'Give yo' momma a comma'
For years, as a visible sign of his Christian faith, the Rev. Andy C. Burr, pastor of United Parish (UCC/ United Methodist) of Lunenburg, Mass., has been wearing a cross around his neck, but no one ever asks him what it means. They assume they know.
But, a couple years ago, when Burr started wearing a red comma lapel pin - an increasingly visible symbol of the UCC's Stillspeaking Initiative - he found himself speaking about his faith in ways and in places he'd never expected. People started asking the meaning behind that red comma, and Burr - just like other UCC members have discovered - found himself talking to others about the UCC in the grocery store, at the post offi ce, even on airplanes.
Ron Buford, coordinator of the church's identity campaign, often shares Burr's story with others, because Buford thinks the little red comma is asking something of UCC members that they've not been asked to do or prepared to do for generations - talking with others about their faith.
Biblically speaking, it was St. Peter who first instructed us "to always be prepared to give an account for the hope that is within you." But Buford thinks we've largely forgotten the need for such preparation. Thankfully, he says, those little red comma pins now provide us opportunities to redeem ourselves.
"People have actually accused us of tricking UCC people into talking about their faith journeys," he jokes.
That's why, as part of the launch of the UCC's newest commercial on April 3 (see story on page 2), Buford is asking all UCC members to don a red lapel pin during the duration of the ad run. It's a campaign he's calling, "Give yo' momma a comma," a phrase that plays on Buford's hope that, before Easter (April 16), church-wide fund raising will enable the newest ad to run through Mother's Day (May 14).
Buford says the pins invite members' active participation in the campaign.
"It's a call to the piety part of our history that says, 'You've got to be in a relationship with this God, and you've got to be prepared to talk about it,'" he says.
The metal pins sell for $4 a piece. But they're being offered in bulk at a steep discount until April 30. Your church can order 100 pins for just $150, Buford says, by calling United Church of Christ Resources at 800/537-3394.
So what does Buford say when someone inquires about the meaning behind his comma pin?
"So much about religion and the church has become identified with clinging to the past. My church believes that God is still speaking to us today."
"It's a symbol of my church that teaches we should never place a period where God has placed a comma. God's not stuck. God has a lot more light and truth to reveal to us."
"It means that no matter how bad things may get in my life or in the world, I can remember that God is still in the midst of it."
In the coming weeks, remember: those 30-second TV spots may get people's attention. But, just like always, it's up to the 1.3-million, comma-wearing UCC members to extend the personal invitation.