Written by Daniel Hazard
|Still image from 'Steeples' ad|
The UCC's "Steeples" television ad, featuring a diverse array of people reciting the "here is the church, here is the steeple" rhyme, began airing nationwide Sept. 29 on BET, Bravo, CNN and TV One. The ad will be seen over two weeks on these networks reaching more than 10 million viewers.
Nearly 1,200 entities — individuals, churches, conferences and other UCC ministries — contributed $235,000 during the past two months to make this Stillspeaking advertising initiative possible.
"The ads are more than marketing," said the Rev. Felix Carrion, national coordinator of the Stillspeaking Ministry. "This is proclamation of the good news in Jesus Christ — the good news of the welcome Jesus offers to all the people.
" 'All the people' is the message, as much as I like the commercial itself, I like this message even more," said Carrion. "It really is of the essence of the gospel — neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free, but all the people. That is what is so radical about the gospel. Rich and poor, young and old, black and white and brown and yellow and red (and all the hues in between) are invited — that's why I have such a passion for the 'all the people' message."
Gwen Thomas, Stillspeaking's assistant coordinator, notes the impact the commercial is already having within the UCC. "We were a very popular booth at the National Youth Event," she said. "The statement 'God is still speaking' resonates with the people who were there. They know it; they embrace it and incorporate it in their own homegrown ways."
"[NYE] was really an extraordinary event," said Carrion. "Young people get it; they know what we're talking about when we say 'all the people.' That's a real encouragement. Over 3000 young people got excited about us airing this ad. If young people find this ad appealing and heartwarming and truthful, then we're really onto something."
In addition to customized Stillspeaking T-shirts represented by congregations and associations at NYE, Thomas called attention to a grassroots video project to which 23 churches have submitted their self-produced versions of the "Steeples" ad.
Both Carrion and Thomas expressed gratitude for the generosity of those who donated. "Despite the fact that this has obviously been a trying economic time for everyone, the churches, individuals, conferences and other organizations really rose to the occasion to give what they could," said Thomas.
The message couldn't come at a better time, said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, the UCC's director of communications. "Across the church, people have expressed excitement that, given the manner in which the UCC was caricatured and distorted by the media earlier this year, that we will have this moment to speak a proactive, inclusive word about who we really are."
The "Steeples" ad marks the third installment of Stillspeaking commercials on national airwaves. Controversy surrounding the earlier ads, "Bouncer" and "Ejector," was punctuated by a ban of their run by the major networks and network-owned cable channels.
Future plans for the Stillspeaking ministry include strengthening congregational programs and an emphasis on creating materials that equip individuals to be Stillspeaking people.
"These resources will support the idea that you can be a Stillspeaking person, a Stillspeaking proclaimer, a Stillspeaking inviter, a Stillspeaking evangelist, a Stillspeaking steward." said Carrion. "We're not just inviting people to belong to a church, we're inviting them to transformation — to come make history with us, to come do mission with us, to come help change the world."