I was in worship with Pilgrimage United Church of Christ in Marietta, Georgia on March 13. Rev. Rod Mundy-Haase, ONA Coordinator for the Open and Affirming Coalition of the UCC, was the speaker and then led an informational program on a new ecumenical program that is being introduced for the “inclusive church.” Pilgrimage is beginning plans for their 20th anniversary of voting to become an ONA congregation in the United Church of Christ.
As I sat in worship, I was noticing the pair of Lenten banners in the sanctuary. The one to my left showed hills and a roadway and a river leading to a palm branch at the right edge. The banner to my right had a palm branch at the left edge and then images of nails, a beam, and a crown of thorns. I found the images powerful and provocative. As I thought more about why they were so compelling, I realized that the journey of ministry in the Conference was illustrated by these banners.
We have indeed been on a journey for the last two years. And I have often prayed out of the Psalms to lift my eyes to the hills from whence my help comes. And we are always reminded that we have our life in our relationship to the Divine through Jesus Christ as we are baptized and join Christ at the open table. The other banner reminded me that we have a history as a community and that this year we celebrate that history even as those gathered in that upper room were remembering their history of salvation and God’s provision for their lives as a community of faith.
But even in the midst of the triumphant celebration of our life together and the mission we are called to, we know that changes are on the horizon. We are already experiencing loss in our Southeast community. And there are leadership changes coming in the next year. What lessons can we take from the story of this community that found a way to new life and renewed mission even after hard and shocking changes. I take great comfort in the assurance that we have as we celebrate new life on Easter Sunday. We know that we serve a living God and that we are given the guidance we need to engage in the ministry to which we are called. As long as we remain focused on the example of Jesus and his ministry and trust that God and the Spirit will provide the resources and the guidance, we have nothing to fear and everything to be thankful for. The crown of thorns in the banner was in gold metallic fabric and also reminded me of the sun, the new light in our lives, the Son of God who came to be among us in all our joys and struggles. I pray Easter blessings for each of you and all the congregations that are a part of the ministry of the Southeast Conference as we continue to seek to serve faithfully.