Written by Anthony Moujaes
The overwhelming support shown for the Rev. J. Bennett Guess by peers and colleagues made the decision for Local Church Ministries board members easy. Wednesday's board vote to nominate Guess for re-election as LCM's executive minister was unanimous based on his leadership, passion and creativity in his short time in the role.
"To be able to serve as a leader of a denomination that I love so deeply and believe in so passionately, is a great honor," Guess said. "I thank the LCM board of directors for its support, and offer my deep appreciation to the LCM staff for their incredible commitment and creativity."
When Guess was first nominated in April 2011 to the Local Church Ministries executive minister position, the LCM board approved it unanimously, citing the church's need to find a ministry leader who was skilled, creative and collaborative to succeed retiring executive minister the Rev. Steven Sterner.
"I think for most of us, this is an affirmation of what we already knew about Ben," said Carol Williams-Swoope, LCM board chairwoman. "Having been part of the original committee [that nominated Guess in 2011], we had that gut feeling that he was capable of this, and we've seen it come to life."
The report from the nomination search committee chair, Susannah Davis, was filled with glowing reviews of Guess' character.
"I think Ben is a superb leader -- open, passionate, enthusiastic, spiritually grounded. He seems to me the right person to be in the right place at this time, and I would certainly endorse his continued service," Davis wrote in her report.
Guess came to the national setting in 2000 as the communications director for Justice and Witness Ministries, then spent four years as the news director and editor of United Church News before serving as the director of the UCC's Publishing, Identity and Communication Ministry from 2007 to 2011.
A pastor in Kentucky for 12 years prior to joining the UCC's national offices, Guess earned his bachelor's from the University of Kentucky, an M. Div. degree from Vanderbilt University Divinity School and a D. Min. degree from the UCC's Chicago Theological Seminary. Guess and his spouse, Jim Therrien, are members of Pilgrim UCC in Cleveland.
"I am grateful for the opportunity to serve, and see firsthand, how our radically inclusive and relevant expression of the Christian faith — the United Church of Christ — impacts so many communities across this country," Guess said. "We are actually much ‘bigger' than we might realize. Our reach is deep and wide, local and global.
"The UCC is a force to be reckoned with, because we believe in the power of an extravagant love to change lives and challenge unjust systems. Our local churches are actively engaged in worship, mission, service and advocacy, and it is a privilege to be part of Local Church Ministries, where supporting and resourcing these great communities of faith is at the heart of everything we are about."
Guess' nomination will come up for a vote by delegates during General Synod 29 in July 2013 in Long Beach, Calif. If elected, Guess' new term will begin Oct. 1, 2013 and end Sept. 30, 2017. It would be Guess' first four-year term because he currently is finishing the final two years of the Rev. Steve Sterner's term. The UCC Constitution and Bylaws allow executive ministers to serve a maximum of three four-year terms.
Guess needed at least two-thirds of the votes from the LCM board for the nomination. At General Synod next summer he'll need 60 percent of the vote from approximately 865 delegates.