Grace and peace to you in this sacred Lenten season.
Last week I gathered in Cleveland with my colleagues in the UCC’s Council of Conference Ministers. There were new colleagues to meet, others who were retiring, and a host of serious issues to address within our own circle and more widely in the life of our beloved church. We were striving to live and work together “whole-heartedly”, a concept that author, social worker, and researcher Brene’ Brown says is characterized by courage, compassion, connection, and a willingness to show vulnerability.
Over the course of those days we slowly built deeper relationships, asked each other hard questions, spoke the truth in love, and committed to a new kind of leadership moving forward. We dared to talk honestly about the inequities of resources among our Conferences, the fears and questions we have as leaders of a Church facing massive change, and our hopes for the UCC’s future. And then as our time together drew to a close, we shared in a time of farewell with our retiring colleagues. Borrowing from the language used often in local churches as pastors depart, we offered words of mutual confession, forgiveness, and thanksgiving.
Leader: I thank you…for the love, kindness, and support shown me these last years. I ask forgiveness for the mistakes I have made. I am grateful for the ways my leadership has been accepted…I carry with me all that I have learned here.
Community: We receive your thankfulness, offer forgiveness, and accept that you now leave to minister elsewhere. We express our gratitude for your time among us. We ask your forgiveness for our mistakes. Your influence on our faith and faithfulness will not leave us at your departure.
Pastor: I forgive you and accept your gratitude, trusting that our time together and our parting are pleasing to God.
(Adapted from the UCC Book of Worship: Times of Passage, Farewell)
Those words felt like a healing balm as our time concluded last week, a ritual of faith that somehow seemed to strengthen our resolve to build a “whole-hearted” Church together. We will inevitably need the graces of forgiveness and acceptance and gratitude again within that circle of colleagues; we won’t always get it right as we strive to lead Christ’s Church together. Yet we can stumble where we will, knowing that God’s presence and mercy are steadfast.
That’s how it is for all of us in the Church. We are a magnificent and gifted Body of Christ….and we are also extraordinarily human and imperfect. We will sometimes disappoint one another, or fall short of even our own expectations. But yet through it all we remain brothers and sisters in Christ, inheritors of a whole-hearted & Holy Love that knows no bounds.
Thanks be to God.
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister