Opening, Closing Preachers at UCC 2023 General Synod to Bring CHHSM Message of Love at the Intersections

Jamar Doyle (right) and the Rev. JJ Flag will deliver the opening and closing sermons at the UCC’s General Synod.

The UCC Council for Health and Human Service Ministries (CHHSM) has a rare opportunity to bring its message of building a just, compassionate and equitable world directly to the hearts and minds of UCC members, thanks to the UCC’s 2023 General Synod next summer in Indianapolis. Jamar Doyle, president and CEO of CHHSM, and the Rev. Dr. JJ Flag, a member of both the CHHSM and Disabilities Ministries boards, will preach the opening and closing worship services, respectively. The theme of the Synod, which takes place June 30-July 4, 2023, is “Making All Things New.”

“We are so grateful and excited that CHHSM’s vital work is being noticed,” said Doyle. “We hope that our presence will help increase the visibility not only of CHHSM itself, but especially of our many member organizations across the country who daily are on the health and human service front lines of their local communities.”

Doyle Discovers Calling

Doyle delivers an address at CHHSM’s Annual Gathering in March 2022.

Doyle, who will deliver the sermon Friday, June 30, recently told UCC News that his faith always has been key to his identity, and that he even felt a call to ministry early in his career. But in the 1990s, he said, “as a gay, African-American male … I felt like maybe that wasn’t a call I could pursue.”

God still led him into a “helping field,” he told UCC News, first in various capacities with community development corporations in his hometown of Cleveland, and now with CHHSM.

Doyle said that what CHHSM organizations offer through the day-to-day direct supportive services is love, which he believes is needed now more than ever. And though some may dismiss that as trite sentimentality, Doyle told UCC News that “the work our CHHSM agencies are doing is an act of love,” whether it’s working with older adults, people in need of affordable housing, or children, youth and families in need of support.

Flag Urges Change Through Interconnectedness

The Rev. Dr. JJ Flag

For Flag, life is lived at the intersection of several communities, he told UCC News in early December, especially “as a fairly young Black male in a predominantly white denomination, and with a fairly visible disability as someone who navigates the world in a wheelchair.”

Raised in Miami across the street from a conservative Baptist congregation, he was drawn by its music and preaching. As he grew older, he parted ways with that conservative theology and eventually earned his M.Div. degree in 2018 from Princeton Theological Seminary. He was ordained into Christian ministry by the New Jersey Association of the UCC’s Central Atlantic Conference in 2020. He then earned a D. Min. degree from Drew Theological School in Madison, N.J., in 2021.

Currently, he is associate minister for pastoral care and justice at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., part of the Alliance of Baptists, a progressive group of congregations that has a long formal ecumenical relationship with the UCC. He will preach Tuesday, July 4.

Flag told UCC News of his belief that “if we’re going to thrive as a people, it really comes down to us being committed to our interconnectedness. I even think that applies to the environment.”

He added that authentic connection is more than, for example, just adding a ramp for people with disabilities to the front of a church building. It’s welcoming and valuing all people and their unique contributions.

A popular metaphor — both in society and within the church — is welcoming people to the table. In the UCC News interview, Flag turned the metaphor on its head, noting, “Tables are not always inclusive. They can be obstructive. Are we talking about tables that are actually accessible, where people can bring their authentic voices … or are we creating tables for assimilation?”

Bringing Hope

Each CHHSM preacher will bring different aspects of ministry to their General Synod sermons, and each wants to give attendees a message to ponder. As Flag told UCC News, “I hope that people will leave encouraged as they think about what God is up to within the UCC and beyond.”

Doyle, who became president and CEO of CHHSM in February 2022, said he hopes to convey some of the enthusiasm and excitement he has felt from CHHSM and across the UCC.

“CHHSM’s work is love personified through our service to those in need and through our fight for justice and belonging,” said Doyle. “CHHSM’s work is the work of the church, a beacon of hope in all of our communities, and I hope to share our message of love through service with the wider UCC community.”

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