All Means All: A Taste for God's Hope in the World

Rev. Rebecca Hale   |   July 21, 2013

In mid-July I attended the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Orlando, Florida. Every two years a call goes out to Disciples to gather for worship, learning, and business. This gathering is often described as a “big family reunion” and can draw as many as 6,000 Disciples. There is a good deal of planning, resources, and hours of volunteer support go into making the General Assembly happen so that the welcome might be wide and the experience fruitful.

The questions can be asked: Do we need to gather as a denomination? Don’t we, in our local church communities have enough people, ministry programs, and justice issues around us? Or, do we need to be connected to Disciples across the neighborhoods, denomination, or even the world? With these questions in mind I traveled to last week’s General Assembly, our “Disciples family reunion,” and experienced two significant moments in the life of our church.

“Becoming a Church of Grace and Welcome”

First, our church became engaged in Resolution #1327 “Becoming a Church of Grace and Welcome,” which was a business item written to proclaim that all people are welcome into our local congregations and other Disciples’ ministries. We welcome all who seek Christ. This resolution refers to our historical roots as Disciples.  When a person claims their love for Christ we do not close the church door nor prevent anyone from the holy table of communion. That said, not all Disciples agree (imagine that!) and this resolution had Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere ablaze for months. There had been real fear that this resolution would split the church with some electing to leave due to the results of the resolution vote.

Given all of that, it was also evident that many were trying very hard to engage this resolution with care and love and to hold each other gently. There were genuine attempts to claim one’s own ground while allowing others to do the same.  Small group conversations using the World Café model of dialogue had people sitting knee to knee trying to see with the eyes of each other.  The keynote speaker that helped to set the stage for these small group discussions was the Rev. Sandhya Jha, a Disciples pastor and Director of the Oakland Peace Center. Rev. Jha reminded us that a simplistic approach we often fall into is "we can either be right or be in relationship." The more complex and meaningful discussion is how to strive towards being in right relationship with one another. Rev. Jha’s words were also echoed in a presentation given by the Rev. Dick Hamm, former General Minister and President, who spoke at a meal and program hosted by the Gay, Lesbian and Affirming Disciples (GLAD). Rev. Hamm reminded us that we are not called to right doctrine but right relationship. He asked us to be aware of “right” and “just” love and the importance of honoring each other.

The vote on Resolution #1327 was taken and it passed by a wide margin. As I walked out of the voting hall two of the most vocal pastors in the resolution debate were at a table in deep dialogue with one another. One pastor felt his church had just made a proclamation that he did not agree with and was not sure if there was still a place for him. The other pastor celebrated that the church is beginning to correct a wrong and proclaim a word of welcome to many that have been at the margins and made silent about their whole identity. Their heads were nearly touching as they spoke and it was so clear that they both were trying to hear each other’s hearts at this sensitive moment and be in right relationship together.

Dismantling Race Prejudice

The second significant moment of our General Assembly for me relates to an emergency resolution that was introduced following the not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. The emergency resolution called for our General Minister and President, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, to work with our ecumenical ministry partners and make a public inquiry into the Zimmerman case and verdict. Rev. Watkins’ words were, “In our gathering together, we may not have the same opinions on what happened in the death of Trayvon Martin, but we are [seeking to be] a pro-reconciling and anti-racist church.” In short, we must ensure that racial prejudice and justice for all, especially our young children, can be assured and sustained.

These two stories and moments in the gathering of our Disciples community can serve as symbols for all of us. We are reminded that we embody a community of grace and welcome where all does indeed mean all. The experience of conversation, debate, and accompanying one another in a quest for justice is like a taste of God’s hope for the world. Our efforts to listen and speak, to stay at the table in dialogue even when we disagree, and our attempts to dismantle barriers that prevent a full inclusion... these moments can be a taste of the kind of community that God would have us be.

The mission of the National Benevolent Association, a general ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is about inspiring connections of people and ministries, accompanying, caring, and advocating with and on behalf of each other. Our work of incubating new health and social service ministries, initiating collaborative partnerships of care, and connecting mission partners to learn and grow stronger together... these too are symbols of this taste of God’s hope for the world.

For those who returned from General Assembly to our daily work and ministries, as well as those who listened and watched from afar, this biennial gathering of our whole Disciples church left much for us to consider, reflect upon, and to be inspired for further action. In our gathering together we become God’s communion, a taste of God’s mercy and justice. We can indeed be in right relationship with and for each other and serve to bring about hope in our world today.

Rev. Rebecca Hale serves as the NBA Vice President of Mission and Ministry. Contact her by email or phone at (314) 993-9000 ext. 9038.

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Monica Wedlock Kilpatrick

Director of Connect Ministries

Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth, Inc. focuses on providing healing for children and youth who have experienced abuse, neglect, and abandonment, as well as equipping them for a more positive and productive future.