On Independence Day we continued our work at the United Church of Christ General Synod, finishing early with our business sessions and spending much of the time in plenary session recognizing leaders and volunteers and celebrating the synod. The music in the closing worship inspired some dancing, and the preaching rallied our spirits.
Among the final business actions, we adopted a resolution calling for a $15 minimum wage, added new specifics in our support for disability justice, and called on clergy to undergo diversity training as part of their continuing education.
The morning session was deeply moved when three youth delegates from Trinity UCC in Chicago spoke of their personal experiences with gun violence, including the murders of friends and church members and their own daily fears. This was a moving epilogue to the decision the day before calling for gun violence to be declared a public health emergency.
That morning I was walking along and started chatting with a woman I did not know who was walking near me. She had family in the Omaha metro area and eventually mentioned Ken Evitts, a conservative UCC minister. I said, "Ken and I are good friends." Her jaw dropped. She said, "I'm shocked by that. He's part of Faithful and Welcoming," which is the conservative caucus in the UCC that has often voted against our pro-LGBT stances.
I told her that I thought our friendship often surprised people, but it is a genuine friendship. She was very encouraged to hear about it and encouraged Ken and I to give a speak out on our friendship as an example of how in the church we can cross theological boundaries.
When I approached Ken with the idea, he loved it, and we did just that in the final plenary session of the synod.
One of the great joys of the last week for me was seeing three of my former youth, meaning they were teenagers in my youth groups at churches I once served. In DC I had lunch with Chris Rempert who is now a successful consultant for progressive causes. I was his youth minister from 2003-5 in Dallas, when he was in middle school.
Nathan Watts was attending Synod, as he is now in the process of transitioning from Baptist to UCC. Nathan, who was in the same youth group in Dallas, now works for immigrant rights on the border in Arizona and has turned into a radical activist for Jesus.
Hannah Breckenridge and her husband took me to dinner after the close of Synod. Her father was my senior minister in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Hannah was a sixth grader when I left that church in 2003. She is close to completing her masters in social work and is a vibrant, passionate young adult.
What pride in the good lives the are leading. What joy that I was a small part of their journey and that I can stay in contact with them. And what irony that they are now the age I was when I was their youth minister.