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PNC delegates share experiences of UCC General Synod

Delegates’ reflections offer insights on Synod
and national church operations

Eight PNC delegates and PNC staff were among those attending the 2017 UCC General Synod in June in Baltimore.

Jill Komura of United Churches of Olympia, Meighan Pritchard of Prospect UCC in Seattle, Peter Ilgenfritz of University Congregational UCC in Seattle, and Kyna Shilling, assistant for church camps, were among the PNC delegates and visitors at the 2017 General Synod of the UCC in Baltimore this summer. Photo courtesy of Kyna Shilling

Four of them recently shared reflections on their experiences.

Peter Ilgenfritz, PNC moderator and pastor at University Congregational UCC in Seattle, returns stimulated by conversations in the process of passing resolutions on critical issues.

“I come away thankful for the stewards of our church’s ministry who have the essential gifts of listening for the Spirit and crafting and tweaking language,” he said. 
The engagement in committees, which were hearing about resolutions and shaping responses to bring to the floor of Synod, was an important part of the first couple of days of our work.”

While Peter admits that language crafting is not his strength, it made him grateful for those who do this work. Pacific Northwest Conference member David Anderson, church administrator at University Congregational UCC, again played a central role at Synod in crafting and holding the process of committee hearings.  

Peter was also inspired by the conversations both in the conference hall and outside over meals and in the exhibit hall.

Among the speakers, Glennon Doyle’s outrageous humor and stark honesty about pain and the Rev. William Barber II’s groundbreaking vision and tenacity in starting a national poor people’s campaign were highlights.

“I come home inspired about what our denomination is doing in in the national setting and in conferences throughout the country,” Peter said.  “We were reminded many times, that ‘this is our time’ as church to live into our call to help make a just world for all.

“The world, our country and communities need our witness,” re-inspired to support the UCC’s work in the national and conference settings.

It was the first time Wendy Blight, vice moderator, has been a voting delegate to General Synod, but she has attended several national gatherings.

The focus of General Synod action was on justice, she said, because it had recently adopted the Vision Statement, “United in Christ’s love, a just world for all.”

“Of course, we in the UCC always put a lot of emphasis on social justice, but this year I felt that it had come to the center of our theology and our work,” Wendy said.  “I have returned inspired and ready to work toward a just world for all in our Pacific NW Conference.”

Wendy’s committee assignment was the resolution in Support of Legislation Authorizing Medical Aid in Dying. They heard a presentation from a doctor who has studied this issue for years and from the former husband of a terminally ill woman in great pain and in hospice care. They moved to Oregon so she could end her life legally and with dignity.

“The resolution was approved with minor changes, but did not receive the two thirds majority it needed from the plenary,” said Wendy, aware it is a sensitive issue and for many there are too many questions.

Kyna Shilling of Plymouth in Seattle said her favorite Bible verse (Matt. 18:20), “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am with them,” jumped to mind when she entered the crowded Baltimore Convention Center to join thousands of UCC delegates, clergy and friends for General Synod 2017.

“I couldn’t help but think, ‘Wow, if Jesus is here when we’ve only got 2 or 3 people in a room, what must he think of this!’” she said.

Kyna found the passage apt for the process of Synod, because (in context) “Jesus is talking about how members of the church find consensus, and the whole weekend was one big experiment in listening to and sharing diverse perspectives, finding the ways we agree and disagree, making mistakes and making amends, and being the (big) church together.”

Kyna’s committee discussed the resolution on Witness in Support of Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse and Neglect, calling on all settings of the church to take seriously “our commitment to love and inclusion and welcome, and to provide public support for the healing needs of many adult survivors in our congregations. It also calls for educational materials to be available, and for advocacy around policies that support survivors.”

Given that it’s a sensitive and personal topic for many, and the discussion was passionate and vulnerable.

Kyna was interested in a debate over the use of the word “survivor.”

“For some, it is a label that doesn’t fit them yet, as they still feel like victims who haven’t yet survived the impact of their childhood abuse. For others, the act of claiming their survivor-ship has been essential to their healing process. After much discussion and some edits in wording, the resolution passed out of committee and was approved on the floor of Synod,” she said, inviting folk in the PNC to consider discussing the resolution in their congregation.

Nathaniel Mahlberg, pastor at First Congregational UCC in Walla Walla, found Synod “downright inspiring” in the midst of its “human messiness.”

With most of his experience of UCC community in local churches, as a believer venturing back to church, and then as a minister, larger church bodies arouse his suspicions.

Not much of a joiner, he said, that at the only other UCC General Synod he attended, he felt like an outsider, who didn’t “get” what the big deal was.

“Now I get what the big deal is, and it’s a big, important deal that has actually has something to do with God and with how God is moving through our place and our time,” Nathaniel said.

This synod, he was more in the inner workings of the national setting, not only because he served as a delegate from the PNC but also because of “the strain of striving to be a Sermon-on-the-Mount kind of Jesus follower in our present time of crisis,” he said.

In the big messy gathering of UCC humans, he found an earnest body of folks who had something to teach him about how to be a Sermon-on-the-Mount kind of Jesus follower today.

He was impressed with “the strength in struggling inwardly with our own weaknesses, as we show our strength in struggling outwardly against the abuses of power that roar around us,” Nathaniel said.

“There is a willingness to be honest with ourselves that, for example, however inclusive of the gifts of all God’s people we think we are as the UCC, we still, as a whole, show discrimination against woman, people of color and LBGTQ folks in our hiring practices,” he pointed out.

He also found a willingness to be honest about the great cost of risking to protect “our immigrant siblings and neighbors in our present time.”

“This kind call to both inward and outward honesty and boldness, faithfulness and critical mindedness, resonates in the conversation I have had post-synod with the local congregation I serve, which is not particularly identified with the UCC as a national body,” he said.

He enjoyed getting to know others in the PNC in working together.

“I voted for the ‘right to death with dignity’ resolution. All those in my church I spoke with beforehand supported it. Yet I was relieved it didn’t pass, because I saw that the disagreement was substantive and I wanted the larger body to work more to a consensus on the matter,” Nathaniel said.

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Pacific Northwest United Church News © September-October 2017


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