I just took a look at the United Church of Christ's 2005 annual report. It begs you to look at it -- since it uses a comic-book story method to get your attention. The illustrations, drawn by Steve Ross, jump off the page and bring incredible wit and poignancy (did I spell that correctly) to a report that thinks it will be dry and ininteresting, yet turns into something inviting and engaging. (Yes -- this is a long post -- but the actual report is so much longer -- so take this for a preview and then when you have the time read the whole thing - comics included!)
A few quotes of the author (Will Matthews) I want to share:
- This wasn’t an interesting story, I thought. There was nothing compelling about this, there wasn’t going to be anything new to tell my readers –– if there even were any readers. After all, why would someone be interested in reading the same story that had been told again and again over the past half-century? From the moment the story was assigned, I figured I knew exactly how it would read: The United Church of Christ, just one of a myriad of struggling, mainline Protestant denominations desperate to reframe itself, its heyday of local congregations packed to the gills long since passed and with no sense of its own identity or mission. It would be the same old story. (p.1)
- I was actually impressed with the people that I was meeting, with their ability to see beyond themselves and into the world in which they lived, with their commitment to work on behalf of others, to address issues of great societal import and to boldly imagine that “Another World is Possible.” But there had to be a catch. My experience in journalism had taught me to be wary: Churches just don’t do this kind of work. Do they? (p. 11)
- What I didn’t hear was even a single word disparaging other cultures, or how many more people are now able to recite the Lord’s Prayer by memory, or the implicit arrogance in a “we-know-Jesus-better-than-you” attitude. What I did hear was humility, gratitude to God for the world’s diversity, and affirmation that God is at work around the world, not just in the UCC. (p. 15)
- And in a church like the United Church of Christ –– which, since 1960, has lost almost a million members and close to 2,300 congregations –– that is exactly what I expected to find. In fact, I had pretty much decided that a way of making this assignment somewhat interesting would be to highlight the United Church of Christ as being emblematic of everything that ails protestantism generally. I could be as critical as I wanted to be, no holds barred. That would be fun. But, once again, I was surprised. (p. 17)
- For some within the denomination, the vote on the General Synod resolution (endorsing marriage equality) proved too much to bear. From July until year’s end, about 49 churches — less than one percent of the UCC’s 5,725 churches — voted to disaffiliate, according to the denomination’s research office. Most, but not all, of the departures appear related to disagreement with the marriage-equality resolution.
But perhaps even more impressive than the vote itself was the national church’s heartfelt and time-consuming pastoral response to the action. One needs to speak only briefly with any of the denomination’s national leaders to understand just how painful the departures have been. (p.23-24)
- I found a church that often invokes its storied history –– a history that includes being the first mainline church to take a public stand against slavery, to ordain an African American into Christian ministry, to initiate the defense of the Amistad captives, to ordain a woman into ministry, to stand on the front lines in the fight for racial desegregation and to ordain an openly gay person into ministry.
But this is not a church that is content to rest on the laurels of its past. Indeed, it is a church that is poignantly and profoundly responding to the challenge to relate its faith through time and across space to new demands unimagined even a generation ago.
In the face of the increasing irrelevance of the mainline church in America, the United Church of Christ is relevant … and faithful. (p. 27)
I know these quotes need more -- and you'll find more in the report. I also know that the report is meant to show the most positive side of all that has happened in the UCC over the past year. Finally I believe that it is worth reading -- and that it truly does reflect the United Church of Christ.