by Eric Anderson
MIDDLETOWN (11/12/2012) -- At the Fall Session of the 2012 Connecticut Conference Annual Meeting, keynote speaker the Rev. Dr. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister for Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ, evoked the spirit of Jeremiah, quoting the words the prophet sent to those going into exile from Jerusalem. "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." In his forty minute address, Guess looked squarely at the challenges and the frustrations of faith communities like the UCC in the 21st century, and declared that it holds promise as well.
"For Your Welfare, Not for Harm" -- 42:49
Audio from CMI, video production by Eric Anderson and Drew Page
"Young people today aren't 'just NOT interested' in church any more, as some claim," he told the assembly. "They aren't willing to play that 'offering charade' where we bless our monetary gifts under allusions that they're being shared 'at home and around the world to further the work of God's mission,' because they don't see that happening."
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Photo by Eric Anderson
He urged church leaders to embrace the new emergent churches which want to be part of an inclusive fellowship, but more, to focus awareness on mission and service in contrast to members and worshipers. "Our UCC values of extravagant welcome, continuing testament and changed lives – they resonate profoundly with the trajectory of our nation, perhaps more than ever before."
"What if," he speculated, "in addition to our well-placed emphasis on starting and receiving new churches, and renewing old ones, we placed an even bigger emphasis on starting a movement... a movement toward the creation of, let's say, 10,000 new ministries in five years – and we would name them, count them, and track their impact. 10,000 new UCC ministries."
Some of these would be small, single-person endeavors like the tithe he and his partner Jim make to their church's food pantry. Others might be far larger. But it is vital to track the impact of all that good work and service. Change the focus, he urged, from a mission which is relational, to a mission that is purposeful.
The Rev. Eric S. Anderson is Minister of Communications and Technology for the Connecticut Conference UCC.