Feeling good about two issues that have been simmering
Molly Phinney Baskette
Over the last couple of weeks, two issues related to General Synod have been simmering on the stove of UCC social media and getting hotter and hotter.
One is the issue of the suggested bylaw changes which will, if passed, give the UCC general minister and president more executive authority, especially to hire and fire staff, and set priorities and vision.
The second is the nomination of Rev. John Dorhauer, a straight white male, to the position of minister and president.
|Selfie of the First Church Somerville UCC folks taken on stage by John Dorhauer
I didn’t know John well before yesterday, but he impressed me so much when he introduced himself to the plenary, and effectively auditioned for us. He took the stage after moving introductions by two African-American colleagues, one gay and one a woman, who both gave him props for being the kind of straight white guy who will use his privilege to dismantle privilege, and bring us further as a denomination and a nation committed to ending institutional racism.
John spoke easily, comfortably, warmly and fluently for about 25 minutes without any notes -- this preacher who would rather die than be separated from her manuscript, was pretty impressed by that. He was profoundly intelligent in his remarks, focused and blessed with a sense of humor (hallelujah!) and no rhetoric (amen!).
And at the end, he asked us to do three things. I for one am so grateful when people in positions of authority ask me to do specific things that resonate with my values. That’s how I grow -- and find out what I am capable of. And it’s how we will grow as a denomination.
Here are the things he asked of us:
He asked us to innovate in our churches, and to be willing to fail in the name of innovation.
He asked us to get ready to focus, because by next General Synod we will have a single, shared and clearly defined sense of mission and purpose. [This is one of my longstanding beefs with my beloved UCC: that we are totally scattershot in piling up purposes. I’m ready, not for ten values, or twenty projects, or five visions, or fifty campaigns, or a hundred slogans, or a thousand logos: but ONE purpose. Again: hallelujah!]
Finally, he asked us to continue with our “little toil of love,” a phrase that for me recalls Mother Theresa’s, “I can do no great things. I can do only small things with great love.”
And to win over any in the crowd not won over by his words, he delivered a coup de grace: he invited his wife and grandbaby on stage.
Later that night, John helped me with a little comedy bit at the beginning of my opening worship sermon: I invited my congregation, First Church Somerville UCC, on stage to be in a selfie with me, and then I said, “wait, let’s not let this moment slip away -- we need a photo with the BIG boss. John Dorhauer, will you come up here?” And when he did, I said, “will you take a picture of us with the BIG boss? (indicating the thousands gathered with a big sweep of my hands). And we all laughed--especially John, showing us the kind of leader he will be.
We have not yet voted on John’s candidacy, but I’m sure he’ll pass handily. I for one am so excited for what his leadership portends--his willingness to shine on others, to use his privilege for good, his intelligence and prophetic voice, his sense of humor, a deep faith grounded in an early Catholic faith, which will give him credibility with the many, many folks coming through our doors, and a faith refined and finished in UCC theology, where he has spent his adult life.
And we’ve not yet voted on the bylaw review changes -- we anticipate a LOT of intense discussion on them--but, let’s face it: if our denomination is going to be the light and flexible ship it needs to be to navigate the rapidly changing weather conditions of our cultural and religious landscape, we need nimble leadership and leaner structures at the top so we can be more responsive and responsible. At this moment I’m feeling really confident and excited about the changes that are coming.