The Alabama/Tennessee/Mississippi Association held a meeting at Church of the Savior in Knoxville on September 13-14. The agenda proposed a vote on a resolution to dissolve the Association. But before the resolution came to the floor of the meeting for a vote, God’s Spirit seemed to prevail – Robert’s Rules of Order were suspended to allow general discussion. It was clear that a majority of those present saw the need for change, but the delegates did not feel ready to dissolve the Association. Over and over delegates affirmed their history of congregations and individuals being connected, and affirmed the value of the resulting relationships. What followed was a creative solution: a task force was named to work on imagining a new future. That task force will then present a different resolution for a vote at the next Association meeting. My guess is that it will be a different kind of structure that doesn’t rely on elected officers and formal meetings … but instead it will offer a new way of gathering UCC folk in regional settings for fellowship, education, and fun!
I came away from that meeting encouraged by what had evolved and clear about the particular need to find new ways to connect congregations and church leaders within our huge geography, diversity of people and ministries. With this in mind, rather than sharing my current thoughts on theological or social issues (that is, writing something like a blog entry), I want instead to share a mix of “snapshots” of experiences gathered over the past month as I have traveled among you and witnessed a fascinating mix of valued tradition and exciting new models of ministry:
BLOGS – If you want to read some interesting blogs, here are a few I’ve recently discovered among some of our pastors: Michael Pater (at central-ucc.org); Jeremy Rutledge (his blog is here, the church website is circularchurch.org); Kimberleigh Buchanan (at pilgrimageucc.org); and David Brown (at pilgrim-church.com). As you check these local church websites be sure to look at the numerous other examples of exciting new ministries being carried out by just these four congregations (and we have many more!). And when you are on the Circular website, be sure to look at deep history (dating back to 1681) mixed with the new (their new green building). After wandering through the historic graveyard at Circular Karen and I met with Jeremy and talked about ministry in SECUCC. We talked about the problems of distance and isolation -how are pastors able to be connected. I suggested to Jeremy that he check out Michael Pater’s blog – it seemed very similar in form and content to his own, and perhaps they could find ways to link. To my surprise Jeremy said: “I know Michael, we did CPE together! Yes, I need to get in touch with him now that I’m settled in here.”
– We have two new congregations that are experimenting with being linked across some miles: Praxis in Atlanta and Praxis in Americus. Not only do they share names, but as you may recall one of the pastors in Atlanta (Leah Lyman-Waldron) was ordained at the same time as the pastor in Americus (Kirk Lyman-Barner) at Central UCC in Atlanta. Same names for two congregations … and even similar names for two pastors – although they’re not related by blood. Both congregations are working together on web presence, and both have a deep passion for mission. And in the case of Kirk Lyman-Barner, his “day job” is linked with another rich ministry as he serves as the Director of U.S. Field Operations for the Fuller Center (fullercenter.org). I’ve now worshiped with each of these congregations, and in each the smaller group (gathered in the Central UCC parlor and in Kirk’s home) reflected the spirit and vitality of the early Church. Being in Americus evokes other histories as well: Clarence Jordan and Koinonia; Millard Fuller and Habitat for Humanity as well as the Fuller Center; and Jimmy Carter!
Well, those are my snapshots for now. I know that there are many more to visit and experience in the coming days, and I celebrate the many ways that God is Still Speaking in our midst!