Written by Gregg Brekke
Called to serve at a pivotal point in the history of the UCC, Mr. W. Mark Clark, the Rev. J. Bennett Guess and the Rev. James Moos were installed as members of the five-person United Church of Christ Collegium of Officers at a ceremony attended by nearly 400 people Nov. 13 at Pilgrim UCC in Cleveland.
"Holy One, we are installing leadership that you have called to serve so that in the days and years to come, we can reflect on this moment on when you have called us on this journey," said the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, UCC General Minister and President, during the invocation. "You have called the leaders among us to serve in your holy ways."
Clark, Guess and Moos were elected last July at General Synod 28 in Tampa, Fla.
Guess is the Executive Minister for Local Church Ministries; Moos, Executive Minister for Wider Church Ministries, and Clark, Associate General Minister. They join Black and the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister for Justice and Witness Ministries, in forming the current Collegium.
Both formal and spiritual, the service recognized the gifts that Guess, Moos and Clark bring to their respective ministries. It is also an affirmation of the covenantal relationship between those serving and those served.
"We pray that we will give them everything they need to carry forth," said Black, "and remind us that you, Holy One, have called us to serve with them."
In delivering the sermon, the Rev. Kaji R. Spellman – a UCC pastor serving as pastor of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in New York City – relayed the curiosity, and initial dismay, she felt upon arriving at the UCC national setting five years ago.
"I was curious to see what it would be like to serve in a national setting in a town where everybody didn't know what we were up to," she said. "But the song I heard was not one of unity. It was more like a requiem – a dirge."
Spellman described a "cold wave" of gloom that had glommed onto much of the UCC – a wave that had warmed considerably by the time General Synod 28 rolled around this past summer. "As we learned in Tampa, the United Church of Christ is a church that lives. We are not dead, because Christ lives."
Spellman praised the newest members of the Collegium as devoted servants with admirable track records of inclusivity, creativity and trust.
"Jim has always been able to bring us into the wider picture," said Spellman. "Ben – always, in every moment in the church – is willing to be creative and try something different. And Mark has always had a way to smile and find a solution in moments that were tough."
Alluding to the success of the UCC's recently-completed Mission:1 campaign against hunger, Spellman offered a pointed side note. "We seem to be under the impression that the miracles in the Bible were one-time occurrences. We think, 'Wow, what a great story of feeding 5,000 people.' People say to me, 'Pastor, how cool that Jesus did that' – as if every time the poor gather at a table, the 5,000 are not being fed."
During the ceremony's musical moments, the soul-stirring sounds of Hubb's Groove – a Cleveland-area jazz, soul, classical and R&B band – and the dynamism of diminutive soloist Angela Lynard prompted "Amens" and swaying, uplifted hands among guests and honorees alike.
"Sometimes we're just too quiet," an impassioned Lynard called out after singing "It Is Well With My Soul."
"I've lost six family members in the past year," she said. "If it can be well with my soul, it can be well with yours, too."
Clark is the former president and chief executive officer of CODAC Behavioral HealthServices, a nonprofit managed behavioral health care organization in Tucson, Ariz. As a lay member of the church, Clark has served in numerous capacities on local, regional and national levels. He chaired the UCC's Southwest Conference Minister Search Committee, served on the Board of Directors of the UCC Office of General Ministries, and served as chair of the Committee of Reference for General Synod 27. Clark succeeded Associate General Minister Edith A. Guffey in October.
Guess was previously Director of the UCC Publishing, Identity and Communication Ministry, and also served as the church's news director. He was a local parish minister for 12 years, including eight as pastor of Zion UCC in Henderson, Ky. He also helped create the Paff Haus Justice and Peace Center. He filled the unexpired term of the Rev. Stephen L. Sterner in August.
Moos came to his national position after serving as pastor of Bismarck (N.D.) United Church of Christ and the Adams County Parish UCC in Hettinger and Reeder, N.D. He is a former Air Force chaplain and former member of the UCC Executive Council and Wider Church Ministries Board of Directors, where he chaired its Finance and Budget Committee. Moos follows the Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte, who retired July 31.
The installation service concluded the UCC's annual joint board meetings and follows the completion of the UCC's Mission:1 campaign. During the first 11 days of November, the denomination sought to collect more than 1 million food and household items for local food banks –– a goal reached on Nov. 10 –– as well as $111,111 in online donations for hunger-related ministries and $111,111 in online donations for East Africa famine relief. The UCC also asked its 5,300 congregations to advocate for hunger-related causes worldwide via 11,111 letters to Congress; by Nov. 9 that goal had been doubled.
Suggesting that UCC members appoint themselves "gloomitarians," Spellman urged that shouts of joy and sounds of faith must continue to permeate the UCC.
"The dirge cannot be our story now," she said. "There is no one more poised, no one more relevant, no one more perfectly responsible to meet the needs of a global mission church than the United Church of Christ."