Written by Daniel Hazard
The UCC's newest television commercial, "ejector seat," will begin airing nationally on April 3.
During its three-week run on multiple cable networks, the relatively high saturation ad buy means that about 60 to 65 percent of the U.S. population is expected to see the ad at least once. Fund raising is ongoing with hopes of collecting an additional $800,000 to keep the ad on the air through Mother's Day.
Playing to the now-familiar theme of alienation - first emphasized in the UCC's controversial "bouncer" ad that aired in December 2004 and March 2005 - "ejector seat" employs a bit of humor to express the church's newest theme, "God doesn't reject people. Neither do we."
The 30-second commercial begins with a shot of an African-American mother trying to calm a crying baby. Sitting in a church pew, the mother fidgets anxiously, as she endures sour, disapproving looks from fellow worshippers. Eventually, someone in the wings pushes an "ejector" button to rid the church of her - and her noisy baby. Into the air they go flying.
In similar fashion, a gay couple, an Arab- American, a person using a walker, among others, gets "ejected." Finally, when a homeless person wanders in and takes a seat, nervous parishioners - expecting she'll get the boot for sure - scoot away from her.
"Throughout this campaign, the heart of our focus has been on the experience of the seeker," says Ron Buford, coordinator of The Stillspeaking Initiative. "The issue is not anyone's actual intention to eject people. The issue is whether or not newcomers feel rejected. And we know they do and for a variety of reasons."
Several specialized websites have been developed to help newcomers, drawn in by the ad, to find their way into better familiarity with the UCC. In addition to and , a new, virtual UCC community, located online at i.ucc.org, will help persons "try on" the UCC, especially in areas where no UCC yet exists, says the Rev. David Schoen of the UCC's Evangelism Ministry.
Another website, , will provide a space for people to share their personal stories of religious rejection and to fi nd support in their search for a more-welcoming Christian experience.
"Our sincere hope is that they'll find this church called the United Church of Christ that cares," Buford says.
In addition to television spots, the UCC is also purchasing internet ads and blog ads, as a way to boost the church's overall exposure during the three-week run.
The Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC General Minister and President, says that if "bouncer" reminded us that God doesn't need gatekeepers, then "ejector seat" reminds us that grace may come in the guise of the stranger, even someone who makes us uncomfortable.
Harkening back to the UCC's controversial ad debut 18 months, when CBS and NBC refused to run the ad, Thomas says Jesus' extravagant welcome in the Gospels raised eyebrows and stirred controversy.
"This ad conveys through the laughter a similar message," Thomas says, "Why shouldn't we expect similar controversy?
Buford says "the new ad enables the message to be funny but still impactful."
Adds Thomas, "No one will look at a church pew again in the same way!"