By: Mary Friedman
October 5, 2019: “Do we want to be chaplains of the empire or prophets of the resistance?” This question was posed by Bishop Dwayne Royster, pastor of Living Water United Church of Christ in Philadelphia, PA at Super Saturday on October 5. Hundreds of UCC folks from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island gathered at Keefe Regional Technical School in Framingham for a day of worship, workshops, and networking at the Tri-Conference Super Saturday.
Bishop Royster delivered an inspiring keynote address. He is Senior Pastor Emeritus and Founder of Living Water Church as well as National Political Director of Faith in Action. He has extensive advocacy, organizing, political, and faith leadership experience. He is committed to social justice as spiritual discipline and spiritual practice.
I attended his morning workshop entitled “The Theology of Resistance” at which he asked attendees, “What keeps you up at night?” There was lots of interaction with his audience!. Bishop Royster, who is black, described his experience working with angry black youths after yet another police shooting of an African-American. The Bishop, in his clerical collar, tried to calm an angry mob. A student told him, “This is YOUR fault! You have failed us!”. He was shaken by this encounter. He said that sometimes we nice church folk need to disrupt systems that are unjust. Sometimes we need, as faith communities, to risk upsetting the status quo in order to take a stand for justice. I had heard Bishop Royster speak at the Pioneer Valley Project over a year ago. He believes this is an important moment in history when we may be being “shaken to our core.” He says that “God is breaking through to humanity in a very powerful way.” in these days. He calls it a “Kairos” moment. “Kairos” is defined as “a propitious moment for decision or action.” Bishop believes we must train people to organize for justice, not just talk about it.
It is always fun at Super Saturday to walk through the “Marketplace”. This is where one finds a long list of vendors from so many causes and organizations! Just to name a few: Church World Service, schools of theology, City Mission, Inc., Just Peace Players, Mass. Bible Society, MA Conf. UCC Restorative Justice Task Team, ONA Coalition, Outreach Uganda, Trans Asylum Seekers Ministry Alliance, UCC N.E. Environmental Justice Center. You can buy books, bags made in Africa, coffee from Haiti, clerical stoles, etc. etc! I spent some time at the Restorative Justice table since the Pioneer Valley Project Education Research Team has been talking about that and I wanted to learn more. The man at the table mentioned that someone I knew had taken training in this practice. At lunch I found Rob Donaldson (pastor of the UCC church in Feeding Hills). Rob’s wife Deb is a teacher who was able to tell me about her experiences in the classroom with restorative justice. This is what I mean by “networking” at Super Saturday! It’s great to see familiar faces during the day, passing in the hallways!
Also at lunch, volunteers were busy assembling care packages for Church World Service with the donations of towels, toothbrushes, soap, etc. that people brought to Super Saturday.
My afternoon session was “Growing the Church Through Mission and Justice Ministries”. It was presented by three pastors from the Southeast Area Mission and Justice Ministry Committee: Stan Duncan from Trinitarian UCC, Amy Dion from West Congregational Church in Taunton, MA, and Steve La Sella from New North Church in Hingham, MA – a non-denominational church. They described the notion of church growth as both body and spirit – that these two ways of growth must go together. They stressed the importance of “hands-on” mission and justice work that addressed the causes of problems. They referenced a book called “Why Liberal Churches Are Growing” by a number of authors. A study was done that showed that a social justice ministry BY ITSELF did not cause the church to grow. But growth occurred when the ministry was combined with traditional growth practices such as personal invitations to church. (The invitation gets people through the door, but the vision of the church keeps them there.) Listening to the suggestions and examples from other churches made me proud of all that we at First Church are already doing to live out our faith. Perhaps having a more clear, limited, and intentional focus to our work in the wider community would make us even more visible. Can our membership in the Pioneer Valley Project help us to do this???
We had a closing worship service and communion. All in all I believe it was an inspiring and motivating day for our group. I think Super Saturday gives people a broader view of our denomination and what we are about. If you have never been to Super Saturday, you might want to give it a try!