Written by Connie Larkman
A prominent community leader, a gifted preacher and a much-loved pastor and teacher has been appointed as the acting executive of UCC Justice and Witness Ministries.
The Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ The King UCC, in Florissant, Mo., called by the United Church of Christ General Minister and President and the UCC Board chair and vice-chair, and appointed to the position by an enthusiastic and unanimous vote of the Board of Directors, looks forward to beginning her work with the national offices.
"I am extremely excited, a little overwhelmed, and honored by this new opportunity for ministry," said Blackmon. "I have chosen to accept the challenge of Acting Executive Minister of Justice and Witness at this time because I believe the United Church of Christ is uniquely positioned to reimagine the welcoming table of Christ in ways that create space for all voices to be heard."
"Traci is a game changer. If we are talking about our promise to live out bold public witness, this woman lives that out to a level of which we can all be proud," said the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president. This is a woman who can make a difference."
UCC Board member the Rev. Dwayne Royster believes Blackmon is an excellent choice.
"We need not somebody who talks from theory, but someone who puts their body on the line for others," Royster said. "Traci has become a voice for new civil rights in America. I can’t think of a better person to lead Justice and Witness Ministries."
Blackmon speaks at a November 2014 rally. Photo by Brad Choat, KMOX in St. Louis.
Rev. Blackmon, the 18th installed and first woman pastor in the 156-year history of Christ The King United Church of Christ, became nationally recognized as a prominent voice for social change when Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, just miles from her church. She immediately got involved in organizing the Black Lives Matter movement, effectively assisting and collaborating with the people in the community working for justice. Blackmon says it’s very important to figure out the desire, direction and priorities around social issues, and listen to all the voices involved so to not leave anybody behind. She hopes to bring that reasoning and direction to the UCC’s mission.
"This is what I learned in Ferguson," Blackmon said. "That the church is not a static organization that is transported from place to place, but rather that church emerges to meet the present needs of the people. The conversation must begin with a determination to listen and a willingness to be changed. I welcome the opportunity to reimagine this table with the church, to create a table where we see ourselves simultaneously as both guest and host, a table where ownership is not bestowed but shared. A table where all are welcome to bring all of themselves and contribute to the feast that is served."
"Traci is a leader of the highest order," Dorhauer said. "She is a visionary who sees things before anyone else does. She is an organizer who empowers others to build movements she sees as both possible and essential for the work of justice. She is braver and more courageous than anyone I know. She is a woman of strong voice and presence who inspires others and engenders confidence. She is a preacher of extraordinary ability, and a woman of deep and abiding faith. Her ability to do all of that has made her not just the pastor of Christ The King UCC, but a leader known around the world as a difference maker."
Traci Blackmon was ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and served for several years in ministry before stepping in as pastor of Christ The King. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Birmingham-Southern College (1985) and a Master of Divinity degree (2009), with a coursework emphasis in Womanist Liberation Theology, from Eden Theological Seminary.
At Eden, Blackmon studied under UCC General Minister and President Dorhauer, and is looking forward to teaming up with him in service to the national church.
"I met John while I was still in seminary," Blackmon said. "In addition to serving as Acting Conference Minister in our region, John taught a White Privilege class and I was one of his students. Our class was small, intense, and at times, uncomfortable, as stretching often can be. Yet, John stayed with it. And he pressed us. And he challenged us. He walked with us. And he was changed with us. These 'on the ground qualities' are some of the reasons I am excited about John's leadership at this particular time in the life of the church. To have the honor of serving the church with him, and all of the leadership team, excites me."
Before seminary, Rev. Blackmon served as pastor of Simpson Chapel AME Church in Columbia, Missouri. She is the founder of the Sista SOS Summit, an intergenerational symposium designed to assist women toward spiritual and sexual wholeness, and is co-founder of "When Women Gather...," a monthly ecumenical gathering committed to the spiritual growth and development of women. Blackmon has also ministered in a healthcare setting, as a licensed Registered Nurse with over 25 years experience.
Blackmon will be commuting in her new role which she assumes Jan. 1, spending two weeks a month in Cleveland and two weeks in Missouri. "It gives us a chance to play with the idea of deploying staff regionally at times," said Dorhauer. As all three national officers pointed out, with all the traveling they do, they too are only in the office in Cleveland two weeks of every month.
"That she feels called to lead the United Church of Christ into its new future, and to maintain in this time its historic commitments to the work of building God's shalom, is something about which we should all be excited," Dorhauer said. "The world will sit up and take notice."