Michael J. Readinger

Those of us who were together in Memphis have now returned from the 82nd CHHSM Annual Gathering. While it is good to be back home, I feel a sense of longing for the spirit of “Justice and Grace — Together” that was so pervasive during our time together last week. For that, I want to say Thank you, Church!

Yes, you are all Church in the truest sense. Whether you are CHHSM membership organizations or individuals, Board of Directors or Staff, corporate or covenantal partners, volunteers or employees or students, pastors or lay people, you are all Church.

And, never forget, Church is exactly what we are when we come together in justice and grace. One cannot help but think of Martin Luther King Jr. (among many others) and Memphis, Tenn. (among many other places), as we contemplate justice. The scripture that inspired our theme comes from Amos 5:24, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” which Dr. King referenced in his “I Have a Dream” speech. The opening worship at First Congregational UCC was structured around the importance of water as we had a chance to renew our baptismal vows. There were elements of plenary sessions, educational workshops, affinity group meetings and a service project, which all showcased justice in action. All of these transpired with a focus on grace as well.  Annual Gathering attendees were treated to the New Ballet Ensemble and School in Memphis’ original and graceful choreography at the Memphis-themed Wednesday dinner. Justice and Grace – Together.

Our time together was remarkable in so many ways. The opening plenary with the Rev. Traci Blackmon, the Rev. Dr. Bernice Powell Jackson, the Rev. Linda Jaramillo and the Rev. Loey Powell was transformative in raising awareness about the power of stories. Sharing them actually helps shape who we are. There is so much history in the UCC justice movement, and we were privileged to get to hear some of it. I hope we can find a graceful way to do this more often and to share this message widely. The closing worship was another time where we were able to sit back and let justice and grace flow over us as the Rev. Traci Blackmon preached, Yale Divinity seminarian Martine Bruno sang, Diakonal Ministers were consecrated, the Rev. Cindy Bumb broke the bread, and we all were together for the final setting of justice and grace together in Memphis.

Every meal, every plenary, every workshop, and every interaction seemed to carry the elements of justice and grace as the meeting attendees really seemed to embrace the Annual Gathering theme in a way that was unlike any other time that I have experienced a CHHSM-related event. The lesson I learned is that we are truly Church. So, thank you to all who attended, who worked to make us comfortable, who fed us, and to all who shared their wisdom and joy. In Memphis we had Justice and Grace — Together, but we will have it again the next time we gather. Of that I am sure. And, for that I say, Thank you, Church!