Call me a breath of stale air, but a large gathering of church people isn’t exactly my idea of a fun way to spend a few days. There are the church nerds, the Jesus freaks, the wannabe famous preachers, dozens vying to be noticed, the do-gooders, the networkers, and the white men in suits who seem always to gravitate to offices of power. Is it any wonder churches are closing and denominations are shrinking?
Yet here I am, in Long Beach, California for the United Church of Christ’s 29th Synod. I would be a hypocrite if I did not admit there’s a bit of each of those annoying church people in me and that is, in part, why I’m at Synod. But there’s more — much more — that brings me all this way.
Synod is a poignant reminder that the Church (notice the capitalization) is an ark in which a broad range of peoples with varying beliefs, ethnicities, races, sexual orientations, gender expressions, abilities, socio-economic backgrounds, and motivations are adrift on the waters of mystery and uncertainty hoping to settle on something resembling terra firma. In theological terms this may be related to soteriological ends. Practically it resembles a sense of place and purpose and a deep-seated hope that together we are more powerful than we are divided – a dictum increasingly under attack by societal pressures that value the individual over the collective.
It’s no wonderer that an intergenerational service of healing last night was so powerful for me. Yes, the church nerds, the Jesus freaks, the wannabe famous preachers, the folks who need to be recognized, the do-gooders, the networkers, and the suits were there. The category defying ones were there, too.
Setting aside my judgments (which say more about me than others), in the end we were all simply seekers wishing to encounter God and praise God and celebrate God’s vision of love, justice, peace, hope, inclusion, healing and _________. We were open to being moved, to sing loud praises and raise our prayers, to receive the Word, to have healing hands laid on us and to share in the simple supper that has echoed down the ages in imitation of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples.
Herein lies the power of Synod, the power of the Church, for me: it is an intentional gathering of individuals with a wide range of motives and personal idiosyncrasies who are responding in varying measure to the call of the Holy Spirit on their lives. It’s a beautiful tapestry in living flesh of love, justice, peace, hope, inclusion, and healing. However imperfectly, it is a reflection of the Kingdom of God on earth where each and all can be held as a beloved child of the Most High and from where the love of Christ can beam into the world.