Written by Anthony Moujaes
From the installation of a new general minister and president of the United Church of Christ to a denomination-wide call to start up sacred conversations on white privilege. And from a wave of political rhetoric to the public demonstrations denouncing the construction of the oil pipeline in Standing Rock, N.D.
Those are among the topics of the top news stories published by United Church News in 2016, subjects of the most read articles on the UCC website this year.
For our purposes, we define a 'top story' on this list as those with the largest number of unique readers according to UCC website analytics. So, counting down from 10, here are the UCNews stories that garnered the most interest during 2016:
The denomination's General Minister and President, the Rev. John Dorhauer, reached out in August via video to the people of the wider church, issuing a personal invitation to congregations to make use of the anticipated “White Privilege: Let’s Talk” curriculum.
Designed to invite members to engage in safe, meaningful, substantive and bold conversations on race, the adult curriculum was written by five authors from different perspectives and walks of life. Dorhauer, one of those five authors, promised to create this resource as one of his first initiatives as general minister and president, and noted that the "United Church of Christ, in its long history, has preached the hard truths about social justice to a world often unwilling and unready to hear those truths."
The UCC general minister and president released a survey in June, looking for input from every member of the denomination about a proposed UCC mission statement. The survey was one of the final steps in crafting a Purpose, Mission and Vision Statement that underscores the UCC's commitment to unity, radical hospitality and full inclusion.
In a letter to the wider church, the Dorhauer shared the process that has led up to this 20-minute survey and how member feedback will help firm up the language of a statement that best answers ‘Why the United Church of Christ?"
It what marked a new chapter in the history of the denomination, Dorhauer was to be formally installed as the UCC's ninth general minister and president during a three-city worship service in mid-April. Three events in New York City, Chicago and Seattle were planned as a pivotal moment for the future and mission of the denomination. Everyone in the wider church was welcome to attend any of the three events or watch the proceedings online.
"We are called to serve the wider setting," Dorhauer said. "Having this in three cities represents something symbolic — that we are all in this together — and allows us to open this amazing moment up to more people."
A national officer of the UCC, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, was tapped in July to be part of a town hall conversation on race with President Barack Obama. Blackmon, acting executive minister of UCC Justice & Witness Ministries, was selected to participate in the nationally-televised broadcast, "The President and the People: A National Conversation," about race, policing and how we bridge the divide.
"I am proud to serve in a denomination that has been convening and working on these systemic issues for a very long time," said Blackmon.
The church paused to grieve the loss of one of its greatest justice champions this summer. The Rev. John Deckenback, long-time conference minister of the Central Atlantic Conference UCC, died suddenly in July. He served the conference for 24 years. At the time of his death, Deckenback was immersed in General Synod 2017, which the Central Atlantic Conference will be hosting next summer.
"John has been conference minister in the CAC just a little longer than I have been senior minister at Plymouth Congregational UCC," said the Rev. Graylan Hagler. "John was a minister's minister, building deep bonds with us in the local church, and helping to make us feel connected to the conference and the national setting of the church... John leaves a big hole in the UCC locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. He is already missed."
A number of UCC clergy prepared to travel to the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation along the banks of the Missouri River in October, after an Episcopal priest called on interfaith friends to stand with environmental advocates and the people of more than a hundred Tribal nations to protect the water and sacred lands against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
The Rev. Gordon Rankin, conference minister of the South Dakota Conference UCC, would alter his schedule to join colleagues at the camp. "While there have been countless visits to the Oceti Sakowin camp by interfaith allies and denominational contingents, this is the first coordinated gathering of religious leaders," said Rankin. "Those who gather will be participating in an allied action of prayer with indigenous tribes from all over the world."
In anticipation of the August release of the “White Privilege: Let’s Talk,"resources, the UCC announced the launch of a series of free webinars as a companion to the adult education curriculum designed to invite members to engage in safe, meaningful, substantive and bold conversations on race.
"It is time that this still largely white denomination wrestle with its investment in whiteness, and learn all it can about the manifestations and impact of White Privilege," said Dorhauer. "This Curriculum, written by five gifted authors with decades of experience teaching about race and privilege, is presented to enable such dialogue to take place at every level of the Church."
Concerned with the growing political rhetoric aimed at marginalized people during the 2016 election cycle, the leadership of the UCC — its elected officers and the Council of Conference Ministers — affirmed a Holy Week statement released by The Episcopal Church, a witness of the communion relationship between the two churches. The statement called for a spirit of reconciliation that sought the common good during the election.
"This clear, powerful statement written by our friends and partners in The Episcopal Church expresses something that we, too, feel very strongly about," said Dorhauer. "Rather than write our own statement, we affirm the unity of our vision and voice and join them in making our feelings known."
Days before thousands of religious leaders, clergy, chaplains and military veterans prepared to converge in North Dakota for prayer and rallies at Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, UCC allies called for continued advocacy in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in the form of phone calls and petitions.
The Rev. Marlene Helgemo, pastor of All Nations Church in Minneapolis, interim executive director of the UCC Council of American Indian Ministries (CAIM), and a frequent visitor to the Oceti Sakowin camp, said that telephone advocacy is an important tool in showing solidarity with Standing Rock. Helgemo was hopeful that every person who had voiced support for the tribe would use their voice to call their lawmakers.
The story of Barbara Satin’s appointment to an faith-based advisory council by President Barack Obama in May might be one of the UCC’s most read stories of the online era — in fact, the total number of reads of the previous nine stories combined is short of this year’s chart-topper, which has more than 90,000 unique views.
Satin is the first transgender woman to serve on the president’s Advisory Council on Faith-based Neighborhood Partnerships.
An advocate for the inclusion of transgender people in the ministry of the UCC, Satin served on the UCC’s former Executive Council (part of the board), sits on the boards of a number of non-profits that serve LGBTQ people in the areas of philanthropy, and is a veteran of the United States Air Force.