Sometimes the church makes me sad. Don’t get me wrong – I love the church. But, most days I’m pretty sure I’m in love with what it COULD BE rather than what it IS.
A case in point was the United Church of Christ’s General Synod meeting, which I attended with a group including 14 youth and six adult leaders from the Iowa Conference this past June 23 – July 1. On the one hand, it was a terrific introduction to the national church for our group. They worked with young and old alike on service projects, witnessed fantastic worship services and participated in thought-provoking workshops offered by such well-known speakers as Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core.
On the other hand, young people and their chaperones found committee meetings and plenary sessions confounding or even sometimes confusing. Often the committees seemed mired in minutia that didn’t seem to relate much to the whole of the resolution.
Tuesday morning plenary sessions became more perplexing. Young people listened to discussions about a resolution that called for the national church to continue discussions about the creation of a unified governance structure. After delegates to the General Synod voted to affirm the unified governance resolution, a small number of protesters interrupted the business of the plenary session. (If you want to see video of the floor debate and the ensuing protest, watch the morning plenary session on June 30, found here.)
The youth in our group perked up. They wondered why people would be protesting this particular vote. Some were frustrated that they then couldn’t hear the business that was happening in spite of the protest.
I struggle in explaining such events to young people. I desperately want young people to be engaged in the all aspects of the church, but I always fear that if they become aware of the politics that get played, they will become disillusioned and leave the church. Or worse yet, they will learn from our bad habits and simply assume that this is how things get done in the church, regardless of whether or not our political tactics and/or the underlying harmful racial dynamics are compatible with the gospel.
I hope they develop a balanced view of the church. The church is comprised of people prone to sinful behavior, no matter how good our intentions. That is why we rely on God’s grace as we challenge and change the status quo. The church needs the creativity of young people to help us heal the deep-seeded mistrust and fear brought on by complicated racial dynamics that are not exclusive to the UCC, but rather permeate U.S. culture.
When I returned to the office after this General Synod experience, I was heartened when I received an email from one of our Iowa Conference UCC pastors. Rev. Nadine Aydt, the pastor of United Congregational Methodist Church in Lewis, IA, forwarded a Behavioral and Conversation Covenant that their church adopted in order to guide their discussion of contentious topics. It was refreshing that a congregation was making HOW they conducted business as important as WHAT they did.
It’s not good enough to work toward the end of racism, poverty, sexism and homophobia in our wider culture without first examining the ways in which negative dynamics play out in church communities.
Transformation, I believe, starts at home.