This past weekend I attended the annual meeting of the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ. Delegates from around the state joined together for worship, workshops and business. Before you decided you're not interested in any of this church stuff, hear me out. Because I witnessed somethings that I think tells us not only a lot about the state of the church, but also the state of the world.
On Saturday morning John Vertigan, our Conference Minster (for you non-United Church of Christ readers, that's something like a bishop without the power) gave his annual address to the gathered. It was powerful, and spoke not only about parochial matters, but also about our role as a denomination in the work of justice in the wider world.
After he was done speaking John and the planning committee had scheduled a town hall style time for folks to offer comments, ask questions or promote their own concerns. The variety of issues brought up reflect the very eclectic nature of our denomination. But two of the speakers stood out from he rest.
One was a young black man, who was attending with his teenaged son. When he was called on, he stood up, introduced himself, and indicated he was relatively new to the Untied Church of Christ. He then asked his son to stand up with him. I paraphrase, here, but this is the jist of his comments.
It's hard, he said, to know where you are safe when you're a black man in our society. Even harder if you're a very young man. You don't know what the other person is thinking. You don't know if they are discounting you because of your race, or if they are frightened, or if they are accepting of differences. I have been so relieved to find this church, because here I know I am loved and so is my son. He was in tears when he sat down. And so were most of the rest of us.
A speaker or two after that, a woman in the rear of the sanctuary stood up. You know, she said, I'm angry. I'm angry that more people don't know about our church. I'm tired of being lumped together with folks who call themselves Christian, but who hate gay people and transgendered people and so many others. I am tired of having to defend myself every time I tell someone I'm a Christian. She had a hard time speaking, at one point, for she too was in tears.
I don't know about you, but I share her frustration. And I am continually saddened by the truth spoken by the young black father. I am grateful to be part of a church that speaks up about racism, the environment, the rights of LGBTQ people and so on. But I am also very aware that we need to do a better job getting out our message. Because the world shouldn't be so dangerous for a fourteen year old black teenager and his dad.