Reflections of the 2021 Synod from our Delegates

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Our delegates to General Synod 33 share reflections of their time in this biennial denominational gathering.

Grant Carodine (Spirit of the Cross, Huntsville, AL)

To my Southeastern Conference UCC Family, thank you for trusting me to serve as a delegate for the 33rd General Synod. This opportunity was unique in that I was also the first member of Spirit of the Cross Church to serve as a delegate following our affiliation with UCC. After years of being a non-denominational church, all the hype about the UCC experience came to life at General Synod. I am told too that the virtual setting we were forced to adapt to this year pales in comparison to the in-person experience. I had two key takeaways that I will continue to reflect on.

First, our intentionality at inclusivity is remarkable while challenging too. I was reminded that Christian values span beyond our faith. Love and service to others are universal traits and our coordination as a denomination with other faiths serves His kingdom here on earth well. Secondly, no matter the offerings of your local church we are connected, and you can plug into a ministry that interests you. As I described to my pastor; “If basket weaving is your thing and your church does not have a basket weaving ministry there is a church in UCC that does where you would be welcome!”

I look forward to General Synod 34 in Indianapolis. I’ll end with my favorite UCC saying…God is still speaking!

Kriss Choi (Open Community, Decatur, GA)

  • Grateful to be a part of the SEC in a bigger body called the United Church of Christ.
  • Especially for this time, when everyone gathered remotely from home, and it worked well.
  • No matter where we were located, I felt deeply connected with God and God’s creation, Nature.
  • Everyone on earth receives comfort and care from mother nature. I confess I receive this too.
  • Rooted in Love,” since we are rooted in God’s love. We are all rooted in God’s care like trees planted by the river. It is also time for me to listen to and take care of the needs of nature.
  • A resolution on the rights of nature: “Who will speak for the trees?” struck me strongly. Yes, we treated earth like an object and abused the earth and nature to feed our own needs even though earth and nature do not belong to us. They are original gifts from God to sustain all life.
  • Life comes full circle every morning. Today is our day to remember the rights of nature.
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  • Southeast Conference sent seven delegates, actively engaged in plenary, resolution committee, contemplative conversation, workshops and worship.
  • Yes, there were some difficulties and challenges including session sync, motions, zoom, and so on. However, surprises and joy were bigger than anything.
  • New normal landed in GS as well, and we were all supportive of each other. Group texting was helpful at moments of confusion.
  • One of the biggest surprises was beautiful worship with art, dance, music, community, colors, languages, humans and the nature I sat together with. Very deep and sacred.
  • Dear all SECUCC: Thank you for your prayers and support, which were present, is and will be.

Eddie Colf (Brookmeade Congregational, Nashville, TN)

Passion, mostly bridled passion.  Novelty.  The new and wonky techno can’t temper the passion for solidarity, justice, and love.  I’m blindly hopeful that contemplative actions across the denomination will develop deeper connections.  I personally loved Synod’s overwhelming agreement to support nature with a theological resolution.  I took great pride in casting votes on controversial, well-supported, and strategic process-oriented resolutions.

Haley Lerner (Kirkwood UCC, Atlanta, GA)

Like almost everyone else connected to General Synod, I was quite curious about how this virtual experience would work out. Would technical difficulties and poor connection keep us from hearing all voices during deliberation? Would we still find ways to forge connections with our own conferences and colleagues from across the country? Would folks be engaged in the conversation in similar or even new ways? While everyone might have different answers to these questions, I was quite impressed with how smoothly and how effective our system was! I am equally grateful to have been able to witness the hard work that so many put into our resolutions this year. I had the opportunity to serve on a committee to recognize the Associate Conference Ministers as a formal group, and while I was not initially very excited to be on this particular committee (sorry Heather), I ended up learning a lot more about our polity than I thought I would this week. In doing so, we also got to learn more of the breadth and depth of work that our ACM’s are responsible for, which is A LOT (thank you, Heather!). Overall, I am grateful to have been a part of this Synod and denomination, and especially proud to represent the Southeast Conference!

Jody Thornton (Community Congregational, Montgomery, AL)

The General Synod 33 “Rooted in Love” was my first Synod. In a lot of events we have a mission statement and that’s all it is a statement. They are never talked about, but the Synod was not like that.  From day one I heard “Love” from Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson. She started with love and we finished it. As I went through the eight days event I heard about social justice – being reminded “I am my Brother’s Keeper” and I must “Love my neighbor.” The words from Rev. Traci Blackmon and Rev. Michelle Higgins reminded me of the things the Church was involved in for the past couple of years. Then our keynote speaker gave us plans on how we can make this world a better place for all God’s children. The General Synod 33 was a blessing to me. I have a renewed look on OUR Church. I must tell Community all of what I heard and seen.

Tyler Ung (Circular Congregational, Charleston, SC)

In spite of the virtual format for this year’s General Synod, one word stands out as I reflect on my experience: connective. Many of us in the Southeast Conference know how it feels to be far away from our UCC neighbors and friends. As a member of Circular Congregational Church in Charleston, SC, there are many days when I feel that our community is far away, tucked into a corner of the east coast. However, it was a warm and tender feeling to join in worship and work with so many diverse and compassionate UCC people.

We named and remembered the first peoples on whose land we worship. We heard voices from many ethnicities, cultures, and gender identities. We spoke earnestly and passionately about peace and justice, and sought to find ways to bring both to our communities. I had the pleasure of serving on a committee that discussed a resolution to reform our cash bail bond systems. Right from the start, we all agreed that this was an important step, and we worked over the next two days to take additional steps to strengthen its vision and resolve. These conversations felt very much like the church that I want to be part of.

This was my first General Synod, and I am already eager to join in the next one. For anybody who has not had a chance to attend, I hope that you will join me then!

Ugena Whitlock (Pilgrimage UCC, Marietta, GA)

General Synod 33 is the second Synod I have attended. Last time was on location in Milwaukee. This year’s Synod was considered a “Special Edition” since it was a major virtual event! It was very evident from the start that a great deal of work had gone into creating a sacred space of Synod virtually. Although navigating technology to attend workshops, events, plenary sessions, and worship services could be a little tricky, the GS experience was energizing. This year, I served as a delegate, and in this role, I participated in committee meetings about one of the eleven resolutions proposed this year. Committee members went line by line through our resolution to ban the practice of conversion therapy making sure the language represented the spirit of the resolution. Throughout Synod, there were plenary sessions where we delegates voted to approve or reject resolutions. I’m happy to report the resolution to ban conversion therapy passed easily! I really learned a lot about Robert’s Rule of Order this week! For each resolution, there were arguments for and against before the vote. To vote, speak, or make a motion, we used a separate website from the plenary site. This was quite different from in-person Synod, where noisy, enthusiastic delegates gathered around tables by Conference to caucus about the resolutions.

Each evening concluded with a keynote speaker or worship service. After a day filled with long meetings and committee work, this was a welcome spiritual culmination to the day. Some themes running through each of them was justice, radical welcome, and caring for earth. The UCC’s commitment to inclusivity and anti-racism was clear from the diversity of thought and presentation in our worship, punctuated by the wide variety of music throughout the week. Just like at the Milwaukee General Synod, I was tired at the end of the week, but I was also energized and renewed. For a couple of days after it ended, I really missed the connections. I’m looking forward to GS 34 in Indianapolis!