Not just a 'puff piece'

Not just a 'puff piece'

October 31, 2006
Written by Daniel Hazard

Anniversary book takes in-depth look at UCC's past, future

The Rev. W. Evan Golder and the Rev. J. Martin Bailey, both retired newspaper editors, knew the reporting assignment would be a hefty one: Sort through 50 years of UCC documents, publications and photographs - and then compile a book that succinctly tells the UCC's diverse history while also critically examining where the church is at and where it's heading.

"I'm really proud to have my name attached to it," Golder admits, "but there were times when I wanted to throw it out the window."

The end result is a 96-page commemorative album of 150 historic photographs and 49 articles that serve to remind the UCC of its visionary founding as a "united and uniting" ecumenical experiment.

And then there's also the always-typical UCC nudge to do it all better.

"There are some big ideas here," Golder says. "People will think this will just be a puff piece - wrong. There is some critical stuff, which is very UCC."

Golder, 68, who first began reporting and writing about the UCC in the 1960s, spent 18 years as editor of United Church News.

Bailey, 77, was Golder's predecessor and has been a religion journalist since graduating from seminary in 1954. He served 19 years as editor of two earlier UCC publications, United Church Herald and A.D. magazine.

"Between Martin and me, we cover the 50 years of the church," Golder says, "and being news sleuths, we cover it [in the commemorative publication] in a way that other people wouldn't."

Bailey says he especially appreciates how the book neither glibly waxes over the UCC's growing edges, nor gets weighed down by heady academic jargon. Instead, he says, it's a personal, analytical look at the UCC from various perspectives.

"I don't think either of us had any idea that it would require so much work. It became a big project," Bailey says. "But I think it will be useful."

Bailey and Golder say they were aided substantially by the Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund, seven-volume series editor of The Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ, published by The Pilgrim Press.

"She's got all that in her head, plus all the outtakes," Golder says. "Her participation was crucial."

Golder and Bailey both give significant credit for the input of the project's design team. They praised Randy Varcho, the UCC's art director, and designer Robin Nordstrom, for the "look and feel" of the final product.

"People are really going to pick up this book and digest it, because of Randy's insistence that it be something more than just a 'Time Magazine special,'" Golder says. "And Robin has just made this thing gorgeous. It is just really something. 'Stunning' is the word I hear, most often, when people look at it."

Golder knows, however, that some will be critical of what the book doesn't contain or cover, but he thinks that's just the price the project pays for trying to explore 50 years of history, plus the present and future, in one volume.

"But I think a lot of people will pick up this book and be surprised by the ground it covers," Golder said, especially by the honesty of the book's contributors. "[Articles by] Hector Lopez. Dan Romero. Rosemary Maxey - they're not just lining up and saying 'Oh, aren't we glad that we they let [racial/ethnic constituencies] into this church.' There's some significant stuff being said here."

Adds Bailey, "The piece on numbers by Bill McKinney is an important one, as are the theological pieces by Karen Lebacque and Fred Trost."

"It's not an academic piece, but it's an easy piece to see the whole picture," Bailey says. "I like the point that we ended up looking at the future as well as the history."

Bailey and Golder spent nearly two years on the project - and did so completely as volunteers. Neither received any pay for the many hours they contributed. Yet, these seasoned reporters are now reporting a measure of satisfaction, especially since the assignment is completed.

Bailey, who has helped provide news coverage at every General Synod since the UCC's 1957 founding, looks at this most-recent project as "a chance to do one more significant thing for the church."

"We ought never to be too proud, but at the same time, I'm awfully glad that, for 50 years, I've had the opportunity to be as much a part of this church as I've had," he says.

One complimentary copy of the UCC's 50th Anniversary Commemorative Publication will be mailed in November to each UCC congregation. Additional copies are 6.95 each, plus shipping and handling, by calling 800/537-3394. Bulk orders are $6.45 each for 10 copies or more, or $5.95 for 25 or more, plus shipping and handling. Orders for 50 copies or more will include a free copy of the UCC's 50th anniversary DVD.

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