This past weekend was the Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Conference, UCC. More than 400 faithful souls from all over the state gathered at the Green Lake Conference Center to renew connections, conduct the business of our church and explore SHIFT: A Hope-Filled Future, the meeting’s theme.
I was responsible for designing much of the meeting’s programmatic content including our Friday afternoon and Sunday morning worship services; Saturday morning breakout sessions and Saturday evening recognition of 61 lay people who completed either two or four years of our conference’s Lay Academy program.
The main focus of the weekend was on inviting our congregations to set aside the lament of decline and fearfulness to instead focus on being God’s people on the move out into the world. In every way we could think of we wanted to invite our congregations to shift their focus from maintaining what they have to heading out into the community to carry out God’s mission of love, transformation, justice, peace, hospitality, unity, healing and reconciliation. Every congregation, we insisted all weekend long, has a role to play in making sure that the quality of life in their community is on the rise but that role cannot be lived into if we’re stuck behind closed doors wringing our hands over maintaining our buildings and managing our budgets.
After 4 days of large and small group discussions, plenary sessions, keynote speeches, worship, shared meals and plenty of laughter I left the conference center with a huge sense of accomplishment and deep gratitude. All weekend long the energy and enthusiasm in the room was palpable. It seemed people were ready to be unleashed into the world with a sense of purpose – sent out to be God’s people in the world – and encouraged to make a difference in their communities. In her Sunday morning sermon Rev. Tanya Sadagopan shared her conviction that the ministry we ALREADY do in our communities is making a huge difference in people’s lives. One thing we must do better, she said, is to recognize the value of all of the many things we do to make our communities better places to live – from food pantries and community meals to after school programs to support for people who are homeless to making space for AA, Al-Anon and other community groups to meet, to providing support for families to advocating for various peace and justice causes – our congregations make a difference. As we shift our focus from lament to hope we will discover the impact of what we’re already doing and build upon it to truly transform lives and communities with God’s love.
We have a lot of really hard work in front of us. We have taken some really important steps but transforming the habits and traditions of our institutions is going to take a lot more than a great weekend of big dreams and lofty goals. But instead of being overwhelmed by the mountain we have to climb, I find myself energized for taking the next step and figuring out how best to support the amazing and transformative work that is possible when we shift our focus, when we claim our role in the world as God’s hopeful people, and when we choose efforts towards peace and justice; reconciliation and new life.
The photo included with this post is of the artwork that graced our meeting space all weekend long. The sacred smoothie maker in the middle took the raw materials of our fears, laments and despair and transformed them by the power of the Holy Spirit into a beautiful vision of God’s hope-filled future. I can’t wait to see where our next step, and the one after that and the one after that leads us.
Thanks be to God!