Delivered at the First Congregational Church, Columbus, Ohio by Ms. Edith Guffey, Associate General Minister of the office of General Ministries, United Church of Christ, on February 25, 2001.
Good morning. I bring you greetings from the other four officers of our church, my colleagues, Bernice Powell Jackson, Executive Minister for Justice and Witness Ministries, Dale Bishop, Executive Minister for Wider Church Ministries, Joe Malayang, Executive Minister for Local Church Ministries and John Thomas, General Minister and President. I know that they join me in expressing appreciation to you for the ministry and mission that you provide in this area and for the many ways you are partners with us in the national offices as well. I also want to thank you for the generous support this church provides to the basic mission funding that supports the work of the national setting of the United Church of Christ. Last year you contributed $39,048 to Our Church's Wider Mission and you have increased that contribution in 2001 to $44,745. Those dollars go to support the work of the United Church of Christ in so many ways, from starting new churches, to curriculum development for Sunday School, to action alerts on a range of social justice actions, to supporting overseas missionaries, to helping churches find pastoral leadership and the list goes on and on. So thank you for your willingness to be in partnership with us through your OCWM dollars.
I am delighted to be with you this morning and thank Tim for the invitation. I always feel a bit strange in the pulpit of a church on Sunday mornings as my early upbringing in the Missionary Baptist Church continues with me, and back in those days in that denomination, pulpits were for those who were ordained and those who were ordained were men, that may still be the case. But we all have to challenge ourselves to move beyond old learnings and understandings don't weeven if they creep up on us occasionally. My family and I moved to Ohio from Lawrence, Kansas where I was Associate Director of Admissions a little over nine years ago when I accepted the position to serve as the Secretary of the United Church of Christ. Since then we have been forced to learn what a Buckeye is, we've noticed this strange attachment to gray and red. In Cleveland; we have learned that the city lives and breathes baseball and they are personally insulted when there isn't a sea of orange and brown on the streets during those crisp fall and soon to be freezing Sunday afternoons. We anxiously listen now to see if it's "lake effect snow" and know that in the winter, we should take every opportunity that we possibly can to see the sun because it appears rather infrequently from December to April. Having been in Cleveland for over nine years now, the really scary thing is that we don't think any of these things are unusual now . . . . because it's home. And I am pleased to have the opportunity to serve as the Associate General Minister of our church and am humbled by the trust that has been place in me.
Now, I have much to be grateful for and I give thanks for many things. And this week, as I prepared this, my third sermon of the month, I have thanked God over and over again that I am a lay person and that God has not called me to be a local church pastor that has to prepare a sermon every week. We all know what our real gifts are don't we? I am first an administrator and somewhere fairly far down the list a preacher. So while I am delighted to be with you this morning, I struggled over this sermon. This is transfiguration Sunday and while I respect those who use the lectionary religiously to guide their preaching, I have no formal theological training and I'm not about to preach on the transfiguration! But I was taken with the text in 2nd Corinthians, Chapter 3 that was read this morning and want to use a very small portion of that text as a place to start our conversation. Verse 12 reads..."Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness . . . . Acting Boldly. And the last verse of the scripture for this morning, 2nd Corinthians Chapter 4, verse one reads: Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not loose heart,.i.e. . . . Living Faithfully. Those two verses struck me as appropriate for us this morning and so I want to talk about Acting Boldly and Living Faithfully. You can imagine my suprise when Tim brought me a bulletin lst nigh and I saw the sermon title that I had given my secretary, "Acting With Boldness . . . Keeping the Faith." Let's just say that the sermon morphed somewhere along the way, and today it's "Acting Boldly, Living Faithfully." You don't know this, but I have been on the mailing list of this church for well over six years, I think, so I have been receiving and reading your newsletter for quite some time. I knew Robert Shannon Moran, Carolyn Pettigrew, and because he served as chairperson of a key committee of the Local Arrangements Committee when the General Synod was here in Columbus, I know John Gantt and now I know Tim Ahrens. While I have not known any of them all that well, other than Tim now, because I knew of them, and because of your newsletter, I know something of your life as a congregation. I know that you have experienced some difficult times and am thankful for the new life, energy and vitality that seems to be present now in this congregation. We all have good times and bad as individuals, and as churches, that is nothing to be ashamed ofthe healthy churches persevere and come through them and that is what you have done. You have a relatively new pastor, just a year ago your Church Council initiated a long range planning process and by the end of last year you had adopted a vision plan for the new millennium. And so this morning, as you are in the first few months of this vision, these two verses seemed just right for you at this particular juncture in your life as a congregation. Acting boldly . . . . Living Faithfully.
How does a congregation in the new millennium, Act Boldly? I want to suggest three very important ways for you to consider. I hope you will explore acting boldly in your welcome and in your witness and in your willingness to hang in for the long haul and I want to talk about what that might mean for you as a faith community.
We all know what the word bold means, but I'm a fairly literal person and sometimes I actually go to the dictionary to look up the formal definitions of words. The word bold means Bold- courageous and daring . . . . not hesitating to breach the rules of propriety . . . . imaginative, beyond the usual limits of conventional thought or action . . . .conspicuous to the eye . . . . flashy or showy. Now, I'm not real big on being flashy or conspicuous, but that's not a bad idea in this case. I challenge you to have a bold welcome in this congregation. What does that mean? Well, one of the huge challenges that the United Church of Christ has embraced, is to be a multiracial and a multicultural church, open and affirming, accessible to all. That action was taken by the General Synod back in 1993 and sometimes we say it so often that it can become a throw away phrase that is nothing more than jargon. But if we take that challenge seriously, we are talking about congregations that are willing to Act Boldly in their welcome. Congregations that transform themselves into extravagant places of welcome. A welcome that is bold really welcomes persons of all racial and cultural backgrounds. That doesn't just mean saying anyone is welcome here, and if they come we greet them and they are welcome to join us. If we are really going to be a multiracial and a multicultural church, that means that not only do we welcome all races and cultures to our churches and ask them to join us . . .we join them. In fact, we join them even before they are here. A true multiracial and a multicultural church can and does explore and experience different kinds of worship styles, different kinds of music, listens and tunes their ears to scriptures read in both English and other languages. A multiracial and multicultural church looks at their life as a congregation with lenses that are attuned and sensitive to difference. A multiracial and a multicultural church celebrates and embraces the gift of diversity even before the congregation is diverse itself. The very life of the congregation, its program, mission, worship, and community involvement is attuned to the diversity in our society. Several years ago, I was asked to speak at a church on the Sunday before Martin Luther King Day and of course it was in recognition and celebration of that day. This was a church whose membership voted 55% to 45% in 1953 that "the church will welcome into its membership any person who seeks to follow the Lord Jesus and who proposes to live according to His Law of Love..." That vote went on to say "We believe it to be the will of the great majority of this congregation that no one be denied membership because of race or color." That was a tremendous witness in 1953. I was in that church about 46 years later and it felt like a church that was totally and completely Euro American. Now I have no intention of putting down any style of worship or music, but there are many styles aren't there? There was no music that recognized any worship experience other than Euro American, there were no pictures in the church that showed or recognized people of color, there was nothing in the bulletin that encouraged the congregation to join into community celebrations of Martin Luther King Day . . . . there was nothing . . . .to indicate that this church both valued and embraced diverse peoples and cultures. This church that took such a bold action in 1953, by 1997 had not been able to embrace the fullness of the diversity that they so boldly stood for that June day in 1953. This was an integrated church and it had not moved beyond that point in over 40 years.
I attend Federated Church in Chagrin Falls, Ohio and I love that church in many ways, but it is struggling with how it might live out a vision that the congregation adopted to be a multiracial and a multicultural church. So on the Sunday before Martin Luther King Sunday, I decided to worship someplace that might more fully recognize this important day and so I went to Pilgrim Church on the near West side of Cleveland. This church is primarily a Euro American church, but not totally. It says that it is a multiracial/multicultural church, open and affirming, accessible to all. The service was very moving. I was surrounded by a congregation that had persons of different races, like the one I was in several years ago, but the music was a blend of what we would recognize as traditional Euro American worship with familiar hymns, there was a jazz trio comprised of two Euro Americans and two African Americans, they played and sang music that is representative of my heritage as an African American, the litany for the day was a wonderful blend of appreciation for the struggle of civil rights and a challenge for us all to do more and be betterit was a bold statement about who that church is. This was not my first visit to that church, and I know from other times that I have been there, that they do many other things that proclaim who they are as a congregation. I know that this church has a number of openly gay and lesbian members and they have taken great strides to be accessible to persons who are differently abled and to ease those discomforts that sometimes happen when persons of different economic classes joint together. That is the kind of bold welcome that I challenge you to this morning. Remember the definition of boldcourageous and daring; not hesitating to breach the rules of propriety; imaginative; beyond the usual limits of conventional thought or action; conspicuous to the eye; flashy or showy. It is not especially courageous or daring these days to have an integrated church. It was in 1953 . . . . it was acting boldly in 1852 when those 42 members left Second Presbyterian Church to form third Presbyterian Church over the issue of slavery, that was a statement about a bold welcome. That is your history, and you have an opportunity to build on that history. We are called to be and do more today. The world has changed and integration where persons of color come into white congregations and leave behind rich histories and experiences serve to short change us as churches. We are richer and more complete when we experience and embrace the fullness of God's gift of differences. I find it more than a bit ironic that the most segregated time and place in our country are in our churches on Sunday morning. I know all the reasons and have heard all of the explanations, but in this new millennium Acting Boldly in our welcome requires us to be actively involved in doing more than just having surface conversations and the occasional interaction with persons who are different that we are. Sometimes that means we have to create those opportunities, but it can be done and must be done if we are ever going to really move beyond he rhetoric about being a multiracial and a multicultural church. Boldly welcome persons into your life and allow yourselves to be enriched and changed as a result of their presence among you.
You know, being bold in our welcome is not a new challenge is it? The challenge has been with us since Christ came. Isn't that what salvation is? A bold welcome? Come, all who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest . . . . Wasn't the very life of Jesus beyond conventional thought and aren't we then called to live lives that are imaginative and beyond conventional thought or action? Think about it, how many times are we to forgive? Seventy times seven . . . if anyone strikes you on the right cheekturn the other; if anyone wants to sue you and take your coatgive your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one milego the second mile. Jesus calls us to live lives that are beyond conventional thought. Welcome others boldly into this congregation.
Secondly as you continue working on your vision for the new millennium, I hope you will be bold in your witness. Now in the United Church of Christ, we sometimes shy away from the word witness. I think that we are reminded of more conservative religions that talk a lot about witnessing. When I was in High School I was in Youth for Christ and one of the things we were supposed to do was witnesstalk to others about our faith. I don't really know why, but that was especially hard for me and I always felt guilty for not doing it. But today, I know that we witness to our faith to the gospel also by how we serve. Every time we minister to those in need, every time we support and care for the hungry, the homeless, every time we move beyond ourselves as individuals and as a congregation, we witness to the love of Christ that is within us. You are in a downtown church, you know the needs of this area much better than I and, while I encourage you to be bold in your welcome in, I also encourage you just as strongly to be bold in your service outward. Bold in giving your time to the community and to the church, bold in looking for ways that this church can touch hearts and change lives. Direct service is a form of witness . . . do it and do it BOLDLY. This church is also located in the state capital. I believe that part of being bold in your witness is to engage the political process for change that creates a more justice oriented world and society. How can this church act boldly to influence the political discourse in this state. One of the things that first attracted me to the United Church of Christ was that it is a church that engages the social issues of its timewe have done it since the Amistad and we continue to do so today, in this country and around the world. I will never forget being at the General Synod in 1993 where Desmond Tutu spoke and said to us as a church . . . the victory over apartheid is your victory as well . . . the United Church of Christ was one of the first churches to speak out against apartheid, long before it was popular to do so. Jonathan Kozol, at the General Synod in 1999 spoke of the devastating plight of children in the South Bronx and he spoke of the United Church of Christ as a church that has historically supported the call for quality public education for all. Can this church become engaged in the conversation about school funding? What are you going to do about the widening gulf between the haves and have nots? What about guns and violence, in our schools, in our homes and on our streets, what about 12 - 15 year old children being tried in a justice system that has decided to try them as adults? How about the death penalty and the complex moral questions we have to face when we look at this as Christians? We all have different political opinions and persuasions don't we? We can engage in an active conversation about how our faith informs our politics . . . we can't really keep them separate can we? Jesus says to us all very clearly, if you love me, feed my sheep. We must be bold witnesses to the world both in our direct service and in our efforts to seek justice for all.
And finally, I hope you will be bold in your willingness to hang in there for the long haul. Acting boldly in welcome and witness is not easy. There will be strong differences of opinions among you if you decide to look at both direct service and advocacy for justice in any number of arenas. If you decide to embark on a course of bold welcome, you may experience fear among you, fear of differences, fear and sadness over the possibility of losing the familiar and comfortable as you welcome others in. Deeply rooted and even somewhat subconscious stereotypes might surface and a reluctance and discomfort about talking honestly with each other about race or sexual orientation may sneak in among you. And that is precisely why this sermon is not only about Acting Boldly. I'll bet you thought I'd forgotten about the Living Faithfully part didn't you? Well, I didn't because I believe we can act boldly, really act boldly to the extent that we can live faithfully. See, living faithfully means that we know we are not alone in our struggles, we are not relying on our own power which is often if not always limited; living faithfully means living with a deep abiding hope and a surety that God is indeed with us. Living Faithfully means that we are not daunted by what appears to be overwhelming odds, because we know with unshakable certainty that the reign of God will come. Living faithfully are my words for a nice catchy title, it goes well with Acting boldly doesn't it? But remember the actual words? Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not loose heart. I think that says it all doesn't it . . . keep the faith . . . keep on keeping on . . . we are engaged in his ministry by God's mercy, not of our own . . .and we know that God will not leave us or forsake us and so we do not loose heart. Remember the words `I am with you always even to the ends of the world.' Living faithfully empowers us to Act Boldly.
Now I expect to continue to get your newsletter. I'll read bits and pieces of how you are progressing in your vision for the New Millennium . . . . Forward in Faith I think, it's called; that's a good theme. I'll be reading and watching, and praying for you, and I'm confident that there will be signs that you are committed to a bold welcome and a bold witness and by living faithfully as a community of faith, you will be able to hang in there for the long haul, during the difficult times that you will surely encounter. Do not loose heart. Act boldly . . . .live faithfully. I'll be cheering you on.
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