Buford, coordinator of the UCC's national advertising campaign, spoke to delegates at the denomination's 25th General Synod, meeting this weekend in Atlanta. His message was one of congratulations and anticipation. The church is embarking on a campaign to raise additional funds to continue the advertisements during the upcoming Advent season.
"This is no ordinary time," he said. "We need your help in carrying this torch."
Buford said more than 40 percent of the denomination's 6,000 local congregations have lent financial support to the advertising efforts. These congregations are urban and rural, conservative and progressive, small and large.
"What these churches share is a common commitment to serve in Christ's name, with the needs of each seeking person in central focus."
In addition to the churches, Buford also credited some in the media for exposing more people to the church's message. When two major television networks declined to run commercials, deeming them too controversial, the ensuing media coverage was as good as the advertising.
"People across the nation and around the world wanted to know about the church that was courageous enough to run the 'bouncer ad.' "
He said that after the network's refusal to run the ads, more than 1 million users visited the church's website and more than 75,000 used a link to search for a local church.
The Rev. Jacoba Kopert, pastor of Plattsburgh UCC, Plattsburgh, Ohio, leads one of those congregations which "opted-in" by providing financial support for the campaign. She said the campaign not only generated awareness in the community; it also has her members asking questions about who we are as a denomination.
"They are very much aware of the Still Speaking Initiative," she said.
This self-examination is an important part of the process. Recalling the New England Pilgrims, to whom the UCC can trace some of its roots, Buford reminded the delegates that the Pilgrims found the freedom to "be a new people, open to fresh new ideas from the Stillspeaking God."
At St. Peter's UCC, Millbury, Ohio, Mary Winters said the campaign has helped her congregation "move forward into the community." It has served as a platform from which they have launched a number of local outreach efforts. She also said that since the campaign was launched, the church has welcomed a number of new families, and attendance at youth activities has grown.
Buford said he is confident that congregations will again come forward to support the planned Advent campaign. He says the Collegium, representing the heads of the main church agencies, has agreed to match funds raised by local congregations up to $1.5 million.
Each $1,000 of advertising reaches 50,000 people, he said.
"We plan to run hard with the Stillspeaking Initiative," Buford said. "I am running. Will you run with me?"