Guess: 'We are strong'
Written by Emily Schappacher
July 1, 2013
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess spoke of the privileges, joys and challenges he has experienced during his two years as a national officer and executive minister of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ during his re-nomination speech July 1.
"Two years ago in Tampa, when I was elected to fill a two-year unexpired term in this office, I was wide-eyed and aware of both the big challenges and great opportunities that face us as the United Church of Christ and our local churches," Guess said. "I spoke of the saltiness, light and leaven that the UCC distinctively offers in the marketplace of religious ideas, and these past two years have been a confirmation in the validity of that claim."
Guess spoke of new programs, strategies and initiatives that have emerged from the national offices during the past two years, such as Mission: 1, Mission 4/1 Earth and the FaithIn Project, which aim to reinvigorate the church, and adds that the church needs to have faith and trust in these new directions and ideas in order for the church to grow.
"In these days of significant change, both in church and society, we must do things differently, and we must earn your trust and confidence — and your financial investment — as we take risks and initiate experiments to ultimately lead this church and its institutions into new frontiers for service and for growth," Guess said.
Guess discussed that it is not an easy time to be in the church business, but that the resilience, determination and grace of the people of the UCC will keep the denomination strong. Quoting Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, he adds that it's important to embrace things that may be seen as impossible and to make them a reality.
"Every day, and everywhere I turn, I see that bold example being lived out across this church, in our worship, our preaching, and in our change-making," he said. "Yet I still haven't found a way to put a number on it. Still I know, the volume of our witness as the United Church of Christ is strong, and far from being muted or extinguished."
Guess was unanimously re-nominated by the Local Church Ministries board last year, and will need 60 percent of the vote from approximately 865 General Synod delegates to win reelection. When he 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.
Guess came to the national setting in 2000 as the communications director for Justice and Witness Ministries, and 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.
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.