United Church of Christ New York Metropolitan Association
      Metro 2008 Fall Meeting


Report of the Regional Conference Minister
Metro Association Fall Meeting - November 22, 2008

Scripture never depicts the Resurrection itself. Rather we intimate what happened from its after effects-- mostly, from the examples of lives touched and turned that therein serve as our closest description.

But was Jesus returned to life in an instantaneous quickening, like a flash of lightening? Or was vitality regained slowly, over some time, in an unsteady process, like a butterfly emerging from her chrysalis?

My recent experiences as your RCM lead me to believe the latter. Seeing here and there, in us and in our churches, Resurrection in fits and starts, I won't say all our stones have been rolled away. But I do sense more than just an 'as of yet unfulfilled' hope that 'new life follows real endings.' It's like the almost invisibly thin, dark green shoots poking through late February snow from deeply buried bulbs-- so early but undeniable one worries the new life may not survive.

Quietly, underneath the blanket of our institutional anxieties, I am noticing new growth, rising hope and joy-- in our midst and even making its way beyond the walls of our meeting houses:

…Sacred moments that take one's breath away, or awaken someone strange and wonderful within us.

…A revelation: that faithfulness has more to do with becoming a microcosm of God's new creation than remaining a museum of an era long past.

…Innovative and re-warmed spiritual practices that are getting us past business as usual and on toward making disciples and spreading God's love further.

…Leaders who are trying different ways on the road to better service.

…New power and possibility that are visible in congregations leaning into their challenges, in new church starts, and at wider church meetings.

…Local churches that are finding passion for big ticket cultural and justice battles, for example the sacred conversation on race.

…And then there were the three thousand young UCCers this past summer at the National Youth Event.

…And in worship around our region slowly we are welcoming noticeably stronger congregations.

If resurrection is a gradual process, there are, of course, also more times for us to get in its way. All too often church is still characterized by mistrust and misunderstanding; name-calling; winners and losers; disrespect, fear, reactivity and resistance. The Song of Songs asserts that love is simultaneously the strongest force in all creation, and the most fragile.

On top of the threat to the church and its mission that we Christians ourselves are, there are also external factors over which the church has little control-- financial crises, rising fuel costs, aging populations, longer working hours, less sense of civic duty, decreasing faith in organized religion, and a mass unfamiliarity with the church. Each of these external threats could crush down incipient resurrections just as, according to the African proverb, elephants fighting trample the flowers. And all these threats together… Lord, help us!

In such a situation, I leave you with an exhortation loosely paraphrased from Edwin Friedman ("A Failure of Nerve"):

More than anything else social progress is an emotional achievement. It requires that someone differentiate him or herself from the crowd without separating from others. It demands a leader free of the anxiety that paralyzes individuals and communities, one who finds a motivation for responding creatively rather than reacting reflexively.

For institutions (in our case, mostly, congregations) to become unstuck and to begin moving ahead, we need leaders who will step forward in the spirit of adventure rather than waiting for certainty… leaders who accept the necessity of making mistakes… leaders who allow serendipity to free them from the limitations of their own thinking… and leaders willing to trespass any and all barriers to their imaginations.

This understanding of the importance of leadership provides a totally unambiguous answer to the perennial question, "do the times make the man or woman, or does the person make the time? Obviously, conditions must be propitious for imagination, boldness, or energy to bear fruit. But for ripe times to yield what they have to offer, there must be a leader who is able to separate him or herself enough from all the surrounding anxiety and simply "go first."

I close with a favorite benediction of mine:

"Unto you who are the Living Word, more sacred than Scripture, more precious than print, a promise connecting what has been with what is to be, walk into the future with faith, hope and love, so others might see the Christ whose image the church is to bear."

Michael W. Caine
Regional Conference Minister