On Monday, delegates to the 32nd General Synod in Milwaukee struggled with the demands of justice in a world rife with racism, sexism, and heterosexism. Sometimes they wrestled with the evils of the nations. Despite clouds and rain, over 500 took to the streets in the afternoon, marching a mile to the local offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The protesters called for reforms to the Administration’s policies that have resulted in rising detentions of migrating people, including imprisonment of children and separation of families.
Originally planned in response to the deportation of Betty Rendon, a Lutheran student pastor who served Emaus Evangelical Lutheran Church in Racine, the demonstration received additional energy and urgency when the President issued orders for expanded sweeps last week. Delegates voted to delay the start of the afternoon’s plenary in order to attend the rally.
Earlier in the day, delegates faced the realities of racism, sexism, and heterosexism in the Church itself. After a speedy and enthusiastic vote to raise the Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson to Associate General Minister for Global Engagement, the re-election of the Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer as General Minister and President prompted considerable debate. Delegate after delegate rose in opposition, as the UCC has never nominated a woman to the senior office. Most expressed their respect and affection for Dorhauer himself, but believed it was time for someone other than a white heterosexual male to lead the denomination.
In the end, the delegates re-elected Dorhauer, exceeding the required 60% majority by thirty votes.
The assembly also passed resolutions approving of the Green New Deal, breaking the silence on sexual assault, denouncing white supremacist violence, and requesting new language for the governing documents to eliminate gendered language.
Kristen Young, a delegate from United Church of Christ – Judd Street in Honolulu, was amazed by the Synod’s willingness to stop business and allow time for the demonstration. Later in the day, the same thing happened when they chose to continue a difficult conversation to make sure voices were heard. “[It was] allowing the Holy Spirit to move even if it means changing the schedule, to allow discernment.”
To end the day, Synod slowed the pace. Members of the Pacific Islander Asian American Ministries of the UCC led a graceful and moving multi-lingual worship service. Hawai’i Conference was represented on stage by the Rev. Nixon Jack of the Kosraean ministry at First United Protestant Church UCC in Hilo, Lori Yamashiro of Nu’uanu Congregational Church UCC in Honolulu, Pualani Muraki of Lanakila Congregational Church UCC in Kealakekua, and especially by the Rev. Sharon Lee MacArthur, who preached powerfully on light emerging from darkness. “If it were not for the night,” she said, “if it were not for disappearing into the night, if it were not for becoming one with the darkness, I wouldn’t be one with the light that was so extraordinarily bright in the morning!”
Voices spoke in languages from around the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Dancers whirled in contemporary and traditional Kathak styles.
“You can’t fight the darkness… You can wait for the light, you can look for the light, you can share the light, or you can shine,” the people prayed, invoking God’s blessings upon the close of the day.
The Rev. Florentino Cordova, pastor of Iao United Church of Christ on Maui, remained deeply impressed by the music. “Hearing a whole denomination, nation wide, singing… It made my little church in Hawai’i seem so much bigger and interconnected,” he said. Although he’s experiencing information overload, he has ideas for worship to bring home to his church for sure.
“We are part of such a huge family,” said Kristen Young. “We are so diverse in colors and orientations and ages and even beliefs – and we can come together.”
The Rev. Eric S. Anderson is pastor of Church of the Holy Cross UCC in Hilo.