Written by Daniel Hazard
Just as thousands will be arriving at General Synod 26 in Hartford, Conn., the Freedom Schooner Amistad will hoist its sails in nearby New Haven and embark on a historic first-time voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. It will visit Sierra Leone, the west Africa land once home to the former Amistad captives.
The ship will carry the story of Sengbe Pieh and others who changed the course of U.S. history in their struggle for freedom and against slavery. The Amistad will carry the slogan, "Confronting the past; transforming the present," encapsulating the heart of the Amistad America project.
The Amistad event was the first human rights trial in U.S. history and, in many ways, heralded the birth of the UCC's justice-advocacy tradition.
On Thursday, June 21, early Synod visitors can participate in a public bon voyage as well wishers gather from across the United States to bless the Amistad Freedom Schooner and its crew as they embark on this 14-month adventure. Learn more at amistadamerica.org.
Record-setting victory for kids
The UCC's legal complaint that the nation's largest Hispanic television network, Univision, is not serving the educational programming needs of children has resulted in a landmark ruling by the Federal Communications Commission.
According to a front page story in The New York Times on Feb. 24, the FCC was expected to fine Univision about $24 million, the largest ever imposed by the FCC against any company. The decision was made public during a NYT interview with FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin.
The UCC's action, dating back to August 2005, represented the first time that a Spanish-speaking station's license renewal had been challenged for failure to comply with the Children's Television Act of 1990 and the children's educational guidelines, adopted by the FCC in 1996, that require local stations to air at least three hours per week of specifically educational programming.
After investigating the complaint by the UCC's Office of Communication Inc., the FCC decreed that 24 Univision stations had violated programming guidelines over a two-year period.
The UCC was the sole complainant in the case and many of the individual petitions were signed by members of La Eglesia Unida De Cristo Buenas Nuevas, a small Hispanic UCC congregation in Cleveland.
"This landmark decision is a tribute to the courage of these UCC members who took a stand on behalf of their children," said the Rev. Robert Chase, the UCC's director of communications.
Learn more at ucc.org/ocinc.
50th Anniversary Hymn
The Rev. Carl Daw Jr., a well-known hymn writer, has completed a commissioned hymn to commemorate the UCC's 50th anniversary celebration. "God our Maker, whose first summons" is a new hymn text based on the UCC's anniversary-year theme, "Let it shine!" The hymn is available online at ucc.org/50 and may be used freely in the UCC throughout the anniversary year, as long as the copyright information is included as it appears on the hymn page.
"This image of Christians as bearers of light is the unifying theme of this hymn, and the various stanzas relate this theme to the three persons of the Trinity, both individually and jointly," Daw wrote in his artistic statement.
Daw authored the text to accompany the ever-popular Welsh tune, CWM RHONDDA, popularly known by its more-common text "God of grace, and God of glory."
Daw, an Episcopal priest, is executive director of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada and an adjunct professor of hymnology at Boston University.
Well acquainted with the UCC, Daw was involved in the creation of The New Century Hymnal as one of the poets engaged to recraft the language of older hymns. In the end, eight of Daw's texts were included in The New Century Hymnal.
"Daw's texts, known for their rich use of metaphors, appear in almost all the modern denominational hymnals," says Art Clyde, who was editor of the UCC's popular 1995 hymnal.
Justice nominees sought
UCC-related Christians for Justice Action is seeking nominations for the biennial Burning Bush Award, which honors the work of a local justice advocate. CJA seeks to recognize those who otherwise go unnoticed at a national level. Nomination letters may be sent by May 25 to: Burning Bush Nominations, c/o J.F. Wickey, 822 College Ave., Alva, OK 73717 or Jfw3rd@yahoo.com.
The award will be presented at CJA's General Synod luncheon on June 25 when U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) will deliver the fifth Valerie E. Russell Lecture.
More on Synod 25 fallout
During the 20 months since General Synod 25 in Atlanta, 163 UCC churches have officially left the denomination, according to United Church News analysis. The figure is based on raw statistical data from July 5, 2005, to March 5, 2007, provided to United Church News by the UCC's research office in Cleveland.
Ninety churches specifically cited General Synod's 2005 decision to affirm support for same-gender marriage equality as their reason for departure. Twenty churches indicated they had general disagreement with the denomination on several issues, while 47 churches provided no specific reason for withdrawal. Six churches said they were leaving to join another denomination or become independent, but also provided no specific rationale.
The withdrawals translated into a loss of 15,003 members or 1.15 percent of the denomination's 2005 membership of nearly 1.3 million. Leaving churches collectively contributed $123,952 (or four-tenths of one percent) of the total $29.6 million given to Our Church's Wider Mission basic support in 2005.
About 35 percent of churches that departed after July 2005 did not contribute to OCWM in 2003 or 2004. In 2005, more than 63 percent of these churches did not contribute.
In addition, during the same 20-month period, 30 churches closed altogether - due to declining and/or aging membership - and were removed from the UCC's national roster of local churches.
Meanwhile, 65 churches have expressed a firm interest in joining the UCC since July 2005, a process that can take a bit longer to complete than a congregation's decision to leave the denomination. To date, 35 new or existing churches have either been granted standing in the UCC or have been received in-care by a local Association.