Written by J. Bennett Guess
The announcement comes as the UCC is preparing to scale back the campaign's budget and staffing, and to integrate more fully its objectives within the UCC's national structure. The changes gradually will take place before the campaign's scheduled close in 2007, the denomination's 50th anniversary year.
"Now is the time in the life of The Stillspeaking Initiative for the UCC to embrace the entrepreneurial ideas generated during the campaign and to make them its own. Others may be better suited to this task than I," said Buford.
"Ron leaves a permanent legacy on the UCC for which the church will always be grateful," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president. "The Stillspeaking Initiative will continue to be a transforming movement within the life of our church and Ron's creativity and devotion have been a driving force behind it."
The "God is still speaking," genius was born in 2001 while Buford was traveling in southern California. There, he glimpsed a postcard quote attributed to comedienne Gracie Allen: "Never place a period where God has placed a comma."
Allen's sentiment, thought Buford, offered a more-contemporary spin on the UCC's diverse theological commitment to a "still speaking" God. It resonated, he thought, with a similar-sounding refrain from long ago, a church-cherished historical quote attributed to Pastor John Robinson who, in 1620, urged the UCC's Pilgrim forebears to remember that "God still has more truth and light to break forth from God's Holy Word."
Buford, who enjoyed a distinguished career in corporate marketing before joining the UCC's national staff in 2000, felt that the 1.3-million-member UCC suffered from a decades-old identity crisis tied to the church's dynamic-yet-confusing heritage as the 1957 union of four rather-distinct church traditions. The UCC lacked a "brand," Buford argued, and church members' pride in their denomination was being held back by an ineffective articulation of the church's history and cultural contributions.
Soon, Buford parlayed the comma emblem and the "God is still speaking," phrase into a full-fledged marketing effort for the church, bringing the UCC's message onto everything from luncheon napkins to billboards, from t-shirts to radio and TV commercials. The UCC quickly emerged, alongside the United Methodist Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as a leading, visible force in church advertising.
A 1977 graduate of the University of Rochester in New York, Buford first served as the denomination's public relations and marketing manager. However, it only took a few years for the identity campaign to become Buford's full-time job -- and his lasting contribution.
"Ron has helped the UCC reclaim its sense of self, to recall its many historical 'firsts' and to celebrate not only what it has been, but what it can become," said the Rev. Robert Chase, the UCC's communication director.
The Stillspeaking Initiative enjoys the following of more than 2,300 UCC churches, which individually have elected to endorse the campaign and participate in marketing and hospitality training. In addition to a full complement of Stillspeaking merchandise, the initiative developed three award-winning TV commercials that ran nationally in December 2004, March 2005 and April 2006.
The campaign's "Bouncer" and "Ejector" ads became known nationally for their edgy, youthful appeal and won several prestigious advertising awards for their multicultural and gay-affirming messages. But when several broadcast networks rejected the church's inclusive 30-second ads as "advocacy" spots, the refusal triggered national news coverage for the campaign.
The United Church of Christ, with national offices in Cleveland, was formed by the 1957 union of the Congregational Christian churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.