Nurturing UCC Identity. My understanding of this Mark is the expectation that as a UCC authorized minister, I represent the United Church of Christ to the world. While the UCC embraces a theology, evolved over the years of its existence, that is inclusive and ever-listening to God’s still speaking voice, UCC theology serves as a framework for our covenantal relationships. While we invite ourselves to seek spiritual and theological meaning from all of God’s creation—including those outside of faith communities—our theology helps us as UCC members know who and whose we are. Throughout my Marks Memoir, I define my UCC identity by reflecting upon my early faith tradition; this helps makes the UCC distinct. It helps me understand and appreciate the theology that grounds our Statement of Faith. History and polity also uniquely inform UCC identity; they illustrate our uniting and unifying nature in our commitment to the oneness of the Body of Christ. That we may all be one (Jn 17:21) is a thread that runs throughout the centuries of history that eventually brought about connections and covenants forming the UCC. We are a covenanted people, as we see reinforced by our inclusive polity that bends toward equity.
I see myself in this Mark as I am led by the Spirit through the discernment process. I have come to the UCC later in life from another tradition; I am excited by it. UCC theology gives me a feeling of being liberated from, free to serve God as I am called. I have found a home in our polity. I take on service and leadership roles at PUCC, and I serve as Moderator of the Conference as we search and call for a permanent Conference Minister. A leadership role at the Conference setting has given me unique awareness, insight, and experience surrounding polity. In addition, this summer I will attend my second General Synod, where I will meet with other Members in Discernment and Conference Moderators. The Manual on Ministry states, “Ordained Ministers stand with the people before God and carry the Word of God to the people. Ordained Ministers belong to both God and the people. They are nurtured and sustained by both; they are responsible to both” (p. 9). As an ordained minister, I make a vow to God, the Church, and myself to be God’s person in the world; I am responsible for and responsible to God and God’s people. Barbara Brown Taylor describes ministers as no less flawed or human than others; we just agree to grapple with our challenges in public—for all the world to see (paraphrase). In this way we model paying attention to the Spirit and working out its message to our lives. This is a very profound yet tender responsibility I assume in seeking ordination.
I have selected the following artifacts to demonstrate my engagement with this Mark:
- PUCC Membership Certificate
- SEC Vice Moderator and Moderator Documents
- General Synod Documents
- Pastor Parish Relations Committee Proposal
- Inquirers Class Curriculum Development
- SEC Search & Call Conference Profile Team document
- UCC History, Polity, and Theology Certificate of Completion
- UCC History, Polity, and Theology Assignment:
The roots of my faith, growing up in the Church of Christ, influence and nurture UCC identity for me. One of the things I most appreciate about the UCC, one of the reasons I stayed once I found it, is its invitation to bring my faith and baptism with me to the faith community. In the UCC, we are one in baptism, at the table, and in faith. I came to understand what it means that the UCC is a united and uniting church, where love and unity are core values. Here, God doesn’t just permit me to serve, but God desires my service. This freedom has led me to public leadership, a role forbidden to me in my earlier paradigm. It felt strange, but right. As the call to God’s service became pronounced and unmistakable, my discernment was as a member of the UCC.
There’s a saying I heard, that one never feels as Southern as when one is outside the South. I think it makes the distinction more pronounced, being out of one’s place. I am never more conscious of my Church of Christ identity as when I consider my UCC identity. As I attended a Baptist seminary (“We’re not that kind of Baptist,” is one unofficial motto.), I feel distinctly “UCC.” To help this make sense, it’s important to know what happened between my running out of PUCC in 2006 and returning to it in 2013.
Between 2006 and 2013, I dug into the life of an academic. I wrote a book and started two more. I traveled to four conferences each year. I became affiliated with the Gender & Woman’s Studies program at KSU. There, I became involved with a younger staff person, which was toxic in many ways. I began to realize my career could be destroyed by my behavior, since I was completely distracted by a relationship the likes of which I had never experienced. I looked for the slightest reason to go out drinking, and living such a life, I didn’t have to look far. My wild academic sojourn led to my beginning the long term relationship with an older celebrity academic who lived in NYC. I began flying there every two or three months. I liked this lifestyle, enjoyed the notoriety of being her girlfriend.
By 2013, the relationship began showing its ill-fit, and we had both begun to see other, more conveniently located people on the side. You have heard of rock bottom? I had an affair with a former stripper and professional mistress. She ended it when she moved to Las Vegas to be a groupie to a lounge act. I saw her off as far as Graceland. I know. You can’t make this stuff up—even in theology. Flashes of Augustine here. I include all this so that my call experience and developing UCC identity makes sense. Around this time, I decided to write a book about LGBT families who identified as Southern. My student assistant asked me whether I wanted to interview people at his church, where there were several LGBT members. I knew which church he was talking about. “You will want to talk to our pastor. Her name is Kim,” he said. I wondered if she remember my getaway those years ago (Turns out, she did.). I pause here to state all of this was a turning from “my raising.” I was not faithful to who and whose I was.
I do not tell of my odyssey in a proudful way; I am abashed. I tell it as an important part of my life in that it helped get me here. Theologically, my life to that point held a constant tension between conservative, doctrinal-based fundamentalism and ambivalence to it as I came out to myself and began a secular life in academia. In 2013 I began reading Scripture and Queer Theology. I began to understand St. Paul in a whole new, affirming way. UCC identity—which I immersed myself in through the history, polity, and theology course—invited me to bring the loving parts of the Church of Christ with me. Not only is my faith, my baptism, okay, it is celebrated as my bringing a valuable piece to the UCC community. This is important: no matter how open and affirming the UCC or PUCC may have been, if they did not offer a space to honor my foundational faith, it would never have “took.”
Here are other pieces of my early paradigm I bring with me to my ordination. From the Church of Christ, I learned that God is loving, and the Holy Spirit is real and dwells in us. I learned to love Scripture—“Oh the B-I-B-L-E, that’s the book for me!” Growing up in the Church of Christ I learned obedience to God’s commandments. It taught me to honor the Church. I learned to sing there, and I learned the sacred stories through song and Sunday School. In short, my early faith tradition was the canvas upon which God formed me. This is the first time I have set down in one place what the Church of Christ has meant to me theologically. I learned benevolence to others and integrity and about the sanctity of marriage. I learned The Word and The Way. I learned about mission—and that God works in the world and expects something from us. I learned to give back part of my wealth because it belonged to God anyway. I heard the call of discipleship; my UCC identity allows me to answer the call in a way that fits. I knew that baptism and the Lord’s Supper were central to our faith before I could understand them as sacraments as I do now. This is the framework within my UCC identity grows.
At PUCC, I was free to accept the Spirit working outside of the literal text. I felt the Spirit in prayer, felt it when I sang. And music! I sang in the choir and played my flute and French Horn and rang handbells! I serve God as myself, taking on public roles, a leader in the life of the Church and Conference. My call is to walk alongside others as they walk along their journey; my role is one in which I lead—in holy engagement with the sacraments. The UCC is the space in which my faith is maturing, where I am formed, in the words of Thomas Merton, “to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”