Time to talk shop in the church: General Synod 31 in Baltimore, MD

The church is in the business of speaking God’s love into the world. The church does not have as a primary mission to talk about its own programming and structure. But then again talking shop is necessary to run any organization. Every two years, General Synod brings together thousands of faithful members of the United Church of Christ for formal church witness, inspirational worship, and fellowship with friends (new and old). As a Protestant church the UCC is built from the bottom up. That means that “higher-ups” cannot speak on behalf of the local congregations. But we are not independent! Instead we are in a covenant relationship. That means all levels of church organization will talk and listen to one another. General Synod speaks to the church, not for the church. So let us listen to some of the resolutions proposed this year at General Synod 31 in Baltimore, MD, which meets June 30-July 4, 2017:

There is an interesting conversation over money. From the beginning of the United Church of Christ we have followed the pattern of giving: The local churches collect their offerings, pay their local operating costs, and then forward funds to the conference level. The conferences receive funds from the local churches, pay their operating costs, and then forward funds to the national setting. So basically the farther removed a ministry is from the people, the harder it will be for them to get funded. The United Church Board of Directors proposes “a new approach to generosity in the United Church of Christ consistent with the best practices of a donor-centered approach to philanthropy.” Basically every setting in the church needs to be empowered to do its own fundraising. That way “congregations and individual donors would be able to donate directly to the mission priorities that are most compelling to them.”

Another highlight is a resolution that calls for parents and guardians to reject corporal punishment and use other methods to train children. It also calls for state and local governments to prohibit corporal punishment in schools and child-caring facilities. Corporal punishment models aggressive behavior as a solution to conflict and sends a message that hitting smaller and weaker people is acceptable. Violence is clearly unacceptable for people that follow Jesus.

The wider church has been working for years on the question of how to change the way persons prepare for ministry. At this point you can either get your Master of Divinity and get ordained for the entire church or you can request licensure for one specific ministry without the requirement of a Master’s Degree. There is a proposal that suggests to basically drop the educational requirements for ordination and grant ordained standing to those who would have previously been licensed. A resolution at General Synod “calls for a time of exploration and transition using the re-visioned Manual on Ministry in our Committees on Ministry prior to the consideration of consequent changes to the UCC Constitution and Bylaws at General Synod in 2019.” A test-drive if you will.

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