I arrived home from Synod this past Wednesday. It didn’t take long for the river of my life in Maine to take me far away from my Synod experience. But, I’ve finally found a few moments to look back and write a bit. This will likely not be my last Synod post. There’s plenty to write about. But, for today: a few thoughts on the Maine delegation.
In our local churches, it’s common for lots of good, active church folk to have little or no awareness of the wider church to which they belong. And, for others, there may even be some antagonism regarding the connection to association and conference, as if through our connections beyond the local church, we may be giving over some of our power and/or independence.
For most of my ministry career, I’ve kept my involvement in the wider church closer to home, by mostly being involved in association-level work. The last several years, though, have offered new opportunities for moving beyond the local association. I’ve been involved in Conference work, Conference leadership and now part of the Maine Conference Synod delegation.
The Synod delegation from Maine included a couple of Conference staff members, several members of the Mission Council, several delegates beyond the Mission Council members, and a few visitors.
Even for those of us who serve on the Mission Council together, we’ve never spent nearly so much time together. In short, we all got to know each other rather well over the course of Synod. We sat together, mostly, during plenary sessions (those who were not voting delegates often had to sit separately). We ate meals, and attended meetings, either all together or in smaller groupings.
As an almost life-long Congregationalist, I’ve heard over the course of my life lots of suspicion regarding the wider church. While I came away from Synod with a few concerns of my own regarding the national denomination, I can’t say enough about how powerful it was for me to spend so much time with the Maine delegation.
The Maine delegation was made up of clergy and lay people, and a couple of people “in the middle” (in the ordination discernment process). A couple of people came from large churches in the southern part of the state, and a couple from small churches in the northern part of the state. And, a couple of us from smaller- to mid-sized churches in the middle of the state. We ranged in age from our 17-year-old youth delegate (who reminded me a great deal of my own son) to a woman in her seventies.
Some of the most memorable aspects of Synod were the small conversations I had with my fellow Mainers, as we shared our experiences of church, discussed worries and concerns about the local church (as well as the wider church), and dreamed of what was possible. One of the more interesting aspects of our conversations was to realize that, though many of us kept our local churches closely in mind as we considered the business of Synod, most of our local church people back home probably didn’t care much at all about the decisions that were reached in our deliberations in Baltimore. While little of what happens at Synod is binding on the local church (in our nonhierarchical way of doing things), the gulf that exists between the local church and the national setting seemed very wide indeed.
In the Maine delegation, we had plenty of serious moments, discussing some of the provocative and difficult aspects of Synod business. There were also lighter moments, as we discovered a shared animosity toward one of the presenters, as well as a little confoundedness toward certain buzzwords that were thrown about with reckless abandon (in our little corner of Maine, there are some things that take awhile to get to us). And, we discovered a few places where we disagreed about business or a presenter, places where we endeavored to articulate and understand our varying responses.
I came away from my Synod experience with a stronger appetite for engaging in the work of the wider church—even if just in my own home state and conference. Bravely venturing forth from the comfort and familiarity of the local church, we gain a deeper understanding of the work of the Spirit and catch meaningful glimpses into a faith that is strengthened when we cast a wider net. Through these relationships, we may find that we are much more interdependent, rather than independent. But, that’s not a liability. Instead, it is a grace and a blessing, a reminder that the God we worship does not belong solely to us, that together we endeavor to be God’s people and that we have plenty of friends accompanying us on the journey.