2019 General Synod Delegate Summary:
“Discerning, Articulating, and Resourcing the Nature, Purpose, Composition, Covenantal Autonomy and Definition of ‘the basic unit of life and organization of the United Church of Christ’ for the Twenty-first Century.”
Resolution Summary: Resolution 11a and 11b: During the committee session, what began as Resolutions 11a and 11b very quickly became a unified Resolution 11, titled “Discerning, Articulating, and Resourcing the Nature, Purpose, Composition, Covenantal Autonomy and Definition of ‘the basic unit of life and organization of the United Church of Christ’ for the Twenty-first Century.” During the educational intensive and committee session, this resolution came to General Synod 32 from the Southwest Conference and Southern California Nevada Conference, and was closely connected to Resolution 13, “Oversight of the Local Church and its Covenantal Relationships with the Association in Which it Holds Standing as a Local Church of the United Church of Christ”, but this resolution resulted in no further action and was tabled at plenary.
In my opinion the real discussion around this resolution came down to conflict between the emphasis on covenantal relationships within the UCC settings and the observed absence of protocols for holding all parties of the covenant formally accountable. For example, local churches who have not participated in the association, conference, or national setting by giving, attending meetings, or other relational actions in many years – but, when confronted about this, stand on the constitutional prioritization of the ‘local church’. The constitutional articles discussed included Article III, “Covenantal Relationships”, and V, “Local Churches”. There was a lot of conversation about several key words – these included ‘releasing’ (as it pertained to fear about some power being given the authority to remove local churches), ‘oversight’ (as it pertained to concerns about who would have the power to presume this role in accountability), and what it means to have ‘covenantal autonomy’ rather than covenant and autonomy.
Resolution 11 sought to convene a working group representative of the whole of the United Church of Christ to discern the intention and current reality of Article V of the Constitution, and perhaps suggest revisions to this article. Revisions may, for example, be in the areas of clarity about the relationship between covenant and autonomy, parameters for local church accountability, and protocols for releasing local churches that are not maintaining a covenantal relationship. In addition, this working group would work with/within the current work being done to create a Manual on Church to create a Manual on Local Church – both akin to the Manual on Ministry – for use by all settings of the UCC. Suggested sections for this proposed Manual on Local Church included a Congregational Code, Marks of Faithful and Vital Congregations, and processes and resources “birthing, admitting, strengthening, revitalizing, and releasing congregations.”
There was much debate and discussion, and a significant amount of voiced concern about this resolution on the floor during plenary. This included a proposal from the floor to amend the resolution by removing several critical lines – however, the parliamentarians ruled that such would have altered the intent of the resolution, so the proposed amendment was ruled to be out of order. Ultimately, however, Resolution 11 was passed by the 32nd General Synod of the United Church of Christ by a vote of 369 to 230 with 86 abstentions.
Summary of my General Synod experience.
I admittedly had some anxieties about attending General Synod for the first time as a delegate, particularly as a somewhat newly ordained minister. I was concerned that I would do something wrong or be perceived as foolish, that I would inadvertently break a rule on the plenary floor, and that I would somehow get lost in a new city. But I am so thankful that I had this opportunity! I am a self-avowed ‘polity nerd’, and I certainly enjoyed the opportunity dive into the polity of the UCC further than ever before. I felt the importance of my vote as a representative of my association and conference and did my best to be engaged in all of the plenary sessions – even as the long days wore on my mind and body. I am also incredibly thankful for all the fun times I had with my fellow delegates – which was especially critical to my experience and important in a conference as large as the Missouri Mid-South Conference, as some of us live many hours apart. The moment I will most remember, and take with me moving forward, is speaking on the plenary floor during the deliberation of Resolution 7, which sought to designate the Mental Health Network as a Historically Underrepresented Group – and was passed! Although I was very anxious, I took this opportunity to share briefly about my being an ordained minister in the UCC and a person with Bipolar Disorder. It was so encouraging to receive the support of my fellow delegates following this moment, and my heart was so warmed to hear the stories of many others who sought me out after. It is my hope to take this energy and harness it for motion toward increases in church inclusion of persons and families impacted by mental illness, education in my local church about mental illness and ministry, and perhaps engagement with the formal protocols for WISE [Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged] church designation.
Willingness to speak to local churches near you:
I would welcome the opportunity to share with other local churches in the Kansas City and surrounding areas. Wednesday nights are somewhat touch and go until mid-September because I have class some Wednesday evenings for a certificate program in Justice Ministry Education – but that could be sorted out as desired between myself and the local church. Thank you all so much for making this engagement in the national setting possible!
Find all resolutions in their final form at http://ucceverywhere.org/synod/.