United Church of Christ

California's American Baptist Churches vote to sever ABC ties

The board of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwestvoted unanimously on May 11 to part ways with the denomination. Less than two weeks earlier, church delegates within the group voted 1,125-209 to recommend the board move to sever ties.

The California group will now use the name Transformation Ministries and will sever ties by Nov. 1. The decision affects about 300 churches affiliated with the denomination in Southern California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii.

Leaders of the Valley Forge, Pa.-based denomination, which claims 1.4 members in the United States, have anticipated this decision but reacted with sadness to Thursday's vote.

"This is not a happy day for American Baptists," said the Rev. Robert Roberts, a spokesman for the denomination. "We will all be left weaker by this, in my judgment, and so it's a very sad day."

Asked if other regional groups are likely to follow suit, the Rev. Dale Salico, executive minister of the Pacific Southwest churches, said: "It's possible, but I really can't speak for others."

Roberts said other regions have voiced similar concerns, but said no other regional body has "moved as deliberately" as the California churches.

Last September, the board of the California churches approved a statement that said "deep differences of theological convictions and values" between the region and the denomination are "irreconcilable."

Its members believe the denomination has not enforced a resolution that states "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

"The inability of the denomination to adequately implement (the policy) was one of the factors," said Salico, whose office is in Covina, Calif., outside Los Angeles.

Salico also cited differences over the authority of Scripture and the accountability of local churches. "When churches are as far apart as we are with ABCUSA, it makes mission really difficult," he said.

"We want to just concentrate on those areas that we're called to be in ministry with and not to be constantly engaged in a struggle within the denomination."

Salico said his organization will continue to send missions-related funding designated to the American Baptist mission efforts by local churches, but an annual administration fee of about $150,000 will end.

Denominational officials said individual churches must also vote if they wish to break ties.

"One of the things that brings us some hope is that there are a number of churches out there that have indicated that they will stay with American Baptists," Roberts said.

"There are enough of them that they will form a new American Baptist association."

Roberts said this is a new dimension for divides within his denomination. In the 1930s, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches split from the American Baptists, who were then known as the Northern Baptist Convention.

"We've had splits before and we have actually lost many churches in an area before, but it's the first time a regional group has left the denomination," he said.

The divide in this faith group is reflected in other Protestant churches, especially the Episcopal Church, that have battled over homosexuality, autonomy and biblical authority.

"We're in a tug of war that's caught all Christendom, which is the tug of war between right and center," Roberts said.

The Rev. A. Roy Medley, the American Baptists' general secretary, said in November that the debate over homosexuality "tears my soul."

The Rev. Ken Pennings, executive director of the Wisconsin-based Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, said he felt a "sense of peace" about the Pacific Southwest decision because it allows the region and remaining denominational members "to move on in directions we feel are consistent with our own faith and testimony."

Rather than viewing it as an omen for other faith groups, he said it is an "inevitable" part of a process that can lead to more inclusion of gays and lesbians in church life.

"There'll be people who feel they must cut themselves off from people with whom they disagree rather than build bridges toward them," he said.


Cally Rogers-Witte: Nomination Acceptance Speech


Thank you, Curtis! And thank you, search committee and board of directors of Wider Church Ministries for this amazing opportunity!

I also want to thank some other very special people who have supported me over the years:

My precious mother and father whose unconditional love I always experienced - and who raised me in the church and modeled lay leadership - my mother was the first female elder in our Presbyterian church. (The only time I ever wished my parents were not so active in the church was when they were asked - as social worker and physician - to speak to my church youth group about sex!)

I am also grateful to many people in the wider United Church of Christ who loved me into this church - faculty and staff at Yale Divinity School and Pacific School of Religion.

And later the amazing family of the UCC Office for Church Life and Leadership in its earliest years, especially our sainted and spirit-filled mentor, Reuben Sheares, as well as former officers of this church who are here this morning - Avery, Joe, Charles, Carol, Paul - thank you!

I am deeply grateful for a forward thinking congregation in Raleigh, North Carolina, who took a chance on calling a young female minister in 1977 - a congregation with a powerful history of struggle for racial justice and for peace with justice - that church formed me and taught me how to be a United Church of Christ minister! Community United Church of Christ was ONA church number 35 (and we thought we were really late taking that vote - actually, we were late!) and the first congregation to be honored with the Just Peace award!

I am incredibly grateful to have served for ten years in what is - objectively (I've done the research!) - the most wonderful conference in the entire United Church of Christ. The large geography, small membership Southwest Conference has a beautiful spirit of collegiality and faithful witness, especially on the border, these days.

And, most of all, I am grateful for the constant love and support of my dear husband Frank Rogers-Witte (welcome him to the podium) who dared to hyphenate his name 31 and a half years ago!

For the past ten years as a Conference Minister, I have thought of myself as a missionary from the Southern Conference to the Southwest Conference, but I confess that I have failed to get the southwest folks to "speak Southern", except we do know this:

God is great...all the time!
All the time...God is great!

WOW!

I have ten minutes to help you to know who I am and why I'm so thrilled and honored to be nominated for this position.

Ten minutes!

Actually my wonderful husband Frank thinks that it's almost worth my up-rooting our comfortable family life - yet again! - just to come here today to hear me speak for only ten minutes on a Sunday morning! (Sometimes to placate him I make the margins smaller so I can tell him I've shortened the sermon to "only" eight pages)

Ten minutes to tell you why I want the opportunity to serve you - and our beloved church:

- as Executive Minister for Wider Church Ministries! And,

- as Co-Executive of our Global Ministries with David Vargas of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). And,

- as an officer of this church along with the other four members of the Collegium whom I so deeply respect and admire.

It's a complex position. Three different roles.

So, I'm thinking of enrolling in a gymnastics class on how to walk the balance beam because this calling does involve an incredible balancing act: to balance the deep commitment I have to the whole of the United Church (pause) of Christ with the special mandates AND responsibilities for the heritage and future faithfulness of our wider ministries around the world. And to do that always in partnership between the UCC and the Disciples - two different denominations, two different histories, two different cultures of how you do things; but one faith, one mission, one God known to us through Jesus Christ!

Despite all that complexity, I want the opportunity to serve in this way and I am bold enough to offer myself because of some particular experiences and gifts I have been given which might be well-suited for this important work.

First, and very simply, it really feels like I've received a "call", probably more than anything else I've ever done. I was not searching. I expected - I hoped - to continue in conference ministry in the wonderful and beautiful Southwest Conference until retirement. And besides that, I was due a sabbatical this fall! This has to be a real call! The journey to this nomination has been a deeply spiritual one for me this spring! So, first gift - what I believe is a real "call".

Second, I don't really see myself as a visionary leader (I don't see myself as a person who dreams up the vision and then gets the people to follow) nor do I see myself as one who knows how to motivate a struggling or mediocre staff to do a better job.

BUT - and this is part of why this really seems like a call - we already have a profound and inspirational vision for this work; I don't have to come up with a new one by myself, what I get to do is to help communicate and organize. The vision is in place. AND, the staff is incredible, all very talented and deeply committed persons of faith. They already do superb and important work! Work the whole church can be very proud of!!

What I believe I am called to do - if elected - is to help the whole church embrace our global ministry as their OUR global ministry (yours, mine, each person in every pew)- to communicate - to invite greater participation by local churches, associations, and conferences - to partner together even more creatively. Be sure to take home - or order - one of these CD's on how to be a global mission congregation! (Hold up CD)

I believe I am called to help get all of us more deeply involved in global ministry! Just one small example among many: Nearly everyone here could sponsor a child in another country through the child sponsorship program - on the one hand, it's fantastic that right now our church people sponsor 700 children - helping them get the education and health care that will enable them to be constructive citizens when they grow up to work for the common good - - it's fantastic - 700 children around the world. On the other hand, it's really almost criminal that we ONLY sponsor 700 children - - how many of us are here today? Every one of us could either sponsor a child ourselves or invite our church women's fellowship or youth group or SS class to join us to sponsor a child! - Our family all carry in our wallets a picture of the child we sponsor: (show photo) Charlotte Mae Ozoa - at a Child Development Center in the Philippines.

Third, God has given me several other gifts that seem well-suited for this work:

- An enormous amount of energy and an enthusiastic spirit;

- An incredibly supportive husband (who is, by the way, a clinical psychologist and an executive coach - that comes in very handy!) and two delightful twenty-something daughters who share my passion for "the world" - they both studied abroad, and our younger daughter is right now doing tsunami relief work in Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia;

- I think I'm a good team-builder and team-leader, and a good organizer. And I have a deep love for this church.

- I have also been gifted with a number of amazing experiences of the global church:

This "world" that God so loves has been my passion since I was a little girl!

As a child I was captivated by hearing about the experiences of a medical missionary in Africa at a church potluck supper and for many years all I wanted to do with my life was to be a medical missionary. But then in high school my father let me watch him cut a mole off a woman's arm in his office and I almost fainted when the blood spurted out - there went my hope of being a missionary. But now, with your help, I may get to be a primary support for our dedicated mission personnel and our mission partners around the world and for our superb staff in Cleveland and in Indianapolis!

In 1986 Frank and I were blessed to get to take part in a UCC Leaders trip to visit church partners in El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua It was a powerful experience for us to be with persons living in such great danger and distress who had such enormous faith. And now we are all called to care as deeply about our church partners in the Philippines where a number of pastors and priests, and very recently a conference minister, have been assassinated because of their advocacy for the poor.

At this moment in history it is especially important that we in the United Church of Christ "go into all the world" to be and to embody, in partnership, the good news of God's love. Love, not hate, love, not fear, is "what the world needs now": mutual support and respect, not mutually assured destruction; school kits and the ministry of "presence", not weapons of mass destruction. In recent months when we have heard religious leaders announce that the tsunami was God's punishment on a sinful people, we know that words and deeds of God's love must be shared around the world.

In discerning our part in God's global mission we are using two incredibly important words or phrases … take these home with you!. Partnership and critical presence.

We do our global ministry in "partnership" (not partnership as a business model, but partnership as a Biblical virtue - koinonia - community!)- with the Disciples and with our partner churches around the world. No hierarchy - no arrogant telling others what is best for them - partnership - discovering together what the needs are and how we might respond together. Some other churches have mission churches and many more conservative churches are trying to start new churches overseas; we don't have mission churches, we have mission partners. Very different.

And, "critical presence" - in the past year or so Global Ministries has discerned that God is calling us to a ministry of critical presence: "to meet God's people and creation at the point of deepest need - spiritually, emotionally, physically, and/or economically - in a timely and appropriate manner". Critical presence provides the criteria for making decisions about staffing, program, responses to partner churches. For example, a new joint effort in China is just beginning to set up a center for children orphaned by HIV-AIDS, as a new part of the Child Sponsorship program. Maybe the child YOU will sponsor is in China! Critical presence is surely needed there, and partnership is the way we operate.

I want to be your advocate for this incredible ministry. Thank you!

Bless your hearts!


Chicago's Trinity UCC - Live!

Click here to visit the Trinity webcast site.

Through affiliation with TV One, a new cable/satellite television network devoted to programming primarily geared to African-American audiences, Trinity UCC's regular worship services are now able to reach a national audience.

Live webcasts are streamed each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. and 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. (ET). Additional webcasts can be seen on Mondays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. (ET), with a singles study, "The five love languages for singles," streamed on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. (ET).

Ministering under the motto "unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian," Trinity UCC - under the leadership of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Sr. - is a congregation of nearly 10,000 members known for its extravagant welcome, dynamic worship, extensive community outreach and justice activism.

Last year, Trinity UCC contributed more than $1.2 million in basic and special support to Our Church's Wider Mission, the UCC's common purse for mission and ministry.


UCC church knows an 'extravagant welcome' requires intentionality

So, with that in mind, the Rev. Stephanie Weiner, pastor of Union Congregational UCC in Montclair, N.J., started to work on her weekly sermon. But, when she looked to the lectionary, she discovered that "the bouncer" - as portrayed in the church's ad -was, in many ways, much like John the Baptist: muscular, tough and not a warm, fuzzy character at all.

So Weiner changed her plans.

Eventually, she found her sermon pointing to the message found in the UCC's second, soon-to-be-released ad - the little girl who found the joy in "all the people" during her recitation of the traditional children's poem, "Here's the church, here's people. Open the door and see all the people."

Discovered Weiner, quoting an Advent text from Isaiah, "A little child will lead them."

Weiner told her congregation that Jesus, the one who always looked at a person's heart, welcomed everyone. He invited people in.

"He never turned anyone away," she said, "and neither should we."

During the congregation's "second hour" conversation, many parishioners talked about the networks' decisions not to carry the ads. Predictably, the parishioners offered little sympathy for the television executives. Words and phrases like "censorship" and "First Amendment" were used.

"How shall we respond?" several asked the group.

Fortunately, the church's membership committee was prepared in advance of the much-publicized ad controversy. In October, committee members attended a meeting of the UCC's New Jersey Association where the Rev. Laurinda Hafner, pastor of Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Cleveland, described her welcoming congregation and shared how hospitality had played a part in the urban congregation's renewal.

Montclair's UCC contingent took heart, and they attended a "God Is Still Speaking" training session in order to discover more concrete ways that the congregation could demonstrate its "extravagant welcome" more effectively and efficiently.

Soon, members had re-worked their church's name-tag routine, and they got a new banner for the front of the church. And, along with three neighboring UCC churches, they began running supportive advertising in the local papers.

This way, they were ready and waiting - and pleased - when a couple showed up who had seen the ads, visited the UCC's website and decided that Union UCC sounded like "the church we've been looking for."

In the coming weeks, the church plans to be ready for additional visitors, because they know that an "extravagant welcome" takes some intentionality.

The new "All the People" ad may be viewed at www.stillspeaking.com.