Forward Together

Last weekend, Cora Trujillo, Rick Russell, and I joined people from all over the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ for our Annual Meeting. This year Plymouth UCC downtown hosted it. There were all sorts of information tables set up in the narthex/lobby area. There were people from UCC churches throughout Washington State, north Idaho, and Alaska. There was a two-hour antiracism workshop on Friday morning. There were affinity groups and workshops on Friday afternoon. There were plenary sessions on Friday and Saturday. There were meals together in the fellowship hall. There was live music, and some of it was very loud—and very joyful. There were new people to meet as well as people who have been working hard in this conference for many years and, for me anyway, have become good friends. Cora, Rick, and I are each going to share some of our takeaways. Cora starts us off.


Cora’s topics

  • Poor People’s Campaign—values align with ours
  • Antiracism workshop—scenarios
  • Samoan congregations joining our conference: they are changing the way our PNC looks, and that’s a good thing.


Rick’s topics

  • Visitors from Colombia



We voted on two resolutions. One is to require conference staff and board of directors to take antiracism training. This is part of an ongoing conversation at our annual meetings about whether this conference pays lip service to antiracism work or actually walks the talk. Having clergy take antiracism training is being addressed through other avenues.


The other resolution was what is called a “resolution of witness,” meaning it is calling out an injustice and asking all of us to stand up and do something about it. Here is the summary of this resolution, which is about Washington State’s regressive tax structure and two of the initiatives that we will vote on this fall.


We, members of several churches of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ (PNC-UCC) call upon our PNC-UCC annual meeting delegates, churches and partners to stand in opposition to laws and initiatives of Washington, Idaho, Alaska and our nation that support regressive tax policy benefitting the rich and powerful while failing to alleviate oppression of the economically challenged.

Specifically, we call upon the individuals and churches of the PNC-UCC to let it be loudly known that we OPPOSE

  • Washington’s Initiative 2109, which will appear on the November 5, 2024 ballot, and similar anti-capital gains tax initiatives (and other laws enacted that support and further regressive tax policy), and
  • Washington’s Initiative 2111, adopted into law by the Washington State legislature on March 4, 2024 (and all efforts to limit future possibility of implementing a graduated income tax). . . .

We must advocate for change that will challenge classist, racist, selfish, unjust tax systems that reward the rich, hurt the poor and participate in a network of systemic efforts to keep the poor poor, effectively prohibiting economic advancement and maintaining segregation within areas with high costs of living. (PNC UCC Annual Meeting 2024, 2024 Report Booklet, p. 27,


On Saturday afternoon we all worshiped together. Our preacher was the general minister and president of the whole denomination, the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, who flew out from Cleveland to be with us. She lifted up this passage from 2 Corinthians 4 that we read this morning, which was the theme scripture for the weekend. Listen again to the words:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 

This short passage is full of heavy words: afflicted, crushed, perplexed, despair, persecuted, forsaken, struck down, destroyed, death. And what Rev. Thompson lifted up in this passage is the word “but.” Because that one word interrupts the hopelessness and heaviness inherent in these words. And she stamped her foot every time she said “but,” to reinforce that this word wakes us up, takes us in a new direction. We are afflicted . . . but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.


In every generation, there are afflictions, existential threats to all we hold dear. In the era of 2 Corinthians, Christians were being persecuted for their faith. Nowadays, Christians may be the ones doing the persecuting and oppressing—in the name of God. We, as progressive Christians, live in an era when the very word “Christian” has undergone a transformation in meaning. There are people who identify as Christians who say and do very hateful, unchristian things in the name of God. (I do plenty of hateful things, but I don’t generally say that God told me to do them.) Many people don’t want to affiliate with Christian churches of any kind anymore.


That is our particular existential crisis as the UCC. We are trying to stand up for justice for the oppressed, good news for the poor, to welcome the immigrant. But many of our congregations are shrinking and dying. In the life of the Church (capital C), there are congregations that don’t want to try new things. The seven last words of a dying church are, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Some congregations dig in their heels, refusing to step out of the familiar, even if it’s broken or dying.


Annual Meeting is where we come together as a larger body of Christ to try to confront the larger issues—racism so pervasive in our society that we have to have trainings even to learn how to see it, because it’s part of the air we breathe. A regressive tax infrastructure that builds wealth for the rich on the backs of the poor. Annual Meeting is where we come to be renewed, refreshed, re-energized; where shrinking white churches with older members encounter Samoan congregations full of young people who sing praise songs very loudly in English and Samoan and invite us to stand and sing with them.


Some of the churches are shrinking and dying. But Spirit is at work seeking justice in Colombia. But Spirit is doing a new thing in these four Samoan churches that we welcomed into our conference. So all of us stood up and sang with the Samoan choir, and swayed to the loud music with joy. We can wring our hands over all that is broken and dying, or we can say but and find new life, resurrection, a way forward together. Forward together, not one step back. Amen.



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