Written by Bennett Guess
UCC members will not only pass the offering plates this Sunday, Sept. 16, but will also be circulating thousands of petitions in an unprecedented effort to gather 100,000 signatures in support of a church-wide pastoral statement opposing the war in Iraq.
The 700-word "Pastoral Letter on the Iraq War", which calls for the war's end, was first presented in June at the UCC's General Synod 26 by the five-person Collegium of Officers. The letter has been endorsed by all Conference Ministers and Seminary Presidents.
Church leaders are hoping to gather 100,000 endorsing signatures to the statement before the first week of October, at which time the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, will travel to Washington, D.C., to present the statement and signatures to leaders of Congress and members of the Bush Administration.
Sunday, Sept. 16 -- the Sunday prior to the International Day of Peace (Sept. 21) -- was designated as the day to ask churches to read the statement publicly in worship and then ask members to add their own signatures in a significant show of broad-based support. It's an unprecedented attempt for the 1.2-million-member church, since it means nearly one-tenth of the church's entire membership would need to sign on.
"It's going to take a significant amount of work for all of us to reach the goal of 100,000 signatures before the beginning of October," Thomas said. "But I believe the enthusiasm for the Pastoral Letter that we witnessed at General Synod demonstrates the deep concern about this war that exists across our church."
A campaign website www.ucc.org/100kforpeace/ was launched on August 14, so that individuals could offer individual or group names in support and invite others to sign. The petition also can be downloaded at the campaign's website.
Only about 14,000 persons have endorsed the statement thus far, but church leaders are hopeful that a call for a church-wide reading of the Pastoral Letter on Sept. 16, coupled with the grassroots petition campaign, will result in a surge of signatures.
"Thousands of precious American lives have been lost; thousands more have been altered forever by profound injuries. We grieve each loss and embrace bereaved families with our prayers and compassion," the Pastoral Letter reads in part. "Tens of thousands more innocent Iraqi lives are daily being offered on the altar of preemptive war and sectarian violence. They, too, are precious, and we weep for them."