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  • Writer's pictureRev. Izzy Harbin

34th General Synod of the United Church of Christ

I cannot recall ever having written anything about General Synod in a Blog Post. Sounds kind of boring, really. But Synod begins on Friday AND the Indiana-Kentucky Conference is hosting the event. So, I have a lot invested in this Synod because it is in our back yard. And it isn’t boring at all – it is super exciting.

This is a time when ministers and lay leaders from across the US come together to the business of the denomination. We hear resolutions of witness – issues that other folks are passionate about and desire the UCC as a whole to support – and we debate the issues recognizing that God is in the midst of it all. We share in times of worship, and there are lots of workshops for those who are in attendance who are not delegates. There is also the SWAG HALL, as I call it. This is where you can go and find all kinds of free goodies as well as purchasable items from a variety of vendors. And for the first time ever, we are hosting Alcoholics Anonymous meetings each night during Synod. There is much to celebrate and be excited about.

We are electing a new General Minister and President of the UCC at this Synod. The nominee is the Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia A. Thompson who is currently Minister of Global Ministries at the national setting. I had the pleasure of hearing her preach at our Annual Gathering and wow, I’m impressed. She is also a poet. Not that my opinion counts for much in these matters, but I think she will make a great General Minister and President. Oh, and did I mention, she will be the first female and the first African American female to ever hold this position.

This Synod will also mark a milestone for the IKC. This is the first time in over 10 years that we have taken a resolution to Synod. Pre-pandemic there was an urgent need in our conference to address the issue of racism in our country and in our conference. Rick Unsicker and I wrote a resolution that resulted in the formation of an Anti-Racism Task Force for our conference. The Task Force was able to facilitate Anti-Racism training for their group and for the Board of Directors. They have been developing a number of initiatives for our conference and decided to submit a resolution to General Synod regarding the issue of reparations. The resolution calls for the study of reparations. There is a clear understanding that the guarantee of 40 acres and a mule upon emancipation is no longer a viable option. However, there is still much to reconcile with our history and reparations are a part of that discussion.

There are other resolutions that are equally important. Here is a quick list of the business we are pursuing:

  1. Denouncing the Dobbs Decision and Proclaiming Abortion as Healthcare

  2. A Resolution Calling for a New Study by our Church on our Relationship with the Indian Boarding Schools and the Boarding Schools in Hawaii

  3. Closing the Digital Divide: Calling on the United Church of Christ to Seek Digital Justice and Inclusion

  4. A Resolution Urging Planning for and Implementing Electrification

  5. Faithful Advocacy for Intersectional and Transformational Healing in Harm Reduction

  6. Affirming Guns to Gardens and Other Gun Violence Prevention Ministries

  7. A Resolution to Urge All Responsible Entities to Join in Reparations to Fund Christian Hawaiian Language Education Programs to Undo a Century of Extinction. Americanization and Indoctrination Policies Extinguished the Original Christian Hawaiian Alphabet

  8. Encouraging a Plant-based life

  9. Free From Plastic Pollution

  10. A Resolution Supporting Public School Educators, Academic Freedom, and Equity Efforts in Schools

  11. A Resolution Condemning Prolonged Solitary Confinement as a Form of Torture

  12. Actively Affirming the Human Dignity of Transgender and Nonbinary Persons

  13. A Resolution Calling on United Church of Christ Local Churches to Witness “A White Supremacy Free Zone” & Confronting White Supremacy

As you can see, the things that people are passionate about are vast and varied. Not all of these will make it to the floor for a vote, but many of them will. We faithfully listen to the arguments for and against and consider the matter carefully before voting. So, how does the vote affect us? Technically, it doesn’t; however, these resolutions of witness reveal the hearts and minds of others in the UCC who are doing a wide variety of ministry work. They often reflect the best that we have to offer in the UCC – a place where folks feel welcomed and loved – and provide a framework for implementation if we, too, want to share in their work.

Each of the delegates is randomly placed on a committee that will examine one of these resolutions and make any necessary changes before recommending it be sent to the floor for a vote. Some will die in committee, but those that make it to the floor will do so only after being studied, prayed over, and discussed by the committees. Corrections will be made as needed, and then it is up to the body as to whether it is supported or not. It is quite the process, really. And it is something to behold; UCCer’s all gathered in plenary, giving their attention to the business at hand, and voting their conscience.

The business side of things is certainly the main reason we gather, but it isn’t the only reason. There are other special events that everyone is encouraged to attend. The National Setting is holding a prayer walk around the state capital and ending on the front lawn of the capital. There will be lots of people involved in this event, but I was asked to deliver the opening prayer, which is a huge honor.

Here is my prayer:

God of Hope – Where are you?

We keep gathering and praying that justice will finally roll down like living streams of water, that your presence in us and others will profoundly shake lose the apathy of lawmakers under whose strain we find ourselves being crushed…and while we feel the crushing weight of apathy, we also know that there is a gravity of spirit that is ever pulling the very essence of who we are into being – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly – but our hope will not fail, nor our compassion be diminished because our hope is in you and our compassion flows from your love for the whole of your creation. And so, we walk, we pray, and we stand on the side of love until living waters wash away everything that binds us to injustice.

In the name of Jesus, the Christ, we pray. Amen.

Our Conference is hosting a huge event that will take place on Sunday afternoon at White River Park. We have Carrie Newcomer and the McClain Family in concert. There will be food trucks owned by minorities on site for folks to purchase food, and there will be informational vendors set up in the park with all kinds of cool stuff. This will be a great event, mid-Synod, to lift our spirits and move us ever forward.

It is an honor to be chosen to attend Synod as a delegate. Doing the business of the church is not something to be taken lightly. I am excited to participate and am honored to represent First Congregational Church, Elkhart.

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