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Scott’s Column: Friendship

Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
October 9 2017

The final day of General Synod in Baltimore this summer, I was walking down the stairs to the plenary hall and entered into conversation with the woman walking beside me.  After a little bit of basic information about who we were and where we were from, she mentioned that the previous day she had met the Rev. Ken Evitts, the outgoing pastor of Northwest Hills UCC.  I said, “Yes, Ken and I are friends.”  With a puzzled look on her face, she said, “Really?”

In introducing myself I had mentioned my husband Michael, so she knew I was a gay man.  She had met Ken at the booth for the Faithful and Welcoming Churches, which is the conservative group of UCC folk.  So, the pieces didn’t fit for her—that conservative Ken and gay me could be friends.  She said as much.

I went on to explain that despite our differences, we were friends.  Not just colleagues who had worked together in the association (though we’ve done that), but genuine personal friends.  As an example, I told her that I had organized Ken’s going-away dinner with fellow clergy and that he had thanked me for being his closest friend in the conference.  She continued to look very surprised.

Then she said, “But I am encouraged by that.”  She urged us to give a Speak Out during the synod about our friendship across the theological spectrum.  I went to Ken with the idea, and he agreed.  He had planned to depart the synod before the final session, but stayed so we could address the group.  Here’s what we said,

I’m Ken  Evitts, former Senior Pastor of Northwest Hills, UCC in Omaha and a member of the Faithful and Welcoming Churches.

I’m Scott Jones, Senior Minister of the First Central Congregational Church in Omaha and a member of the Open and Affirming Coalition.

Ken: not only are we colleagues
Scott: we are also good friends

Ken: We have discovered the core of those things that unite us in Christ
Scott: In our love for God, for all God’s children, our neighbors, and God’s creation

Both: In the United Church of Christ there is a place for everyone at the Table.

Ken and I became friends because we prayed together.  When I first arrived in Omaha there was a monthly gathering of UCC and Disciples of Christ clergy who gathered for prayer and support.  You can’t spend years praying together in a small group and not build an intimacy.

Then we did work together on the Church and Ministry Committee, including resolving a few difficult situations.  We came to respect each other’s judgment and problem solving.

Genuine friendship among those who disagree is possible, particularly when we share a commitment to God and God’s church.  I wish such friendships weren’t so rare that they surprised people.