In his Feb. 4 plenary, Rick Ufford-Chase urged the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators to form communities that will transform the world.
Ufford-Chase, moderator of the 216th General Assembly (2004) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), spoke on Romans 12:1-2 at APCE’s annual event. He told stories of faith communities who together have stood against the world.
Romans 12:2 states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Ufford-Chase spoke of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC), which continues to speak out against violence and injustice as it happens. As the church became more bold in calling for human rights and following the gospel, it also became more at risk, eventually leading to the accompaniment program of the IPC and the PC(USA).
“We have something to learn from the church of Colombia as we stand together against the empire,” Ufford-Chase said.
He also spoke of a moderatorial visit he made to a Pakistani town that had been rocked by religious violence and riots. Christian and Muslim leaders didn’t want the town to be defined by violence and worked for reconciliation, reclaiming what their community had lost.
Ufford-Chase also talked about the Sanctuary Movement in the United States, in which congregations opened their doors to Central American refugees fleeing violence in the 1980s.
These examples of communities standing together against the empire share qualities with communities in the apostle Paul’s time, Ufford-Chase said.
Paul wasn’t about converting individuals, he said. “Paul was about creating communities of resistance.”
In North American culture, we’re attracted to stories of individuals, but the truly powerful stories are about communities coming together to stand up against the “wisdom of the world.”
And Paul’s vision of community was radical too, upending conventional wisdom and power structures. This is seen in Paul’s letter to Philemon, in which he asks Philemon to welcome back a slave not as a slave, but as a brother.
In Galatians, Paul is beginning to lose patience with that community’s lack of understanding of his vision for them, Ufford-Chase said. Paul rejects conventional wisdom, instead saying that the community is open to all who stand with Christ. Paul brought new rules — the resurrection of Christ changed everything.
“The act of creating community is an act of subversion to our culture,” Ufford-Chase said. “Become bold and daring in your commitment to transform the world.”
That’s the work of Christian educators, who need to lay the groundwork now, Ufford-Chase said. We’ve been trained to agree, but we need to come into a new way of being — disagreeing in love, inspiring those around us.
“We have a chance to hold God’s vision for us to form a community that stands against the world power,” he said.
How would such a community look today? It would have no rules of exclusion based on traditions or rules of the past — all who accept Jesus will be welcome, Ufford-Chase said.
There would be no color barriers. Those in power would have to confront their own privilege. No one would be asked to show their citizenship documentation. The community would stop fighting about sexual orientation, knowing that God is capable of overcoming every barrier we can construct.
The work of building such communities will come with obstacles, and Christians won’t be perfect, he said. But we’re called to do challenging work in spite of and because of the fact that the work will never be fully realized.
“We will always be a work in progress,” he said.