|Lucas Benitez, co-founder and Co-Director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (left), thanks attendees at the Florida Conference fundraising dinner during General Synod 28 - July 2, 2011. (photo Gregg Brekke)|
As the Florida Conference prepared to host their first General Synod, they challenged themselves to "imagine what's possible."
They imagined an opportunity to "leverage" the presence of the national church meeting into increased visibility for the United Church of Christ in the state of Florida.
They imagined a way to host a General Synod with minimal impact on the Conference operating budget.
They imagined a way to support a strategic initiative of the national church setting.
And they imagined a way to support a community of workers in their struggle for justice.
More than 600 guests from around the United Church of Christ gathered this evening (Saturday) to celebrate the success of Florida's "Imagine a Way" campaign and the ministries raised funds will support.
"I am here tonight to say to each and every one of you ‘Thank you from the bottom of my heart,' " said the Rev. Kent Siladi, Conference Minister for the Florida Conference.
UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey Black said this campaign is a "first" in the UCC. "It is the first time a General Synod has been marked by a campaign to raise contributions for mission and ministry." It may not be the last. He added that the California-Nevada Conference, hosts of General Synod 29 in 2013, is considering a similar campaign.
Although the campaign totals are still being counted, Siladi says the Conference passed their $200,000 goal. And though he mentioned that United Church of Christ congregations and parishioners may be timid when discussing money, he remembered his sister-in-law's advice that "money follows mission."
"The abundance that is upon us when people feel strongly and passionately about something" was clearly witnessed by the success of the campaign, he said.
Lucas Benitez, co-founder and Co-Director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) was grateful for the $25,000 support for building of their community center. The center will provide a base for their work in Immokalee, a community about three hours south of Tampa.
"You are all making possible a dream for the thousands of farm workers in Immokalee," he said through an interpreter. "This [money] will complete the project."
The Still Speaking Campaign in the state of Florida will receive about half of the funds to purchase television, cable and Facebook ads. Siladi says the campaign has already generated a positive response, including phone calls, church visits and other inquiries.
Also receiving support from the "Imagine A Way" campaign are the UCC's Strategic Initiatives Fund and the Florida Conference General Synod expenses. General Synod established the Strategic Initiatives Fund in 2007 to encourage innovation and excellence in ministry, as well as to identify and equip future leaders of the church.
The Florida Conference will use a portion of the funds to defray their costs for hosting General Synod. This is the first time a Conference has specifically raised funds for this purpose and could serve as a model for future General Synod hosts.
In addition to funds already raised, Siladi announced the Florida Conferences participation in Mission One, the eleven-day challenge to local churches and church members to show the impact of the United Church of Christ. The event, beginning November 1, will gather and distribute food and other household items, collect funds for the UCC Neighbors In Need offering, and send 111,111 letters to members of Congress in support of effective foreign assistance to support programs for the poor and hungry.