The UCC's Local Church Ministries board of directors unanimously endorsed the nomination of the Rev. J. Bennett Guess to the position of executive minister at their April 8, 2011, meeting in Cleveland.
Guess' nomination will now be forwarded to General Synod 28 in Tampa this summer.
"The UCC is entering an incredible moment of opportunity that has great risks," said the Rev. Tim Downs, the UCC's Southeast Conference minister. "For us to be led in this season we need people like Ben. [He] brings an amazingly diverse range of skills and creativity to lead us into the future."
"We need to be free of some of the things that have anchored us in the past," Downs continued. "We need to be open to leadership development … of the young people that will be our leaders for the mission that is really uniquely ours."
"Ben has a wealth of innovative ideas and his ability to collaborate is amazing," said search committee member Trinaka Jamison.
"I went to this task with the concern about how we shape the next Collegium of leaders for the UCC," said the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, the UCC's general minister and president. "[We determined that having a candidate that is] able to engage and have concern for the whole of the UCC was critical. What we saw in Ben, and was confirmed by others, is an affirmation of this choice."
Guess delivered comments in the open session of the board meeting to which UCC staff members were invited. "I am grateful the confidence that the search committee has extended to me," Guess said. "As always, I am so deeply appreciative for the United Church of Christ, which has graced me with opportunities to grow and serve in ways that I could have never imagined, nor even thought possible, 20 years ago as an openly gay person in ministry."
Acknowledging the "lack of racial and gender diversity" in the three candidates nominated to the open Collegium positions, Guess assured the board regarding his commitment to diversity. "I am honored and humbled to be named a candidate for this office and pledge my commitment to strengthening racial and gender diversity, as well as other diversities, to ensure and live out who we say we are … and so much want to be," he said.
"Contrary to what we've been taught, denominational change does not mean denominational demise," Guess said as he introduced the changing priorities of religious communities in the United States. "It means that denominational structures and purposes, as we have known them, are shifting –– not ending."
Guess has served at the national setting of the UCC in Cleveland since 2000 –– first as communications director for Justice and Witness Ministries, followed by four years as an award-winning news director and editor of United Church News, and since 2007 as the director of the UCC's Publishing, Identity and Communication Ministry.
Prior to his time at the UCC's national offices, Guess served 12 years as a local church pastor in Kentucky.
Guess earned a bachelors degree from the University of Kentucky School of Journalism, an M.Div. degree from Vanderbilt University Divinity School, and a D.Min. degree in Preaching from Chicago Theological Seminary. He also studied public administration at Murray (Ky.) State University.
Guess and his spouse of 10 years, Jim Therrien, live in Cleveland and are members of Pilgrim UCC. Jim is a travel advisor with a corporate travel agency located in Cleveland.
Guess' nomination completes the docket of Collegium candidates who will receive a vote by General Synod 28. The candidacy of W. Mark Clark, nominee for associate general minister, was affirmed by the Office of General Ministries board and the Executive Council in late March. The Rev. Jim Moos' candidacy as executive minister and co-executive of Global Ministries was affirmed by the Wider Church Ministries board April 7.
Guess' full remarks to the board are available online.