Everyone comes to General Synod with a different perspective and that is what makes it such an interesting place to be. Synod has that “family reunion” feel about it and it’s always fun to catch up with friends When I attend Synod now, I am increasingly reminded of my age, how much the church is changing and how much one’s own history shapes the present reality. Now, a full month after the close of Synod, I find there are still some things that surprise me, and I walk away with some new insights about this church that I think I know, and I am sure that I love.
You have already read about Committee 8 from others who have written and how hard it was for the General Synod to wrestle with two competing values; welcoming and affirming all when doing so meant someone would be hurt or excluded. My very pragmatic perspective immediately kicked in when I first read the resolution back in the early Spring; of course, the General Synod would not ban a group from the Exhibit Hall. I was not prepared for the amount of emotional pain and angst of young people who had come to view the General Synod as a “safe space”. As a 60 plus African American woman, I have never experienced or expected anyplace to be safe and was actually astounded that there are those who view the General Synod in this way. But it shifted my view of “what is”; I had to hear differently, and the discussion forced me to rethink my clear and pragmatic lines in the sand. They suddenly aren’t quite as clear.
The other very difficult piece of business at General Synod was the election of Rev. John Dorhauer for a second term as General Minister and President (GMP). It was framed with the question of whether or not it was time for the UCC to have a woman as the GMP. Perhaps this question was in the mind of others, but Rev. Dorhauer verbalized it from the stage and it became the focus of the conversation. Only at the end of the floor discussion did a delegate raise other questions that the General Synod might focus on regarding the election of a GMP to a second term. But it was late in the game and that discussion never materialized.
A month later in reflecting on the whole experience I have been musing that only a white man has the ability and advantage to shape the conversation as we experienced it at Synod. When elected to positions of power, women and people of color spend a great deal of energy working to prove that we didn’t get a position just BECAUSE we are women or persons of color. But let me use “I” language; as a woman of color; I have for years carried the burden of having to prove that I deserved a job and I didn’t get it just because “a woman or person of color was needed.” Most of the floor discussion at Synod made very little reference to concrete objectives or measurable outcomes or performance but focused primarily and passionately on the question about a woman as the General Minister and President.
I am clear that there are many women well equipped and qualified to serve as the General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ; I can name several. But I wonder about the discussion and if it served to support the leadership of a gifted woman as GMP or increase the burden of a woman having to prove her competence as a male GMP steps aside ONLY on the assumption to make room for a woman. And I wonder if the conversation has any spillover effect; women feeling more pressure; men perhaps resentful; who knows. And just may my perspective needs to be shifted again and this is no longer a question and the burden I have felt over the years to “prove myself” is no longer a reality in our church our country. I would love to hear that’s the case; although the current political discourse doesn’t lead me to that conclusion.
Hearing new voices, different perspectives, forcing us to think beyond our experiences as we hear different voices is part of what happens at Synod. And it doesn’t’ really matter if it’s the first Synod or the 18th; the power of new experience an new learnings is still present.
I look forward to all of you joining me in welcoming and hosting General Synod in Kansas City in 2021!