Speaking of Religion: Being the Church
Second Congregational Church on Hillside Street is a congregation of the United Church of Christ, one of about 140 such congregations in the Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ. On April 29-30, the Vermont Conference held its 221st Annual Meeting at the Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee to worship together, to be inspired by our keynote preacher, bishop Dwayne Royster from Philadelphia, to receive reports of the various staff and committees of the conference, and to consider resolutions for public action.
"Be the Church" was the theme of the meeting, and it is the headline of the banner hanging in our fellowship hall at Second Congregational Church. In this day and age, what does it mean to "be the church"? This is what we proclaim: "Protect the environment. Care for the poor. Embrace diversity. Reject racism. Forgive often. Love God. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritual resources. Enjoy this life."
"Being the church" means much more than maintaining a building, although we see our building on Hillside St. as an opportunity for hospitality, hosting dozens of community meetings each month. "Being the church" is a "this-worldly" activity, as we are charged to be Christ's Body on earth. Thus, we seek to advocate for and take care of the earth, recognizing that we are stewards of God's creation, our home, the source of our food and water, and our eye and heart's delight. So we "protect the environment." The poisons, the exploitation, the pollution we inflict upon the earth we also inflict upon ourselves and our neighbors in creation.
"The poor you will always have with you," Jesus said, and therefore "care for the poor" is our constant charge and privilege, not only in acts of compassion and sharing, but also in advocating for changes in the structures that perpetuate inequality and widen the gap between rich and poor. So we "fight for the powerless" and "reject racism." At our Vermont Conference Annual Meeting, delegates passed a resolution to support refugee resettlement in Vermont and pledged to work within our churches and communities to promote a moral economy.
Because God is an awesome God, beyond our imagining, present in our midst in ever-new and surprising ways, we "embrace diversity," along with "rejecting racism" and all the other "-isms" that seek to divide us and close us off from God's beloved. The rainbow flag hanging out in front of our building is a sign of welcome to all.
We seek to follow in Jesus' way, which at its core means to "Love God" and our neighbor, to "forgive often"; to "share our earthly and spiritual resources." In weekly worship, we are reminded who we are and Whose we are. Because we are loved by the God of Love and Light, in spite of all life's challenges and struggles, we can "enjoy this life," entrusting our lives even through and beyond death into the care of this amazing God.
"Be the church"! It is our charge, our challenge, our joy, and whoever you are, wherever you are on life's journey, you are welcome here.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark is pastor of Second Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Bennington.
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