2019 General Synod Delegate Summary:
Rob Van Ess
While my experience in committee was empowering my experience at synod was defined by my time on the floor and in caucus as a delegate considering resolution number eight. This resolution, sponsored by the Michigan Conference, was originally titled: Stewardship Of Exhibit Space As A Resource For A Mission Of Justice.
This resolution specifically named an organization that would be banned from being able to rent exhibit space at a UCC General Synod. The resolution called for “the General Synod to reject the mission of Faithful and Welcoming Churches as it relates to denying the full civil rights and ecclesiastical standing of LGBTQ persons, and affirms that the UCC motto ‘That they may all be one,’ preludes giving voice to bigotry.” As an out gay man ordained in the UCC who works with queer youth I am acutely aware of the issues facing our young people today. The rates for suicide, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, self-harm, and addiction, for queer youth have all been well documented. One study demonstrates that a word of encouragement can decrease the likelihood of suicide with queer youth by up to 40%. Conversely, messages of condemnation and criticism can increase the likelihood of suicide by 40%. Our words carry the power to change the world for the better or for the worst. Use your words kindly. This is what I believe came to the surface in the hearts and minds of every queer person who considered this resolution, both those for and against it. You can read up on what the Faithful and Welcoming Churches in the UCC stand for and proclaim for queer folk yourself. I have many questions I still need answers for in this regard. Such as: Should this resolution, naming one group outright, have ever been allowed to go to committee, or to the floor? It seems to go against our core values as a denomination to name one group for exclusion.
My second question is: Who on the Business Committee for the 32nd General Synod was reviewing these resolutions, what are their guidelines, and how are they called to create safe spaces for the business of the church? I found myself and others re-traumatized by all the stigmatization and trauma we have experienced as queer people in the church. This was beautifully and tragically voiced by a group of UCC youth at synod. I fully support and affirm the brave and bold youth attending synod who spoke out in favor of this resolution. Their testimony was a life changing moment for me. They shared their personal experiences of being denied their full humanity and participation in the life of the church based on their queer identity. These were tearful holy moments of truth telling. It was heart breaking and powerful. Here is what I learned: My liberal and privileged bubble was popped by the witness of the youth at synod. I learned that just because I serve an Open and Affirming church and benefit from the General Synod’s many resolutions affirming my humanity and protecting my full participation in the life of the church that this is not everyone’s experience. I learned that being in covenant with each other means having to abide in relationship with groups of people I believe cause harm in the name of God and that in such places, for me, I need others to take my place at the table, to discuss the nature of our communion. My life experience made that seat at the table to much for me to bear. As I result, I would have voted against the resolution if it came to a floor vote because I believe in the power of an open door and an open table to change the world.
Finally, I learned that our work is far from done. There are more churches in the UCC that are not creating intentional space for queer people than are. The children are still suffering. Our sisters and brothers in Christ are still excluding them or perverting their identity until it literally kills them. We cannot give up the fight. We must come together to declare safe spaces for all of God’s children. Our time to act is now.
Summary of General Synod experience
I was honored to serve on committee number one working on a resolution to abolish the growth and existence of private prisons. This being my first synod I was eager to see how the process worked in committee. I am grateful for the delegates from the Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut, conferences who took me under their wing and showed me the ropes. Their hospitality to “the new guy” was a gift and I learned much from their experience. Our first meeting had us diving deep into the justice issues directly related to the growth and existence of private prisons. You can go online and read the final version of the resolution that was passed by the 32nd General Synod. There is a wonderful list of resources at the end of the resolution that will help to educate you and your congregation on this vital issue. The racial and economic issues quickly rose to the surface of our conversations. As person after person spoke about these vital issues in our society I was inspired by their passion and the way they easily demonstrated how we are called to love all people. When we got into the weeds it was about how to word specific parts of the resolution to include those entities that make money or benefit in any way from the growth and existence of private prisons. Fortunately, we had a representative from the Insurance Boards present who helped us to understand the financial implications of the resolution and which words we should use to express what we wanted to say in a resolution that is clearly defined. The other issue was how to include detention centers in the resolution – which we did – considering the atrocities going on at the southern border of our nation. I look forward to taking part in the resolution process again in Kansas City.
Find all resolutions in their final form at http://ucceverywhere.org/synod/.