Written by Daniel Hazard
Readers share how the UCC has blessed them
In our last issue, 'Soapbox' invited readers to take a break from the UCC's 'culture of critique,' as one national leader has dubbed it, and instead return some thanks for how the UCC has touched your lives in positive ways. As the UCC prepares to embark on its 50th year, here are some of the diverse 'thank you notes' we received:
'Changed my life'
There is much gratitude in my heart for the UCC, especially for the many years of involvement and numerous opportunities I have had with the national setting of our beloved church. This church has changed my life, and is responsible in significant ways for who I am today.
My six years of service on the directorate of the former Office for Church Life and Leadership, for example, gave me an incredible depth of insight into the local church. Now, into my 20th year of ordained ministry, I still recall with fondness the words of an early mentor, the late Reuben Sheares, OCLL's executive director, who reminded me to "love your folks, David, and they'll forgive you for many weaknesses." Like Paul to a younger Timothy, it was sound advice that has guided my ministry.
The Rev. David Charles Smith
'This body stands apart'
In a denomination that is full of acronyms, I would propose one more: "CCC." The UCC embodies conscience, courage, and commitment in its ministry.
While others may sidestep issues because of political correctness or popular opinion, the UCC has consistently challenged the status quo, demanding active justice. This body alone stands apart, in understanding that discipleship requires risks, not complacency. I applaud the UCC for standing up and speaking out.
Church of the Apostles UCC
Thirty-three years after first visiting a UCC church, people ask what attracted me to the UCC. My stock reply remains, "The Constitution." Both the Congregational Church constitution and the United States constitution support democratic principles, personal involvement and wide participation in decision-making. Every member has a democratic say in church structures and church ministry. The constitution empowers me to reach out to the world through my church, the First Congregational UCC of Glen Ellyn.
'We found a home'
I am grateful for the welcome and hospitality of the First Congregational UCC of Austin, Minn., to my husband, Oliver, in the early 70s when he was a foreign exchange student from Cape Town, South Africa. The Stephen and Shirley Wright family hosted him, and Pastor Dwight Snesrud and his family befriended him. Leaving the Apartheid system 20 years ago, we found a common church home in the social activism of the UCC.
Moderator, 26th General Synod.
Member, First Congregational UCC of Glen Ellyn, Ill.
'A love relationship'
Born in parsonage of Christian parents, I was brought up to take the gospel seriously. I'm an 84-year-old who enjoys a "love relationship" with the UCC because it dares to take the gospel of Jesus Christ seriously.
A few examples: Historically, it dared to support the abolition of slavery. It dared to defend the Wilmington Ten. It dares to ordained gays and lesbians, and now dares to support the union of couples regardless of gender. It dares to be a peace and justice church.
I do love this church!
The Rev. Paul Olm-Stoelting
Venice (Fla.) UCC
'Our Statement of Faith'
Our Statement of Faith is one of many things I love about being UCC. A chapel service while I was in seminary used the UCC Statement of Faith. I was impressed! I still am. The Statement of Faith played a part in my becoming UCC.
I currently serve at an Episcopal Church. But, when on pulpit supply at a UCC church, I request that we use our Statement of Faith.
The Rev. Mary Capron
Saint Philip's Episcopal Church
New Hope, Pa.
'Made hope possible'
Many mainstream Christian denominations have announced policies of exclusion. I believed that I would one-day live to experience a church that would welcome me as a gay man, and extend to me the opportunity to seek ordination. The UCC made that hope possible. I waited six months before joining the UCC, needing to know that I was not just joining because they had voted marriage equality for all people. In this denomination I have found hope.
Francesco J Marshall
Having served as a missionary in Japan for 12 years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to meet Christians from other denominations throughout the world.
I have come to understand that it is because of my experiences within the UCC that I have been able to embrace differences in the way we practice our faith while, at the same time, celebrate the living Christ within each of us.
The Rev. Diane Weible
'Hats off' to outdoor ministries
I would like to express my gratitude to the Ohio Conference's Outdoor Ministries and our camps' personnel, along with the summer volunteers who rive us campers a wonderful opportunity to experience God's love at two great camps, Templed Hills and Pilgrim Hills.
We're blessed with programming that's inspirational, crafts that are fun, food that is nourishing, and opportunities to gain new friends. We find God in our lives a little differently at camp. Hats off to all of you. I am so proud to share about our UCC camping programs with others.
St. John UCC
'Radically inclusive love'
These are a few of my favorite things about the UCC:
Our embodiment of God's radically inclusive love;
Our regular - almost consistent - stand for justice;
Mentors like the Rev. Gene Ross and the Rev. Paul Forman; and
The "God Is Still Speaking" campaign, which is giving me/us a language for evangelism that has integrity.
The Rev. Jeffrey S. Spencer
Niles Congregational UCC
'Candor and compassion'
When I returned from a year of work in the Middle East, the minister made an appropriate announcement to the congregation. An older woman, whom I barely knew, approached me after the service. With icy blue eyes fixed on me she said, "Good. You're home. I don't have to pray for you any more!"
What denomination, other than UCC, could offer such a strange mixture of candor and compassion?
Brookside Congregational UCC
Serving 'behind the scenes'
Too often, the UCC's national staff goes without recognition for the many ways they serve local churches, directly or indirectly.
I recently sought urgent help for a church that needed help with the media due to a controversial situation in the church's life. When I e-mailed the staff of the UCC's Proclamation, Identity and Communication Ministry Team, as well as the UCC's disaster response coordinator (who also had expertise in the situation), the local church received immediate coaching, guidance and support that was genuinely helpful to them. They went out of their way to be accessible and helpful, and the pastors and local church leaders knew they had excellent resources available to them.
I repent of missing other occasions when I could have written this letter. As a Conference staff person for 14 years, it would be impossible to name all the individuals on national staff who have been responsive and helpful. I hope this letter will serve as a heartfelt thank you. I also hope all UCC members will realize that our national staff serves "behind the scenes" in ways that many will never know, but they make a profound difference in supporting our ministries for Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Jane Fisler Hoffman
Illinois Conference Minister
'Thanks, delegates, for courage'
In the past year, I have been twice honored for my work in writing and encouraging passage of the Open and Affirming Resolution, which was adopted by 1984 Massachusetts Conference and the UCC's 15th General Synod in 1985.
I want to thank the delegates for the courage of your positive votes that opened a path for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks to become who they are. I now live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal, go to restaurants where same-sex families are having dinner and people at work include their partners' name when telling about weekend plans.
I grieve the pain of people who do not feel that justice is unfolding. I hope as time and dialogues occur, we can continue to respect each others' viewpoint - even when different - and, at the same time, allow all of us to live as whole people.
'Comfortable in the body'
As a recent graduate of [UCC-related] Bangor Theological Seminary, I am comfortable in the living body of the UCC. We have grown up together. The denomination is one year older than I am. Even though I have not lived the life my parents (or tradition) might have dreamed for me, I know God is speaking and working in my life and ministry. The same might be said for our denomination. I am blessed to be a part of it.
Orleans (Mass.) Federated Church
I was brought up in St. Paul's Evangelical and Reformed (now UCC) in Keokuk, Iowa, where I was very active. I typed and mimeographed the church's Sunday programs, was Sunday School secretary, was president of the Young People's League and sang in the choir.
At Cullver-Stockton, a Disciples of Christ college, we had the best religion professors that one could ever hope for. One professor's lectures were so stimulating that he had us girls discussing religion every night in the dorm.
As a poet myself, I was enthralled to read in the last United Church News that our current U.S. Poet Laureate, Donald Hall, is a member of the UCC.
I am 91, no longer drive, so I am no longer a churchgoer, but I will always be grateful for my church making my life feel complete.
Professor Emeritus, Arizona State University
Lifelong member, St. Paul UCC, Keokuk, Iowa
P.S. I used to date the minister of the Congregational Church in Keokok, who was the best dancer I ever danced with. We had some interesting conversations.
"Soapbox" is a periodic compilation of reader responses to specific topics or questions. As always, United Church News reserves the right to edit your submissions for brevity and clarity.