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United Church of Christ roots in the South may not be as deep as in other parts of the country, but signs of the denomination are bustin' out in Clemson, S.C.
Members of Peace Congregational UCC –– a new church planted and opened just 14 months ago –– have cultivated a series of 10 catchy, thought-provoking posters lifting up the church’s commitment to re-imagine faith, justice and mission.
“They’re a little edgy, which is what we wanted, and they speak to the South,” said the Rev. Susie Smith, church pastor. “We knew we needed to reach a new group of people. There aren’t many UCC people around here that have grown up in UCC churches.”
Count among them poster-series developer Shell Amond Miller and Caleb Suttles, an 18-year-old graphic designer. Suttles, a video production business owner, has used his artistic touch to give the posters “pop.”
“I was very grateful to be able to design the posters for the church,” said Suttles. “Finding Peace Congregational has truly been an enlightening and liberating experience for me. I'm happy to have found a group of believers who are not plagued by the condemnation and hatred that I experienced in church growing up.”
Suttles, who said he has been “creating” since he was a small child, is clear about the matters that mean the most to him today. “I am passionate about social justice and creating tangible meaning through my work, which was another reason I was excited to create these posters,” he said.
Among the wide range of originality permeating the project is a poster that promotes “the separation of church and hate”; another showing an image of a gavel and proclaiming, “If you want to be judged, attend court”; a third is in the likeness of a “fake prescription,” stating, “Too tight a Bible belt has been shown to reduce circulation to the heart and brain.”
For starters, church members were asked last week to pick a copy of one of the poster designs and put it up anywhere their public travels routinely take them –– coffee shop, grocery store, restaurant –– and then switch them out with a new poster each week for the next few months.
“Hopefully, we’ll reach 100 places,” said Smith, also noting the contribution to the project by church members Jason Myers, Leslie Cavin and Julie Garcia, who assisted with creative content and poster production. “We want to reach people who are progressive, have somewhat a sense of humor, are willing to try something different, and who probably aren’t in church now because they’ve been turned off by church.”
Anticipation of the posters’ unveiling has made at least one wave through the South, reaching down as far as Florida.
“These posters capture the message that we need to get out to people who are looking for an alternative voice to the religious dogmatism found in the South,” said the Rev. Kent J. Siladi, the UCC’s Florida Conference minister.
Siladi says the series provides an excellent blend of levity while driving home the UCC’s essence. “While these posters were developed for one local congregation, I could see them being used in the Southern Region by a wide variety of our churches,” he said.
Smith said Peace Congregational plans to copyright the posters –– but she extends a warm invitation to any UCC church that wants to use the posters to do so.
Siladi is all over that.
“We’ve received permission from them to use the posters,” he said. “What a gift these will be to help our churches get the message of the UCC out in a fresh and bold and faithful way.”