Impressions of General Synod #34
Rev. Sara Morse, Hazel Park UCC, St. Paul
Converting a convention center into a worship space is no easy task. The space is vast and cavernous. And yet, the planners of this General Synod took this space, using the theme from Isaiah 43:18-19, making all things news, and created a space that highlighted the beauty of nature and light. A background with a tree radiating light and vegetation with broad leaves and blossoms outlined the stage and scattered throughout peeking behind rocks or standing at attention were ceramic animals that included: a rabbit, a turtle, a hedgehog, a fox, and more. These animals were placed in different spots at each plenary, and it became an “I spy” moment that drew one into the liturgical landscape.
From the sights of General Synod, came the sounds of wonderful music, challenging preaching, engaging debate, and a vigorous resolution process. This synod will be remembered for electing Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson as the first woman and first Black woman to lead the denomination as General Minister and President. This synod will also be remembered for affirming the dignity of trans and nonbinary persons, the call for study and developing reparations for African Americans, and a powerful conversation with Ibram X. Kendi.
General Synod has been coined “a small town that stretches from coast to coast.” Reconnecting with old friends and colleagues and making new ones is a gift of these five days. I give thanks for being a part of a savvy Minnesota delegation of fifteen individuals filled with spirit and grace.
Rev. Charlotte Frantz, Peace UCC, Duluth
Life at General Synod is a little like a five-day immersion in a living kaleidoscope! Wonder-filled, energizing, thought-provoking, joyful, challenging, -- and exhausting. I witnessed our denomination’s launch into an even more inclusive, welcoming, justice-seeking future. At the same time, I reaped the joy of relationships that span almost a lifetime of ministry.
This Synod will be remembered for its vote to move Synod from a biennial to a triennial gathering. Our denomination has wrestled with this question for years—how to balance the value of coming together with the realities of cost—financial, staff labor, and climate impact. I wonder if this vote might lead the way to further change—will we use technology to increase communications and make some gatherings more accessible? Just like local congregations, we are re-examining how we gather and make decisions.
Another significant moment was the apology General Minister and President John Dorhauer offered regarding the “four streams” narrative of our denominational history. Last year the Historical Council recognized a fifth stream: the Afro-Christian Convention. Yvonne Delk, long recognized as a leader in the UCC, recently edited a book about the Convention and its contributions to the UCC. I was present at the United Black Christians gathering when John apologized and was seated with our delegation when he spoke to the Synod. I believe this moment was a pivotal moment in our denomination’s self-understanding about who we were as well as who we are.
I appreciated the learning opportunities related to the resolution process, the opportunity to get to know others in our delegation, the chance to connect with agencies and organizations in the exhibit hall, participation in a public witness related to immigration, and the beautiful, vibrant worship—all a part of General Synod 34.
Rev. Eli’jah Carroll, St. Paul’s UCC, St. Paul
Our time together focused around these powerful words from Isaiah 43: 18-19. “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
It was my first time at General Synod. And all things certainly did feel new. I felt like I was instantly immersed into the fullness of our denomination. It felt new, exciting, and intimidating in the best way. It was also a time to rekindle the flame of longtime friendships that faded due to time and distance.
Back to Isaiah. We love new things, don’t we? I certainly love the feel of a brand-new pair of fresh sneakers. I need new shoes to help correct chronic pain I experience in my back and feet. In the same way, we need newness to cope with the present and painful circumstances of the past.
This year at General Synod, we dreamed of new things in at least 14 different ways in the resolutions that were brought forth to over 630 delegates from our various conferences. We visioned a world where black lives flourish, trans-bodies are cared for, disabled voices are celebrated, the histories and cultures of our indigenous neighbors are held as sacred, where women get to speak for themselves and their bodies’ needs, and more!
I feel ever inspired to co-create a way in the wilderness, to make a path where we learn from the different cultures around us to create more depth in our human experience. I yearn to help make rivers of decolonizing God and to see the expansive image and likeness of the divine in the everyday.
Unlike Isaiah though, let us not forget our past– our chronic pain that we hold– the pain of stolen land, of colonization, and slavery. Let us wrap that past in newness, cradling it with love and care for all of God’s creation, never forgetting so that we don’t do it again.
General Synod re-sparked my passion for God’s Justice, which we often just call Social Justice. I have been reminded that we are a social justice church. God’s church.
Rev. Elizabeth O'Sullivan, Congregational UCC, Medford
General Synod was a whirlwind of memorable events. It was an honor to hear author and scholar Ibram X. Kendi speak about how justice often is brought about by courageous young people who focus on what is right instead of on the danger involved in change. It was inspiring to hear author and pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber use humor and candor to help make room for people to bring their whole selves to worship. It was illuminating to labor with the committee that reviewed a resolution to actively affirm the human dignity of gender diverse people. (The resolution passed!) It was exciting, and sometimes difficult, to vote on all of the resolutions that came before this General Synod.
However, the most memorable event of the Synod for me was the dinner hosted by the Council for Racial and Ethnic Ministries (COREM), which focused on honoring leaders in the community who had passed on. Some beloved leaders were remembered with stunning Samoan prayer and singing, while others were memorialized with the pouring of libations. Marlene Whiterabbit Helgemo, who led All Nations Church in South Minneapolis, was recalled with tender, loving words and with sharing food sprinkled with herbs and tobacco.
In the midst of a very active, stimulating Synod, this time of remembrance testified to how crucial it is to appreciate one another, and to honor the relationships that form the foundations of our community. I was so grateful to be there.