“Connected to Each Other”
In the play “Last Session” the lead character who is dying sings, “Connected” to each other. It has spoken to me for over 20 years. It speaks to the need for community, relationships of mutuality, trust, respect and mutual accountability. “Connected to each other. We should all be connected to each other… We will always be connected to each other.”
The Manual on Ministry in its Theological Grounding section states, “God ‘calls the worlds into being’, giving life and purpose to creation, to persons, and to communities. Throughout the biblical stories and across generations, God calls us to belong to God and to respond to God’s grace by belonging to one another. Such belonging together (being in covenant with one another) relies on the initiative and grace of God… In Jesus Christ, the covenant is made new. By the Holy Spirit, the covenant is widened and strengthened.”
Relationship and Covenants:
Everything begins with a commitment to intentional relationship building. Like most who participate in the UCC, we have ALL heard “covenant.” Yet, like most, it wasn’t until I spent time with my mentors, took our History and Polity Course, and spent time with Conference Staff, our local Committee on Ministry (COM), Ministerial Excellence Support and Assessment (MESA) and the Manual on Ministry (MOM), that I discovered the essence of what I have always known to be true. “Covenant—the commitment of God to God’s people, of the people to God, of the people to one another as the Body of Christ—is foundational to our UCC identity…God’s covenant with creation and humankind inspires deep and binding commitment in relationships within and beyond the Church… The Church is called together by God; all members and settings of the Church are interrelated, sharing a common identity as the Body of Christ. The covenantal relationships between parts of the Body of Christ are characterized by mutuality, transparency, accountability, and a desire to represent Christ together for the glory of God.”
I invite the use of Scriptures, the MOM and other resources to foster growth and understanding of Covenant among us and other covenantal partners. In many ways, it feels like we have lost the essential elements of a common understanding of God’s Covenant with us, as the People of God, and our limited understanding of covenant within our local congregations, associations and conference. Spending time with it as part of our onboarding of lay leaders and clergy alike and using it as part of continuing education with our congregations is essential to our continued mutual life together as the Illinois Conference. I believe that best practices require intentionally, reflection, struggle, learning and growth to incorporate them into our daily practice. Inviting all those who hold or seek Ordained Ministerial Standing, our congregations, associations, COM’s and laity to struggle with their understanding of covenant, sharing their interpretations and internalizing covenant is part of living together and as a standard of mutual accountability is Godly. Best practices help us to move beyond, “I know what it is. It’s not my responsibility to live it as a community or hold others accountable.” I invite us to continue to foster conversations around common understandings of covenant. There will be differences but let’s unearth the essential elements. It is the work of God’s people at all levels as we live together and serve God.
Let us make Journeying in Love with each other and our covenantal partners our goal to truly be ONE People of God in the Illinois Conference. Regardless of where we live, our ministry settings, our perspectives or our ways of being, let us reclaim a common understanding that COVENANT CONNECTS US TO EACH OTHER. And that, my friends, is good.
Rev. Justo González, II
Interim Conference Minister
Ministro de la Conferencia Interino