Preparing for Annual Meeting Part 2: A Gathering of Leaders

Our church is a Covenant Member of the United Church of Christ. The UCC is a network of thousands of churches across the U.S. who partner together seeking to be God’s People in the world according to the teachings of Jesus, with the vision that through our efforts, the entire global community “may all be one” (John 17: 21). However…here’s the challenging part…we also recognize the importance of autonomy. This means that every local congregation gets to decide for themselves how to organize, how to live as God’s People. And when you break down that logic, it means that every individual member of each individual church also has the right to choose how they will participate in this shared work.

So…hundreds of thousands of people try to work together…while also respecting everyone’s right to do what they please? How does that work?

You could insert any number of jokes about Congregationalists in this space.

The thing is…it’s challenging, it is slow, it can be immensely frustrating…but it really does work.

For example, the 25th General Synod of the United Church of Christ was held in Atlanta from July 1-July 5, 2005. At that gathering, our denomination voted to become an “Open and Affirming” Church, affirming that LGBTQ people are equally loved and valued Children of God, as are all people. The UCC has been “Open and Affirming” as a denomination ever since then, but individual churches are not forced to adopt that stance unless the local church discerns that is right for them. Our church in Kittery Point became Open and Affirming in May of 2011.

Almost exactly 10 years later, on June 26, 2015, Marriage Equality became the law of the land in America.

I don’t believe this is a coincidence. I believe that when you empower individuals and autonomous communities to take responsibility for their actions, their beliefs, their faith…then all individuals are empowered to become leaders…and then all of us, collectively, as Jesus’ disciples, find ways of influencing the culture to become more like Christ…more loving, more accepting, more generous.

But it really only works if each of us are participating in the process, bringing our best selves to the shared work…actively discerning what to support, and how best to support it in the name of the God who calls us all to be “one.” When our local church gathers for our Annual Meeting on February 24, at 11:15 a.m. in our Parish House—located at 23 Pepperrell Road, Kittery Point, ME 03905—we are anticipating that everyone who comes to the meeting will not just show up in body, but also bring their intentions, their gifts, their voice, and help us to practice being the Church together.

Yesterday in worship, we learned that Jesus’ famous teaching “The Beatitudes” is not just a pep talk for anyone who has ever felt rejected or oppressed. When we read the teaching as translated from its original form in Aramaic, we see that Jesus is calling all of his followers to work with God to transform their biggest burdens into Great Spiritual Gifts. Listed below, you can find both the usual translation of the Beatitudes from Greek, and the deeper understanding of the teaching from Aramaic.

As you read through them, ask yourself: Which of these Beatitudes speaks to me at this moment in my life? How is God inviting me to use this burden to transform the world?

The Beatitudes (from the Greek)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The Beatitudes (from the Aramaic)

*Happy and aligned with the One are those who find their home in the breathing; to them belong the inner kingdom and queendom of heaven.

*Healed are those who weep for their frustrated desire; they shall see the face of fulfillment in a new form.

*Healthy are those who have softened what is rigid within; they shall receive physical vigor and strength from the universe.

*Healthy are those who turn their mouths to receive a new birth of universal stability, they shall be encircled by the birth of a new society.

*Healthy are those who extend grace; they shall find their own prayers answered.

*Healed are those who have the courage and audacity to feel abundant inside; they shall envision the furthest extent of life’s wealth.

*Healed are those who bear the fruit of sympathy and safety for all; they shall hasten the coming of God’s new creation.

*Healing to those who have been shattered within from seeking perfect rest; holding them to life is heaven’s “I can!”

*When you feel contaminated, dislocated, and feel an inner shame for no good reason, it is for my sake…”

*…Then, do everything extreme, including letting your ego disappear, for this is the secret of claiming your expanded home in the universe.  For so they shamed those before you: All who are enraptured, saying inspired things—who produce on the outside what the spirit has given them within.

Brian Gruhn