By Tiffany Vail
Associate Conference Minister for Communications
What does proclaiming the Kingdom of God and the teachings of Jesus Christ "with all boldness and without hindrance" look like?
Raising a new generation of leaders
Challenging gun manufacturers.
Embracing veterans of war.
Coming out to your church.
These were some of the answers to that question lifted up for delegates to the 217th Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference this weekend (June 17 - 18), as they were, again and again, encouraged to "be bold." (The theme was based on Acts 28:31.)
In his Friday keynote address, The Rev. Otis Moss III, Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, used a story from Acts, Chapter 20, as an illustration for his call on the church to "repent, and raise a new generation of leaders." In the story from Acts, Paul is preaching on and on at a church, and a young man is sitting in a high window to listen. As the smoke and heat from candles and incense rise, the man falls asleep, falls out of the window, and dies. Paul stops, goes outside, and heals him.
"The question is - why was the young man in the window in the first place?" Moss asked, then answered: "Because they did not have enough room for the young man in the church. even though he wanted to hear Paul ... If we are going to be the ministry God wants us to be, we have to make room for the millennials and the next generation."
Moss went on to lament the fact that there are now many churches just for seniors, and others just for young people.
"This has never happened in the history of Christendom, where we have churches that are just for seasoned saints, and churches just for those who are millennials. It used to be always that there was an inter-generational church," he said.
"If you have a church that's all young people, you've got energy and creativity, but no wisdom. And if you've got a church that's all seasoned saints you've got wisdom but no power and creativity," he said. "But when you move wisdom together with power, than you can turn the world upside down."
Throughout the weekend, delegates shared stories of boldness through breakout sessions and speakouts. The Rev. Beverly Prestwood-Taylor told about her work with veterans whom, she said, die at a rate of 22 a day due to suicide.
"The most important thing we can do as a faith community is to separate the warrior from the war, and listen with compassion," she said. She then introduced the crowd to John Sacco, a Vietnam veteran, who shared what it was like returning from that war.
"The worst part of Vietnam was coming home," he said. "We were greeted by an NCO who said 'you guys are going to want to get out of your uniforms, and into civilian clothes, and don't tell anyone where you've been.' And that was what I did. And when I put my uniforms into that closet, I went right in there with them. And I never really came completely out "
Delegates also heard from Ivan, who told of being imprisoned, beaten and raped after making a movie about the persecution of of gay men like himself in his home country of Uganda. He is now in the US thanks to the efforts of the Asylum Task Force, formed by the Hadwen Park Congregational Church in Worcester.
Delegates also heard Conference Minister and President Jim Antal speak out on gun control in the wake of the killing of 49 people in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
":When we take in the reality of who we – as Americans – are becoming – every day it’s more and more clear that we are in need of a moral revolution," Antal said. "And I believe that as followers of Jesus, we are the ones who are called to initiate this moral revolution."
He then went on to quote Andrea Ayvazian, pastor of Haydenville Congregational Church, as saying: "I believe evil is afoot in this country. I believe that when legislators fail to pass common sense laws to curb gun violence, that is evil. I believe that when the words about compassion, love, inclusion and mercy in our sacred texts are distorted and used to justify homophobia and transphobia that is evil. I believe that when profits are chosen over people time and time again, that is evil. I believe that when young LGBTQ people of color - dancing, flirting, kissing, expressing their love - are killed because of who they are, that is evil."
During Saturday's worship, The Rev. Cynthia Maybeck recalled coming out to her church in the early 1990s by way of a letter from church leaders announcing her plans to have a commitment ceremony with her longtime partner, Elaine. The Sunday after the letter went out, she said, she preached on the great commandment to a packed church.
"i told them that indeed on the day of my ordination I had made a commitment to love God with all my heart and all my soul and all my strength," she said. "And on the day of my installation I had made a commitment to love my neighbor. And how I had never been able to fulfill that great commandment, because i had never loved myself."
At the ceremony, she said, a World War II Marine vet stood up and told those gathered he had never seen such boldness before.
"I didn't know i was bold," she said. "I was just being myself and loving Jesus."
Following Maybeck's storytelling, Moss said that without love, everything else is meaningless.
"Paul is trying to say that love is the foundation of the gospel," Moss said, but added the most difficult thing God has asked us to do is to love.
"One should never critique those who operate outside of ones theological perspective as not having enough faith," he said. "They have plenty of faith. Faith has never been the issue. Love always has."
"Because when love is absent, then faith begins to lean on doctrine, and then doctrine becomes dangerous and destructive," he said. "But whenever love is present, love is always the corrective to any particular doctrine, because it forces you to reassesses the way you look at the world. Love is the issue. Love is the challenge."
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