Saturday, June 27, 2009

River City Saturday

Leslie Sheridan here. Today is being called "River City Saturday." It is a day filled with workshops and presentations. Each person selects sessions to attend based on their own interests and curiosities. This day is a result of the positive reaction to "Synod in the City" in Hartford. There were also opportunities for mission work as well as kite-flying in the park across the river. The Iowa Delegates had lunch with the youth contingency close to the kites across the river. I must say that the young Iowans looked sharp in their purple shirts! The evening was capped with a tribute to John Thomas. I will certainly miss his wise leadership--all of my General Synods have been during his tenure. 

Well, tomorrow the committee work begins. I go into the sessions wondering what could possibly be controversial about the business at hand, and I am almost immediately reminded of what a diverse group we UCCer's are! 

Friday, June 26, 2009

Synod Day One: Cookies, Candidates and Cadences!

(Elizabeth Dilley ... again)  What a crazy day!  The best part of today was the the "day" did not begin until a little after noon with some gatherings to learn more about the various business of Synod.  So we got to sleep in....except that I couldn't.

However, when I got up and made my way to DeVos Hall, there were about a zillion cookies.  (I heard a rumor that the Synod held in Iowa was the start of this great tradition, so go us!!!)  I have stuck with chocolate chip because I love them so, but there are all kinds.  Even sugar free.  I spent the first hour in the Exhibit Hall, exploring what's available for purchase and some of the "swag" (aka neat giveaways) at the various tables.  The highlight for the moment is the yo-yo, though the USB port offered by the Pension Boards is a very close second.

This being my third Synod, and being basically a lifelong UCCer, I also ran into many, many friends and acquaintances.  Iowa is well-represented among delegates, visitors, and "Iowa alumni" now living/serving in other states.

The second hour of gatherings were all focused on the hot-button issue of "single governance."  Each delegate was assigned to a specific room for these conversations.  I had the pleasure of being in the room where Iowa's own Pamela Cook was facilitating the discussion.  Dear friends, she represented us so very well - she was clear, Spirit-led, and focused.  She also kept us on track and focused on the issues.  Well done, Pamela!!

The proposals for single governance are complicated and the issues surrounding them very deep.  Essentially, for a variety of reasons having to do with the desire to do more strategic planning in the UCC, a desire to be more responsible fiscally, and the need to be more "nimble" in responding to various issues that arise within our denomination, a long process of discernment and discussion took place to figure out how to best govern the UCC in the national setting.  A proposal for single governance was made, but was not accepted by all the covenanted ministries (which are local church ministries, wider church ministries, justice and witness ministries and the office of general ministries).

Some of the objections to single governance have to do with the "centralization"/consolidation of power, the fear that this way of governance is "not UCC," and also that the prophetic voice of justice may be stifled within this new construct.  Many of the historically underrepresented groups also fear that minority voices will be lost with the smaller board.

There is much to discern about this issue.  I don't know how I feel about all of this - I go back and forth with my own thinking.  I am praying about where God may be leading us, and I do covet your prayers for our delegation and the entire UCC as we try to discern God's will for us in this time.  I'd also like to know your thoughts about single governance in general within the UCC.

We also heard from the candidates for General Minister and President and the Executive Minister for Local Church Ministries.  I've already spoken about the Rev. Geoffrey Black, who today reiterated his commitment to growing churches and their capacities for excellent ministry and clergy excellence.  He also spoke of our work as "a quest" which definitely sounds more active and interesting than "a journey," which is often how we talk about our life of faith.  The Rev. Steve Sterner (I think he's actually The Rev. Dr.) spoke....and he blew me away.  He comes across as a little unassuming at first, but as he gets going, he really builds us up.  He talked about Paul's 2nd letter to the Corinthians and that lovely passage about having "this treasure in earthen vessels."  The running theme throughout his talk was "Sisters and brothers, we have this treasure."  

We do have so many treasures within the UCC, and while both of these men are cognizant of and committed to working through the many challenges currently facing our denomination, they are more focused on multiplying the treasures of our denomination - led, of course, by our amazing God, Christ our Savior, and the Spirit of courage, passion and love.

Finally, we heard from the Rev. Otis Moss III, the senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.  His sermon was phenomenal - he talked about God's punctuation and how only God can put a period.  The rest of us have to live with questions, colons, semi-colons, and commas.  Most of all, however, when we give testimony of what God has done for us ... we should use exclamation points!  Of course, you are losing a lot by my meager descriptions, so go check out the UCC website to hear Rev. Moss yourself!

Well, brothers and sisters, these are my personal reflections on the day.  It is now after 1am and I need to be awake in 5 hours for our caucus.  Time for sleep.  Blessings to you all in Iowa (and elsewhere), and please keep praying for us!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day Zero: 2030 Clergy Network

(Elizabeth Dilley) Today I attended the 2030 Clergy Network's pre-Synod event in Grand Rapids.  It was held at First (Park) Congregational Church, and we can't say enough good things about the hospitality of those folk!  There was no a/c, but we managed.  Discussion centered around fellowship and strategic planning as a network - which is loosely organized and non-hierarchical in nature.  The panel I sat on with Matt Mardis-LeCroy and Elena Larssen went quite well, and we forged a number of new relationships in this short time.

By the way, if you are clergy in your 20s and 30s, you're a part of the network!  There's no registration or dues required.  (If you're in this category and don't hear about the goings-on of the 2030 Clergy Network, email me at and I'll get you connected.)  Also, if you are clergy in your 40s+, you are an alum of our network and we support and love you, too.  If you are a layperson of any age, know that there are some amazing, competent and passionate clergy in the UCC!!!

I'm posting a picture of the Rev. Geoffrey Black speaking to our group during lunch.  He's the incoming General Minister and President of the UCC.  He spoke to us ... because we asked him to.  Let this be a lesson to you congregations: ask for what you want, including visits from conference and national staff - and see what happens.  

It is now quite late, and unfortunately the only quote of the many memorable things he said was about the "soft hierarchy" of the UCC.  Even acknowledging that this exists - even if we don't like to admit that it exists - is a huge act of trust and transparency for someone in Rev. Black's position.  I think we are lucky to have him preparing to lead us in the time ahead.  Perhaps sometime tomorrow I will remember a few of the other wonderful and thoughtful things he shared.

Tomorrow, the festivities really begin!  Please pray for us, and for the UCC as a whole.  There is much important work to do, and some of it is bound to be controversial.  I would ask personal prayers as we learn what committees to which we are assigned, and that God would lead us to faithful discernment in all the business before the Synod, but especially about the restructuring conversation/possible decision/certain controversy.  We are praying for you, too!

Working the bugs out. . .

(Leslie Sheridan) Things seem to be a tad disorganized, but they are working through them and everyone is being patient.  We arrived at the hotel about 3:00; check-in is at 4:00. No one was at the welcome table. We rode the shuttle down to DeVos Place for an early registration--the schedule said they would be registering from 7:30-9:30. We were there at 9:00 and the folks at the tables were very frustrated.  They stopped registration at 8:00. No one seemed to know why--the volunteers were willing to get folks signed in. Oh, well, tomorrow will just be busier. I am looking forward to it all--I was able to peak into our "space"--as usual, it is gorgeous! 

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Greetings from Holland, Michigan

This is Leslie Sheridan greeting you from Holland, Michigan--think Pella on a beach!  It is a marvelous little city.  I associate myself with Urbandale UCC and New Mission UCC (church in development).  This is my fourth General Synod and my second as a delegate.  As Synod approaches, and we approach Synod, excitement is building.  I anticipate wonderful worship and music, spirited discussions, seeing old friends, and meeting new ones--and then there will be COOKIES! What kinds will there be? How many? Where will they be stored? 

Questionable cuisine of the day: Olive Burger--hamburger with olives, swiss cheese, and mayo. Trust me, I was not brave enough to try it. Tomorrow is another day!
This is Pamela Cook from Decorah, Iowa writing. I am a deacon at Decorah Congregational United Church of Christ and in care/member in discernment of the Northeast Association of the Iowa Conference.

I am getting ready to hit the road to Grand Rapids, MI. This is my first synod, so I am very excited. Not only am I a delegate, but I am also a committee chair. I have not received my committee assignment yet, but I will have have training for this position from 12noon to 9:15pm on June 25th and from 8:30am-12noon on June 26th.

Come back and check out us here or watch the synod on webcast at:

Don't forget to let us know what you think about our posts.

Traveling ...

Well, it's Elizabeth Dilley from Red Oak writing.  I'm one of the delegates and I serve a church in Red Oak, Iowa.  This will be my 3rd Synod, but my first as a delegate, and I am thrilled!  

Many of us are traveling to Grand Rapids today and tomorrow.  Please keep us in your prayers as we fly, drive, and otherwise get ourselves to Synod.  Some pre-events have already begun, and more continue tomorrow.  I will be attending the 2030 Clergy Network pre-event.  This is an event designed for UCC clergy in their 20s and 30s.  At that event, I will be sitting on a panel in the afternoon about how younger people have gotten involved in association and conference committees; one of the other panelists is the Rev. Matt Mardis-LeCroy of Plymouth UCC in Des Moines (and another is my dear childhood friend, the Rev. Elena Larssen, who is an associate conference minister in Minnesota).  To complete the circle, this panel was arranged by the Rev.  Mary Nelson Abbott, a child of our conference.

Hopefully in the next few days, you will be hearing from many other delegates and staff members on this blog.  Be sure to leave a comment and tell us you stopped by.  We'd also love your own thoughts/reflections on the process and what's going on!