As nine instrumentalities of the UCC's national setting ended their ministries on June 30, their work divided among the four new Covenanted Ministries of the UCC's new national structure, three top executives decided to retire. Each of the three—the Rev. Thomas E. Dipko, Executive Vice President of the former United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, the Rev. William A. Hulteen Jr., Executive Director and Minister of the former Office for Church Life and Leadership, and the Rev. Earl D. Miller, Steward and Executive Director of the former Stewardship Council—took time in June for an interview with United Church News editor W. Evan Golder.
William A. Hulteen, Earl D. Miller and Thomas E. Dipko reminisce during a farewell party held in their honor at the national offices. W. Evan Golder photo
The Rev. William A. Hulteen Jr.
Office for Church Life and Leadership
Among all the national UCC staff, there is usually a special quality about OCLL (pronounced OK- kul) staff members. Sometimes it's described as a pastoral style or an ability to listen or a concern for process. But by whatever description, in general staff members of the Office for Church Life and Leadership have enjoyed a reputation of caring and consideration for others.
That's especially been true of the two men who have headed OCLL during its 27 years of existence, the Rev. Reuben A. Sheares II and, since 1989, the Rev. William A. Hulteen Jr.
For Bill Hulteen, that mode of behavior has a theological foundation. "It's the Body of Christ," he says, "with all the parts being important, including those that are considered to be the lesser of. And if there were one symbol that would get to that for me, it's the towel and basin."
That's why, at last summer's General Synod, when each national instrumentality was asked to present a symbolic gift to the new national UCC structure as its own ministry ended, OCLL's gift was a large, marble towel and basin.
This OCLL "attitude" is rooted in the Gospel of John, explains Hulteen, when Jesus turns the tables and says to the disciples, "If you don't get this, you are really missing out" (13:1-20).
"When you take a longer view of the Gospel of John and see that foot-washing incident enfleshed by the spirit present in that Gospel, then you see that you don't center things on yourself, you center on behalf of the other," he says. "That's why I believe that the leadership of the church is best when it is neither self-centered nor self-sufficient."
"Read Bonhoeffer," he says, "then you'll know exactly what I mean by not being self-centered or self-sufficient. Or read Dag Hammarskjold's ‘Markings.' He had a spirituality in his person that enabled him to go into very trying situations and not be so focused on himself that he lost that sense of what he was about."
In his retirement from institutional church ministry, Hulteen plans to "open up something called Value-Based Transformation—moving beyond goals and objectives and even mission statements and dealing with the values that bind people together."
And, of course, as they do every summer, he and his wife, Phyllis, will climb on their Honda Gold Wing motorcycle and sidecar and ride all over the country.
The Rev. Thomas E. Dipko
United Church Board for Homeland Ministries
Hanging on the wall in the Rev. Thomas E. Dipko's office in Cleveland is a photo of him with former UCC president the Rev. Paul H. Sherry and lay leader Linda Jaramillo visiting three Puerto Rican women in a federal prison in California.
As Dipko prepares to leave the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries after eight years as its executive vice president, that photo represents a part of his ministry that gives him the most satisfaction. Not the "Book of Worship," for which he was the major editor. Not "The New Century Hymnal," for which he was the major administrator and advocate. Not the new Amistad Chapel and Church House at 700 Prospect Ave. in Cleveland, whose existence he conceived and whose completion he pursued.
"The witness of the United Church of Christ on behalf of the Puerto Rican prisoners of conscience will remain close to my heart," he says. "When you come to know and love people behind bars, and when that's the only place that you have ever known them, you come to realize the extent to which they are trusting you as they are trusting nobody else to win their day of freedom."
"That does something to the human spirit," he says.
A few months before their release last September, Dipko suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and was hospitalized for many weeks. After their release—and his recovery—he visited with many of them in Puerto Rico. At the reunion, he was delighted to see the joy in their lives but amazed to hear their apologies that they couldn't visit him in the hospital after he had visited them so often in prison.
But to him, visiting is part of worship and liturgy, not an optional activity. "Worship would be hollow if we were not about the justice ministries we have committed ourselves to," he says. "We cannot separate worship from Matthew 25."
As he prepared for his final board report, Dipko searched for one word to describe the legacy of the Board for Homeland Ministries as its life and work will be divided among the four new covenanted ministries. The word he chose? Faithfulness.
Dipko's family has insisted he take a three-month sabbatical this summer before even considering aloud what he might do next. In the meantime he'll continue his daily swims and his physical workouts. And, with his wife, Sandy, he'll enjoy their dawn and dusk canoeing on a New Hampshire lake, gliding among the mallards and herons from the adjacent bird sanctuary.
The Rev. Earl D. Miller
As the Rev. Earl D. Miller retires from the UCC's national Stewardship Council, it is no surprise that his work in designing the Consecrating Stewards program has given him the most satisfaction. But equally satisfying has been his own growth, as he puts it, from giver tp "joyous giver."
"We say that God loves a cheerful giver," he says, "but the Greek word translated ‘cheerful' is hilarion. So it really means, God loves a ‘hilarious' giver."
When reminded that at his installation he was photographed skipping down the aisle in hilarious fashion and slapping his offering check on the table, he says, "I think the groundwork was there then. But now it's clear to me," he says, "that if I give and don't praise God, I'm not giving. And if I praise God and don't give, I'm not really praising God. For me, that's kind of an aha! of the last couple of years."
More than 1,000 UCC churches have used the Consecrating Stewards program for their annual stewardship drives. The program is based on a person's need, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, to be a giver, rather than on an effort to fund the church's budget.
"This is a risk that some congregations are not willing to take," he says. "They have to set aside the budget and all talk of an average expectation of giving. But for those that do take that risk, it works. It has to have meant millions of extra dollars given, out of this commitment, to our local churches."
"And it's not just about dollars," he adds. "It also means a cumulative effect upon the faith grounding of members, upon their spiritual enrichment.
"It's quite clear throughout the biblical record that God gives abundantly," he says. "Things are NOT scarce. What enriches life is not scarce. We have created the concept of scarcity and we've made things scarce for some people. And now we're into a justice issue—and we've got to move stewardship more into that kind of a concern."
Another coming dimension of stewardship he sees is teaching people to be cyberstewards and teaching the church to be more grateful for people's gifts.
"If we move into online giving, imagine the possibilities," he says. "A person at a computer could fill in how much to give and to whom, then click the ‘give' button and hear a voice say, ‘Thank you! You are a giver made in God's image. Blessings for your gift.' Now that could be fun!"
In retirement, Miller plans to turn his attention to weaving, music and digital photography. He and his wife, Pat, also plan to volunteer five or six weeks a year at UCC conferences with small staffs and expansive geography.