Global Ministries As A Commitment To A Common Journey
I want to take this opportunity to express my deep appreciation to Cally and David for the invitation to be here with you for this special recognition and anniversary of the CGMB. What you do today is to honor Board members and staff who worked so diligently and faithfully to establish this new ecumenical entity, the CGMB. Some of these persons are no longer with us, particularly Dr. Scott Libbey who championed the cause of unity and mission and provided so much support to this effort that I wish to dedicate this presentation this evening to their memory.
I also want to thank you on behalf of the larger extended family of our two denominations for the continuation of our vision and commitment that we would partner together to “do mission wherever and whenever possible” and “to not do separately what we could do together”. Very simply those words encapsulate the vision that was ours and you now are guardians of that vision, Board members and staff of the CGMB.
I always have to remind myself that even though the CGMB began functioning ten years ago, the journey toward that common vision began in l988. It was a full eight years of preparation before the CGMB became a reality. I was part of the staff long enough to experience the first two years of its life before God called me back to the warm weather and beaches of southern California…one does not say “no” to the Lord.
I am not unaware of the struggles and many transitions that this Board has been through although not in great detail. So I understand the need to take assessment of the past and to prepare for the journey into the future. When you prepare for any journey, you want to know the destination. I feel that way more and more these days which could be part of the aging process. There are those among us who would say the destination is not as important as the journey itself. As I reflect on the development of the CGMB I can appreciate the many learnings on the way to our final goal, the establishment of the CGMB but I can’t honestly say that without that vision, without that goal before us that we would have gone on the trip just for the sake of taking the journey.
You have a rich legacy of commitments to inform your journey into the future. The following are the commitments that grew out of our struggle:
1. a commitment to the unity of the church and to the fulfillment of God’s mission in and through our ecumenical partnership. The two Boards, UCBWM and DOM committed to this effort out of our commitment to the partnership between our two churches. We did not enter into global partnership because we were facing financial difficulties. The CGMB was a genuine effort to understand that mission and unity went together;
2. a commitment to share spiritual and material resources with recognition that these are God’s resources, not ours. This particular commitment did not come easy. We struggled with how the financial assets of each Board were going to be represented at the table. Would each Board have voting rights that reflected a percentage of the assets being contributed? There was a major break through at a meeting of the joint long range planning committee when a member of the UCBWM (who held the larger financial portfolio) said “we need to understand that all these resources are God’s and that we will sit at the table as equals and determine their use. At that moment the CGMB was born. The addition of the overseas partners at the table who would not be contributing financial resources was a blessing, understanding that we were simply stewards of God’s resources and that resources included both financial and spiritual;
3. a commitment not to do separately what we can do together…to quote from the Ecumenical Partnership agreement “to do mission together wherever and whenever possible”;
4. to take counsel with our overseas partners…without the collective wisdom and decision making under girded by partnership the integrity of our global ministries would be seriously compromised; and
5. a commitment to work together as staff and Board members in the spirit of unity and while not expecting everyone to be on the same page all the time, that major and significant decisions would be made and owned by everyone. This particular commitment was extremely important to us….our relationships deepened and our spirits were energized when we were able to work through details and often minutiae with a sense of trust and transparency. I do not intend to suggest that we did not experience pain and hurt in the process of the journey we were on, we did. There were tough staffing decisions, financial realities and disappointments but we never gave up. We kept each other focused on the game plan and brought along the way new staff and Board members that were joining us in the midst of this all. And finally,
6. not to be deterred by the naysayers along the way who find it difficult to accept the reality of the CGMB. I hope that this is not the case any longer but it was a constant irritant as we came into the final innings of the ball game….I recall an interesting conversation with national UCC staff who in anticipation of the first UCC restructure kept telling me that the CGMB didn’t fit their plans…it just doesn’t fit they would argue. My response was, “So what?” So what if it doesn’t fit. Since when was “fitting in” such a high priority for the UCC? The “So What?” question is not meant to demean, to dismiss or silence others’ legitimate concerns but it is a fair question whenever we are confronted with change. What does it matter and to whom that the status quo be maintained? Jesus often responded to the Sadducees and Pharisees (the legalists of the day) when they confronted him with his alleged violation of the traditions with the same rhetorical question: “So what?” So what if I heal on the Sabbath, so what if I share water at the well with a woman? Those of us engaged in deepening the missional relationship between the UCC and CCDOC were arrogant enough to believe that in creating the CGMB we were offering a gift to our two denominations and that anyone or anything that got in our way would be convinced by our commitments and perseverance. It was these commitments that held us together and kept us focused on the task and they are the legacy of this Board.
We are now in a restructure sequel, as I like to refer to it….the CGMB facing new challenges of “fitting in”. I was pleased to see upon arriving here this afternoon, that the Wider Church Ministries Covenanted Board voted to support the restructure, the sequel. I am also pleased to know that the issue of the partnership with the CC (DOC) has been raised as critical to the conversation. It is my hope that this body will have an opportunity to seriously contribute to the discussion taking place within the UCC. You have much to contribute to the issues facing the UCC and better to face them together than be treated as a disinterested party. These are tough times and they require the best thinking of all of us.
What I would like to communicate to you most of all today is that we desperately need your leadership and your experience as we seek to create the global communities of faith of the future. Every time I start talking like this among my own people in southern California they start getting a bit anxious, but here I go. I do not envision that these new global worshipping communities of faith will necessarily be Christocentric communities but that Christians will be but one of the faith groups or individuals seeking to develop serious relationships with people of other faiths. With the growing multiplicity of culture and faith groups emerging among us, intermarriages, a more universal and common search for life in the spirit, particularly among the young, and the technological advances that create global relationships over the internet…I see growing evidence that institutional religious life as we have known it will have to make room for this new phenomenon. Let me just share from my own Conference context.
The SCNC is a Conference where the Asian American, Pacific Islander and Latino communities now dominate the landscape; our established local congregations are perplexed about how to shape their religious life in relationship to a multiplicity of new languages, new customs and beliefs. Accustomed to worshipping and doing mission/ministry in certain ways has led to an inertia and almost paralysis of the ability to sing a new song or even begin writing the lyrics of what might become a melody of new songs that we can sing together in these new contexts. When I returned to southern California in 1988, I received a copy of a report that was issued by the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture. This report indicated that “more than 600 separate faith communities have established religious centers in Los Angeles neighborhoods.” Among Christians approximately 70% are Catholic and 26% are Protestant. Of that 26%, 29% are mainline Christians, 55% are Evangelical and 16% are Pentecostal. About 10% of those who identify with the Judeo Christian traditions are Jewish…We have 131 Buddhist Temples, 58 Mosques, 6 Bahai Worship centers, 18 Hindu Temples, 16 Shinto worship centers and 28 Tenrikyo churches and fellowships.
Why is all of this important? Because what happens in the west will soon become a reality in the rest of the nation. What fuels these new global communities of faith are the unprecedented patterns of immigration and globalization… and there is little doubt that the search for a common life in the spirit will bring people together in new communities that we cannot even imagine. When the prophet Isaiah summoned his people back to Jerusalem he said “for I know their works and their thoughts and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues and they shall come and see my glory and I will set a sign among them”. (Isaiah 66:18)
We need to create the mechanisms for serious theological conversation as we face the alarming lack of understanding among our people on issues of immigration, economic globalization and the reliance of this nation upon militarization as a solution to all our foreign policy initiatives…just remember of the wall that is being constructed on the border of my own Conference that was preceded by armed militiamen.
The CGMB’s Guiding Principles and your commitment to a “critical presence” (and I am referring here to the strategic directions related to critical presence) speak directly to these emerging realities. The commitment to working with local congregations runs through all the strategic directions particularly Direction #2 “Thinking Globally, Acting Locally”.
Strategic Direction #2 offers: “assistance and a process to local congregations in becoming a global mission church; developing an understanding of Critical Presence; supporting local congregations in the discernment of mission priorities and programs; providing educational opportunities and resources about global ministry; encouraging interfaith relationships and relationships with peoples/groups with whom we share a vision of peace, justice and the integrity of creation.”
We have no place at the moment that I am aware of where serious conversation is taking place between Disciples of Christ and UCC leadership on these pressing issues. May I suggest to you that that task may now fall upon you, the CGMB. Perhaps you need to lead us once again into conversation and dialogue guided by these thoughtful and important commitments you have made. Perhaps a place to start would be with Conference and Regional Ministers who have their hands on the pulse of the national and general ministries of our two churches as well as the local congregational settings. I know that the CGMB would benefit from firsthand information on these realities and the many overseas relationships that are a result of this demographic phenomenon that are challenging our notions of mission and we would benefit from the knowledge, experience and skill that you all bring to the enterprise of God’s mission.
I believe there is energy and a will for this type of an initiative. We are all hunkered down in our respective places inundated with concerns about the maintenance of our institutional life, often isolated. I am saddened to report that our gatherings as Conference Ministers rarely includes this type of dialogue that produces fresh ideas and a sense of genuine collaboration about the future. I know that my colleagues are concerned in the same way that I am about that lack of interaction among us on these critical issues of our time.
The greatest obstacle to unleashing a new chorus of song among us is the obsession with the survival of our institutions as we have known them. When you are consumed by a survival mentality you cannot break free to think creatively about new models of doing church or in the case of global ministries of doing mission. I have been a church bureaucrat for almost 30 years and if any one has a self interest in the preservation of our institutions it should be me but we must take the words of Jesus seriously when he said “you must lose your life in order to find life”. I suggest to you that that includes institutions who in the name of the faith, continue to live in fear.
On October 29 the SCNC UCC and the Pacific Southwest Region of the CC (DOC) jointly ordained a young man to ministry. It was the first such joint ordination for both our denominations in that area. He came from neither the UCC nor the DOC tradition but connected with a local Disciples congregation through which he discovered the UCC and sought to embrace both our denominations. He proceeded to complete both ordination processes and on the 29th, my colleague Don Shelton and the UCC Southern Association conducted the service of ordination. For me personally this young man embodied what our partnership is all about. It was a very moving moment and I realized how little I have done to move us forward in the very areas that I have shared with you today.
We share offices with the DOC Region and while Don Shelton and I consult regularly on a variety of issues and enjoy a warm relationship, we have not done anything in my opinion that furthers, in concrete ways, initiatives that might respond to these new realities in our midst that would broaden our understanding of global ministries. We need a good kick in the pants, a wake up call to reenergize this partnership and to not only renew our commitment to this common ministry among us but to find ways to be supportive of each other in this incredible time of change that is upon us. We have got to find new answers to the perplexing questions that face us but we don’t take the time to explore those new possibilities among us and so we wind up reaching back to old solutions that we are comfortable with rather than striking out in new directions and taking some risks.
I read a theological book not long ago entitled “The Risk Taking God”. It’s premise was that we are in relationship with a living God whose ways are not set in stone and can be persuaded (think about that…can be persuaded) to take risks with us in our search for oneness and unity. That is what the CGMB and our journey was all about…a search for oneness and unity. We are on a common journey but I don’t think we have a clue how dynamic and dramatic a journey it is and that Global Ministries is at the heart of that journey.