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2023 Year End Message

By Rev. Allen V. Harris - Thursday December 28, 2023

2023 Year End Message by Rev. Allen V. Harris,
Regional Pastor & President, Christian Church in Ohio

Our theme for Advent and Christmas this year has been “abide with us,” taken from scripture and the Christmas Carol, “O Little Town Of Bethlehem.”  As I have said elsewhere, the concept of “abiding” is a beautiful expression of being fully present with another, whether it is us asking God to abide with us, as in the carol, or the Divine inviting us to abide with God and Jesus, God-In-Christ.  In any case, abide means much more than simply “drop by” or “pop-in” for a visit, but to dwell or reside with, to journey alongside, to deepen relationships.


I thank God that Jesus abided with us rather than just swinging by for a quick visit!  This incarnation or embodiment of God in the person of Jesus Christ defines who I am and how I understand the world, and I suspect that is much the same for most of those who are reading this.  Scripture only tells us a little about his earliest of days living in our midst, “and the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory,” the gospel of John boldly proclaims.  There is quite a bit more shared about Jesus’ later years of ministry, worthy of four full gospel accounts in fact!  Nonetheless, the almost 40 years in which Jesus abided with us, considering the entire length of human history, is infinitesimally small, but exponentially important.


The same is true for us human beings.  We are called to “abide” with each other, and not just our family and friends and those who think and act and look like us.  I believe that God becoming flesh and dwelling amongst humanity in significant ways, even when it wasn’t always fully understood and even when it engendered antipathy, misunderstanding, and violence, God still felt moved to abide with us and for us to abide with God – and each other.  This momentous act puts relationship and relationship building at the center of what the Divine does and expects us to do the same.


So what does that mean in real terms?  It means we cannot ignore one another, but we are called to get to know each other more deeply, honestly, and over a sustained period of time.  We can’t “drop by” like we do when we visit the home of those odd cousins– you know, the ones where we don’t even take off our coats but deliver the presents and offer our holiday greetings and then scram.  That’s not what God wants from us.  We need to learn more about each other, our hopes and fears, what motivates us to do what we do and be who we are.  We need to listen to each other’s stories – deeply – and be willing to share our stories, even if these stories bring anger, tears, or challenge us.  We need to abide with God by abiding more with each other.


This is what our renewed emphasis with our Awareness Conversations led by our Pro-Reconciliation/Anti-Racism Commission is seeking to do.  We have set two dates for these conversations in 2024 and I hope you will plan to attend if you have not already.  This is also the goal of the Narrative Project, led by the Office of General Minister and President, Teresa Hord Owens.  We must find ways to be present with each other and deepen our relationships with each other so that the presence of Christ can be made real in our lives. Both of these resources are linked in the description below.


And this has been my primary goal since being called as your Regional Minister: to deepen relationships with our congregations, clergy, lay leaders, and members across the state of Ohio.  I have put an emphasis on abiding with you, being present in your midst, whether on-line or, as often as I can, on-site.  I do not do this for show or photo-ops, but to truly learn about you and from you and to celebrate your gifts and graces, mission priorities and rich traditions, as well as to have you come to know me and the resources, possibilities, and limitations of the Regional Church.  Even though the long and frequent drives can be exhausting on me and my car, and sitting in front of a computer screen can be more draining than one might imagine, they are well worth it.


The video I recently created to help individuals and communities appreciate the Christmas Offering also provides a wonderful way to understand exactly how I have been present with you and how the Christian Church in Ohio seeks to invite Jesus, God-In-Christ, to dwell with us in real and tangible ways.  I invite you to check out the video and perhaps share it in your church’s first leadership meeting of the year.  Please also consider reposting it to your personal or congregation's social media page.  You can find it on our Regional Church YouTube page and linked in the description below.


We could not do any of this ministry without your gracious generosity.  Showing up takes resources, and seeking to respond to the challenges of our day and the needs of our members across Ohio requires enormous support.  Your gifts to the Renewal Initiative, the Christmas Offering, as well as to the Disciples Mission Fund – the whole church offering – helps us to abide with God by abiding with you and with all who we are called to serve.  I pray you will give as generously as you can.


Finally, I cannot conclude my end of the year message without mourning what is happening in our world that goes against everything I have just shared.  There are intentional efforts to divide us one from another, both here at home in Ohio and the United States and around the world that are built on NOT knowing one another more fully and are designed specifically to destroy relationships.  Fear-mongering, objectification of others, and the intentional distortion of truth about others is being concretized by laws which demonize some and glorify others and are becoming rampant here in the United States.  This is not the shepherd’s prayer, “O come to us, abide with us” and surely not what God wants from us this holiday, or at any time.


Likewise, the absolutely disgusting and reprehensible attacks on Israel and the taking of hostages by the Hamas terrorists on October 7th must categorically be condemn with all our might, along with all anti-Semitism in its insidious forms.  And yet we also must acknowledge that this heart-wrenching tragedy is now being used to justify a massively out-of-proportion retaliation which has killed upwards of 20,000 Palestinians as of this recording, most of them women and children, along with the widespread devastation of the vast majority of the infrastructure of Palestine including hospitals, schools, businesses, and homes.  This can only be named as genocide and a patently obvious attempt to prevent any possibility of the Palestinian people from ever being able to survive independently with dignity, much less rebuild without deeply imbedded rage and an incitement to fanaticism.  All the hostages, from both sides, must be released and a total and sustained ceasefire must begin at once if we are to have any chance of abiding together on this planet in peace.


As 2024 begins I recommit myself to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ, which is to invite God to abide with us and to promise that we will seek to abide with God, both which require thorough and ongoing relationship building.  Whether throughout the Regional Church in Ohio or throughout the whole wide world, may this be all our New Year’s Resolution.


Amen.



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