With a deep sense of gratitude, serving the United Church of Christ during a time that he's called both a challenge and a privilege, the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, the denomination's general minister and president, has announced he plans to retire early.
Black's decision to retire at the end of General Synod 2015 – two years before the conclusion of his second term – is in part because of his belief that at that time the church will reach an intersection where the transition to a unified body of governance, the scope of work among the covenanted ministries, and the missional priorities of the national setting will all align.
"Terms of office do not always fit the ever-evolving needs of an organization," Black said. "The national setting of the United Church of Christ has moved through a major transition and we are steadily moving forward as a leaner, more focused and agile organization. I hope we can continue along this trajectory and maintain our momentum. I believe that a change in leadership next year, bringing new energy and vision, will help to ensure that we do."
The UCC continued to break new ground during Black's tenure, becoming the first national denomination to file a lawsuit against a state (North Carolina) challenging the constitutionality of its marriage laws. The UCC became the first denomination to take a stand against fossil fuels when the General Synod in 2013 voted in favor of moving toward divestment from fossil fuel companies, along with other strategies, as a way to combat climate change. The church also completed its transition to a single 52-member board of governance from five different boards, marking the first time that one board was responsible for all the church's affairs.
Black announced his retirement 11 months before he plans to leave office so that the United Church of Christ Board will have ample time to identify and nominate his successor. Board chair the Rev. Bernard Wilson, who expressed his gratitude for Black's leadership during a period of difficult transitions, is now putting together a search committee to recommend the denomination's next General Minister and President. He hopes to have the group in place by the end of the month.
"The search committee will require careful, prayerful discernment but will also need to adhere to a tight timeline," said Wilson. The committee will need to collect and review the profiles of those called to apply for consideration. The committee then will need to interview those candidates it considers worthy, select one candidate and present that candidate at the March 2015 meeting of the UCCB."
Black has acknowledged that the months ahead will be filled with important work and decisions for him and his fellow national officers, and that he remains committed to his responsibilities.
"My hope and expectation is that you will join with me in that engagement, with the awareness that my tenure as General Minister and President will end next year, but with an even greater awareness that there is much to be accomplished before then," Black said.
Black was re-elected by the General Synod of the UCC to a second term in June 2013 during the denomination's biennial gathering in Long Beach, Calif. He was called to the leadership of the church five years ago by the former Executive Council of the UCC, and was confirmed as the UCC's seventh GMP by delegates during General Synod 2009 in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Before arriving in Cleveland for his first term in April 2010, Black was the conference minister for the New York Conference of the UCC from 2000 to 2009, and a pastor at the Congregational Church of South Hempstead (N.Y.) for almost 15 years (1980-1994). He also worked for the national setting from 1994 to 2000 in the UCC's Office for Church Life and Leadership.
"Given the fact that God has blessed the United Church of Christ with such a rich and diverse array of very capable and inspired leaders, I am confident that there is someone in our midst who will answer to God's call to serve as our next general minister and president," Black said.
"I ask for your prayers for Geoffrey and his wife Pat, for those who will serve on the search committee and for those who will come before it," Wilson said. "I also ask that you pray for our beloved United Church of Christ as we move into the future God has before us."