From the Pastor, June 2017

Emerging as One

Dear Church,

Several weeks ago, our worship service centered around John 17 and Jesus’ final prayer in John’s gospel, in which he prays to the Father that “all may be one, as you are in me and I am in you.” Jesus’ vision of oneness for his followers comes first from the unity he experiences with God the Father (or, if the patriarchal language is off-putting to you, think “Source of Being.”)

The mystic’s oneness is utmost relational intimacy with God, with the Source of Being. This oneness is known by an abundant or full life, a new spiritual birth or transformation of consciousness. Those might sound like lofty concepts, but when we meet someone saturated with love, pursuing justice and mercy, and in love with life, John’s oneness incarnates, just like Word took on Flesh through Jesus.

But Christianity’s unifying vision is vertical and horizontal. Which is to say that it doesn’t matter what heights of spiritual awakening one has encountered if one is not also concerned about the crises of fragmentation in our time. Oneness with God is inseparable from oneness with people and communion with the planet.

The recent waves of enthnocentric nationalism across the US and the West remind us that when it comes to oneness, we are witnessing regressive steps. How many times do Southern states need to fight for voting rights for African Americans? How many scientists and disasters does it take to persuade people of the need for cooperative action on climate change? How much religious-inspired violence needs to erupt before we realize that God is the great unifier, rather than the great divider?

Protestant denominations have not exactly led the way in terms of unity. The very roots of Protestantism are paved with divisiveness and counter-claims to be the “true church.” (Resulting in 33,000 distinct denominations, says the World Christian Encyclopedia). At the same time, the venerable ecumenical movements of the 20th century argued passionately for uniting different groups of Christian Protestants, which led to the formation of the United Church of Christ (UCC) in 1957. The UCC includes streams from Congregationalists, Disciples of Christ, German Reformed, and Evangelical and Reformed churches.

Locally, we will honor our shared Williamstown bonds through a joint service with St. John’s at the Clark on June 4th. And this summer, the Massachusetts Conference is inviting people to a new experiment in denominational unity, by proposing the creation of a new conference including Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Delegates will vote on this resolution, supported unanimously by all three state conference boards, at the 2017 Annual Meeting, held on June 17-18.

Our church’s delegates Sam and Elizabeth Smith will represent First Congregational Church Williamstown at the UCC’s first Tri-State Annual Meeting, and our Church Council will discuss the resolution on June 13th. I whole-heartily invite you to come and share your thoughts, but first take some time do your homework, by reading up and listening to a webinar on the proposed resolution and new conference proposal at this web address.

Onward together, as one!

Rev. Mark