the ministry we do together reminds us that we are never alone.