Meet the Rev. Dr. J. Bennett Guess, Executive Minister of the United Church of Christ’s Local Church Ministries and a member of the UCC’s five-person Collegium of Officers.
Nominated by the 55-member Local Church Ministries’ board of directors, Guess was elected by General Synod delegates in July 2011. He is the first openly gay person to serve as a national officer of the church.
Local Church Ministries’ purpose is to encourage and support congregations in the fulfillment of God's mission, especially in parish life and leadership; book, curricula and resource production; and congregational vitality and discipleship, including evangelism, stewardship and church finances, worship and education, and church buildings and loans.
Guess has worked for the UCC’s national setting since 2000, first as Justice and Witness Ministries’ communications minister and, later, as editor of United Church News and the UCC’s news director. In 2007, he was named the UCC’s communication director, where he helped steer the UCC’s Stillspeaking Ministry; United Church News; video, web, and social media; print design and production; marketing and distribution; special events, including General Synod; and the denomination’s historic advocacy work in media justice and reform. In March 2010, Rev. Guess was asked to oversee the creation of a new, cross-ministry department called Publishing, Identity and Communication that successfully merged staff from the Office of General Ministries and Local Church Ministries and fostered more cooperative and strategic work for the whole national setting.
Guess has written more than 500 articles on all aspects of the church, earning him more than 60 awards. His writing demonstrates his broad knowledge of the UCC and local-church life and his demonstrated capacity to think critically as well as creatively about the opportunities and challenges we face as a denomination. He is a member of numerous ecumenical organizations.
Guess earned a B.A. degree in journalism from the University of Kentucky. He completed graduate studies in public administration and public policy at Murray State University, and earned his M.Div. degree in 1991 from Vanderbilt University Divinity School. He received his D.Min. degree in preaching from UCC-related Chicago Theological Seminary in 2001.
Prior to coming to the UCC’s national offices, Guess was a local church pastor for 12 years, including eight years as pastor of Zion UCC in Henderson, Ky., a congregation that grew from 12 elderly members to a vital, justice-focused, multiracial, open and affirming congregation of more than 300 people. He also helped create the Paff Haus Justice and Peace Center, a justice cooperative that housed offices for more than a dozen regional and statewide advocacy organizations in Kentucky and southern Indiana. In 1992, he co-founded the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, now the state’s largest and most visible LGBT rights organization. Guess received the UCC’s Just Peace Award at the 1997 General Synod in Columbus, Ohio, in recognition of his life-long commitment to justice advocacy.
Guess and his spouse, Jim Therrien, are members of Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Cleveland.
Local Church Ministries is one of four Covenanted Ministries in the United Church of Christ. Our purpose is to encourage and support the church's congregations in the fulfillment of God's mission. Local Church Ministries' specific thematic areas can be found below:
These teams support local congregations in their concerns about growth, finances, liturgy and education; support ordained and lay ministers in their vocations; and manage with the Office of General Ministries, the UCC's publishing houses and distribution services.