How do we Share Our Good News?
If you caught the Midweek Message last week, you might recall that I spent much of last week at the UCC’s General Synod, the every-two-years national gathering for our denomination. Often times, such meetings are an opportunity to connect with old friends, to develop new relationships with colleagues and to see and learn from folks doing exciting and cutting-edge ministry throughout the country and beyond. This year, with the whole event operating online, it was pretty hard to do all of that, so I’ll confess that I got a little discouraged partway through the week. I missed my colleagues, I missed the extrovert-joy of hearing someone at a workshop and seeking them out for a conversation afterward, the power of worship with hundreds of other believers in the same room.
And then a really interesting thing happened.
The second keynote speaker of the event was Rev. Adam Russell Taylor. I know Rev. Russell Taylor primarily as the newly installed president of Sojourners, the progressive Christian magazine, community, and non-profit. I’ve been blessed by Sojourners’ ministry for at least twenty years, and I know a lot of leaders who have been subscribers since the beginnings of the movement in the Vietnam War era. In the past year, Jim Wallis, their longtime leader, retired from that role, and Rev. Russell Taylor took over.
I was excited to hear him speak, but I will admit that I was completely unprepared for how his talk began. He said he wanted to extend appreciation to a couple of the UCC pastors he knew when he was growing up, and the first one he named was Rev. Donel McClellan, of First Congregational Church of Bellingham. You see, Rev. Russell Taylor spent some of his growing up years in Bellingham (maybe some of you know him!) and he was one of so many people of all ages who were shaped and blessed by Donel’s ministry. (For those of you who are newer to our congregation, Pastor Donel served this church faithfully from 1981 to 2005, and he is among the pastoral leaders whose ministry left an indelible mark on this place, and the love and justice work to which we are called.)
I loved hearing our church, and one of my beloved predecessors, get a shout-out on the “convention floor.” And then Adam (can I call him by his first name if he grew up at our church?) laid out a beautiful vision of how the church can be a pivotal institution for the cause of justice and bridge-building in our world.
And then he did me one better. When he was inviting all churches to consider their call in this movement for justice and peace, he went ahead and quoted one of my favorite preachers, the Rev. Sharon Benton. From our website:
If you have had enough (judgment, fear, sorrow, hypocrisy, status quo), we are a refuge. If you do not have enough (food, warmth, work, help, love), we are a resource. If you already are enough (here, now, always), we are a celebration. If you dream of a world loved enough to sustain thriving life for all, we are a platform for action. If you believe enough is enough, we are a movement. Welcome to First Congregational Church of Bellingham.
I was grateful that those beautiful words got a wide audience that evening. I was excited that the name of our congregation was spoken across the denomination. But I am also blessedly challenged by that moment. It was a timely and excellent reminder that we are, all of us, a gift to this congregation, a gift to this community, and, therefore, a gift to this denomination and this world. There will be times when we don’t feel like much of a gift or think that our words and our vision are inadequate to the task at hand.
But may that little story be a reminder to you, as it is to me: there is no way to know what God will do with our small words, with our little visions, with our ridiculous dreams. There is no way to know who will be blessed and how those blessings will echo again and again.
Thank you for being church with me. Let’s take a deep breath, and look around, and feel the beating of our heart. Because even now, you may begin to hear how God is calling you to what’s next.
PS - to catch a little more about Adam Russell Taylor’s life and ministry, you can check out here: