Toward the end of the evening Earl Miller, the head of the then-Stewardship Council, and Linda Jaramillo, a lay leader and member of Ainsworth UCC in Portland, Ore., took microphones and began to work the crowd. "Tell us what the role of the United Church of Christ has been in your life," they said.
Linda began with her own story. Born and raised a Catholic, she came to the UCC 18 years ago. "As a lay woman in the United Church of Christ I feel respected, I feel honored and I feel heard," she said. Second, she said, "I have hope for the United Church of Christ to become the multiracial, multicultural, open and affirming, accessible-to-all church that it seeks to be. And I really do believe that this will happen in my lifetime."
She was followed by Judye Thomas, on the staff of the Franklinton Center in Bricks, N.C. "I want to share a thanks and a witness," she said, for when the church sent clothing, food and money to help the people who were in need in September 1999 when flood waters rolled through North Carolina.
Next the mike went to Antoine Crenshaw of Trinity UCC in Chicago, who spoke about the role of the UCC in giving youth and young adults a start. "Never in my life have I been able to serve God as I have in the United Church of Christ," said Crenshaw. "This is where I belong and this is where I will stay."
After him came Jeff Spencer from Tolt Congregational UCC in Carnation, Wash., who told about his call as a gay man to be the pastor there. "I thought, ‘Gee, it would be cool to work there but they'd never call me,'" he said. He figured that once he told the search committee he was gay they'd send him on his way—but he was wrong. Not only did they call him; a few years later the congregation voted to become an Open and Affirming church. For me, he said, the United Church of Christ "is a place that is home."
Marion Shearer of St. Luke's UCC in Philadelphia told of growing up "in the Congregational tradition in the Connecticut Conference." In college she became a Lutheran, but when she felt called to enter seminary, she had to choose between the Lutherans and the UCC. "I didn't know Antoinette Brown's name," she said [first U.S. woman ordained to Christian ministry, by a Congregational church, in 1853] but I celebrated her heritage by jumping back into where I came from."
Others spoke of the supportive role of conference leadership, of how pastors and teachers nurtured a relationship with God, of the church's role in helping provide a solid foundation for their children, of wanting to give back to the church, and of being "happy and proud" to be part of the UCC.
"I love my church," said Olgha Sierra Sandman of Chicago, "because my church loves justice...The United Church of Christ is not afraid to be with the farm workers...and with the poor. And I am proud of that and I am blessed by being part of this church because of its justice witness."
"I think the United Church of Christ is where I need to be," said Barbara Murray of Columbus, Ohio. Me, too, I thought. Me, too.
The Rev. W. Evan Golder is editor of the national edition of United Church News.