In a few weeks we will gather as the General Synod for the 28th time in the life of the United Church of Christ in Tampa, Florida. We will worship, be resourced and renewed for ministry, and attend to business items on our agenda. One of these important items is the election of three new national officers of the church — a new Associate General Minister, a new Executive Minister for Local Church Ministries, and a new Executive Minister for Wider Church Ministries.
Nominated for these positions are W. Mark Clark, Jim Moos and J. Bennett Guess — whose names were announced in January. This Spring each was confirmed by the appropriate board of directors or the Executive Council.
I served on each of the three search committees and enthusiastically affirm their call and preparation to serve in these important roles! Each search committee was diverse in composition, considered strong and diverse applicants, and took their responsibility seriously to prayerfully discern the call of each particular candidate. Each one has been nominated bearing the constellation of leadership gifts needed to hit the ground running supporting this missional moment in the life of our church.
Upon election, the diversity of the new Collegium when it is fully convened in October will include: three white persons and two persons of color, one woman and four men, one lay person and four ordained, with urban and rural backgrounds from various geographic regions of the church, and the first openly gay person to serve as an officer of a mainline denomination! In my travels across the church, I have only heard affirmation of the diverse gifts and skills of the individuals who have been called to serve. With my colleague Linda Jaramillo, I look forward to serving with them.
Looking forward, our church, committed to diversity and inclusion, will in an ongoing way need to address leadership development robustly. Some have voiced concern that we need to continue to work intentionally to support leadership formation of all persons, of all abilities, including young adults, and with particular attention to women and persons of color in across settings of the church.
Celebrating the leadership of women, I take this seriously. I appreciate the leadership of women colleagues on the Collegium and the particular insights and perspectives that each has offered. I am personally grateful for our church’s commitment to the leadership of persons of color. Over the years many have strongly advocated for this rich pool of leadership to be acknowledged and valued in our common life. Likewise, I value the leadership of white male colleagues in our common life, and their commitment to being a multiracial, multicultural, increasingly intercultural church, and to honoring and supporting the leadership of women and all types of new and emerging leadership in the life of the church. We are, all of us, in all of our rich diversity, allies of one another; each one called to advocate for the whole!
Moving forward as the United Church of Christ to support diverse leadership, I recognize that there are gifted persons of color and women who do not apply for open positions in the National and Conference settings. It is clear that we must do a better job of engaging leadership development strategies across the life of our church!
I have considered factors that may discourage them from doing so. While compensation is not always the primary decision about a place of service, many well-equipped persons might receive higher pay in other places of ministry or administration. I also wonder if there is a component related to how leaders in these ministry roles are viewed, or treated, that discourages well-qualified persons from pursuing these positions. This means we need to do capacity building in all communities of the church to receive and support leaders! And, finally, I wonder if the lifestyle of travel — including significant days away from family and communities — contributes to discouraging a higher number of applicants. I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do think they bear consideration.
I am personally committed to taking immediate steps to ensure that we are nurturing and fostering leadership of women, persons of color and emerging leaders with intentionality. The UCC Strategic Initiatives Fund, which is lodged in my office, is being used in part to support this kind of intentional leadership development, most recently with the funding of a Presidential Fellows program that will invest in the future growth of some of our most promising young adult leaders.
We have three gifted, capable nominees to consider at General Synod who share this vision, and each has a deep commitment to the United Church of Christ and, in conversation with the search committees, they have discerned this to be the ministry where God is calling them to serve. We can celebrate that our witness of extravagant welcome is embodied in new ways by the leadership of those who have been called to serve and who will support our ongoing work:
Mark Clark, the nominee for Associate General Minister, is a gifted layman and skilled administrator who is a child of the United Church of Christ. The Rev. Jim Moos, the nominee for Executive Minister for Wider Church Ministries, is a pastor from North Dakota who has a long-held commitment to and experience with the global ministry and mission of the United Church of Christ. The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, the nominee for Executive Minister for Local Church Ministries, has served as a local church pastor and, most recently, his creative gifts, vision and leadership have been evident as the UCC’s director of publishing, identity and communication.
You will have the opportunity to hear Mark, Jim and Ben address the General Synod in plenary, and there will be a time on Sunday evening when delegates and visitors can choose to participate in a time of conversation and dialogue with the candidates.
In these final months leading up to the General Synod, I hope you will join me in praying that the spirit of the living God will be upon us as we gather in Tampa, and that we will indeed be a witness to what God has made and continues to make possible in our lives — in our church and in the world.
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ