My apologies for not writing in the last two days ... it has been a little intense here at General Synod. 15 hour days, tense dialogue and negotiation, innumerable prayers, and right in the middle, something that always seems miraculous to this veteran Synod junkie ... holy communion for 5000 people. If the United Church of Christ at its denominational level is nothing else, we are organized.
Worship is my favorite part of General Synod - the variety of hymns and liturgies, the due honor given to our diverse family of histories and cultures, the dynamic preaching and innovative worship ideas. But the real work of the Synod is the resolutions and the real heroes are the committees who deliberate and edit, leaning on the flow of the Holy Spirit and the ever-new light that seems to break forth from God's Word. The process is ingeniously simple. Resolutions that come by an appropriate deadline are assigned to committees, and then delegates are randomly assigned to those committees. The delegates are responsible for doing a little pre-Synod research but upon their arrival, there are plenty of opportunities during the first few days of Synod to attend hearings, gain more knowledge from workshops and engage experts, proponents and opponents. On Sunday (Day 3), the committees gather to edit and amend the resolutions, coming to a recommendation to either approve, disapprove or take no action once the resolution is presented on the Synod floor.
Some resolutions are "sleepers," the information provided raises little debate and the votes can easily be predicted. Others are extremely complex, with inflammatory verbage and debated statements of subjective truth. This year, wouldn't you know? I ended up on a committee dealing with a resolution that took every ounce of committee time to "unpack" and an additional three hours of fine tuning, only for the resolution to end in defeat by the Synod when it got to the floor. Sigh.
Ten years ago, the last time I was a delegate, I was on another challenging committee, attempting to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly. The entire Synod spent five days in deep toil, researching and dialoging and praying - so much so, that when the final vote was taken, there was no celebration. After a vast majority of us passed the affirmation of same sex marriage, there was no applause. The General Minister and President stood and offered a grievously serious prayer, pleading with God to send the Holy spirit to attend to us, to give us courage and strength and to protect us from persecution in the church. Unfortunately, the media made the situation worse, misunderstanding and misrepresenting our polity, and neglecting to report on the painstakingly difficult but faithful work that went into passing the resolution. Many delegates faced angry, misinformed people when they returned home - and some never recovered.
Do not think for one moment that any delegate to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ takes the task lightly, but also do not think for one moment that the purpose of the resolutions at General Synod are meant to control the local churches or tell the pastor what to do. These resolutions can do no more than advise, suggest, empower a congregation to consider, study, pray about, discuss any given issue. So if you have questions, come talk to me and we will figure it out together.
On Sunday, if you attend the 10:15 am service, you will get to hear about what I affectionately call "Synod Syndrome." It is the appearance that, after having gone to General Synod, I have been infected with some kind of strange virus that alters my level of enthusiasm ... as in turns the volume WAY up. The problem is that it has started already and it isn't even Day 1 of General Synod yet. Just from my experience at the "Open and Affirming Coalition National Gathering" (of which I only attended the workshops) and the Healing Service at the Amistad Chapel (our denomination's "Church House"), I'm already FIRED UP!!! I walked away from the workshops with the clear sense that we can actually DO this process, and that it will be good on SO many levels to have the conversation. At the Healing Service, not only did I run into a couple dozen old friends, and got to sing in the Coalition Choir (on my bucket list) and got to hear a PHENOMINAL preacher but I got to do two things that I never taken the time to do. I was able to thank someone who inspired me during my FIRST Synod experience to go to seminary. I was also able to personally confess and seek forgiveness from someone that, out of my ignorance and fear, I thoughtlessly disregarded for years.
It might surprise you that someone like me - intentionally inclusive, progressively minded, passionately Christian - might have such ignorance and fear but its true. As soon as they called for us to come forward and receive healing, I made a b-line for Barbara. I didn't need oil on my forehead and a blessing. I needed to hold Barbara's hands and look her in the eye and make amends. I needed to tell her that I finally understood. I needed to tell her that I wanted to get to know her better and no longer make assumptions. She didn't disrespect me with "it's o.k;" instead she told me how important that was for her to hear. Back at my seat, one of my choir friends held my hand and prayed with and for me. What a powerful experience it is to know that we are a part of a denomination that comes together like that!
I gave it a couple of days ... perhaps I was thinking that I'd calm down a little. At first, after word of Wednesday's shooting at Mother Emanuel entered my consciousness, I was filled with a numbness that is hard to describe. The details came to me like ghosts appearing randomly ... 9 black people ... church basement ... white gunman ... "my, he looks so young." I posted a prayer. And then, I started reading - REALLY reading. And I think, at some point, those ghosts morphed into rocks, like the kind that looters throw at glass windows.
Standing before the shattered glass of my psyche, I am angry ... and unspeakably sad. This is no cartoon or video game where the victim of violence gets back up to go another round. One of those victims is a relative of a friend of mine; I can attest that they were real people. They were engaging in activities that happen all the time in all kinds of churches - studying the Bible, showing hospitality to the stranger, probably fellowshipping over decaf coffee so that someone didn't have to be up all night. I can't help wondering whether even more irony is to be found in the "radical" gospel text that they were studying. But because they were BLACK, and not "white like me," somebody decided that something had to be done.
I know the shooter ... not literally but close enough. I know that hate runs deep, is learned, and is purposeful - one hates what one fears or envies and the goal is always destruction of the "other" in order to boost oneself. I know that drugs strip away social inhibitions and moral boundaries that prevent one from acting on impulses illogically and immorally. I also know that that there are always warning signals before violence occurs - warning signals, in this case, that were not heeded, were not taken seriously, and incredulously, were charismatic (why else would you gift a troubled teen with a gun?).
As a Christian and as a pastor, I know that I should be on deck with forgiveness, but all I've heard is a confession from the shooter, and confession is not the same as repentance. I've heard the uncle perpetuate the myth that violence should be used to answer violence - "I’d be the executioner myself if they would allow it. He left us with something we’ll never be able to escape.” Forgiveness applied too hastily becomes an excuse, and I won't excuse anyone from taking responsibility ... not even me. I participate in privilege when I don't do anything as well as when I do. It's been a couple of days now; maybe it is time that I do more than stand before the shattered glass of my psyche feeling angry and unspeakably sad.
Well, for several hours now, I've searched my brains trying to figure out what to write. This IS a momentus occasion, after all - my first official blog post. Two or three years ago, I finally learned how to text and since then I've posted hundreds of posts on Facebook, tweeted exactly once (before my kids did - HA!), and created a Pinterest board. As I am typing this, I am worried that I will not have the kind of time it takes to "blog" well so - "dear reader" - I am really depending upon you to encourage me. Is it right for me to ask for suggested topics? I don't even know what proper protocol is, but I would love to hear from you.
You might know that I've recently "graduated" from a Spiritual Direction program. It was geared toward groups, and they really never mentioned this, but it seems to me that when someone is as nervous as I am - a 50 year old creating my first blog - it is good to start from my happy place. So I found a picture of it (above): mountains, lake, trees ... solid rock, fluid water, and life ... all in the same location. No, I'm not on the boat. I'm out on the end of that dock, right in the middle of it all, sitting cross-legged with my eyes closed and my hands turned up to receive whatever I'm meant to receive. No, you probably won't hear me say much out there, but I'm probably thinking it. In my mind, "Of the Father’s Love Begotten" is probably playing - that is my favorite mantra hymn. It makes me smile just thinking about it now.
I know a blog is supposed to be a discussion or an informational site with discrete posts, so ... maybe between posts, we can talk about your happy place, dear reader. Describe it to me - or find a picture. And if that isn't protocol? Sigh. Back to my happy place ...
Until next time ... blessings.
Rev. Lori Keller Schroeder was ordained in the United Church of Christ in September 1984 and has served five congregations throughout her professional vocation. She has authored two published books and countless articles and curriculums. In addition to her professional achievements, she has raised three children and is an active volunteer for several community groups including Girl Scouts, Girls Inc and Junior Achievement.