In a unique bid to showcase the carefree, creative component of the UCC, the church has officially invited popular talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres to appear as keynote speaker at General Synod 28 next July in Tampa, Fla.
Writing on behalf of the Synod program and planning committee in a letter dated Oct. 1, the Rev. Geoffrey Black, UCC general minister and president, rolled out the UCC welcome mat for DeGeneres to help Synod-goers live the theme of General Synod 28: "Imagine What’s Possible; God Is Still Speaking."
"Your life, values and humor represent the best of what our church hopes to embody through our witness in the world: joy, love, hope and service," Black wrote DeGeneres. "At a time when religion is often used to divide and exclude people, we seriously believe your participation at our biennial event could send a powerful message to the world.
"Imagine what's possible if we could set aside our need to be right and focused instead on bringing hope and healing to one another, if we could lighten up — and love instead," wrote Black. "We feel you are the one to deliver this message."
Black noted the UCC's reputation as "the church of firsts" – first to ordain an African-American (1773), a woman (1853) and an openly gay person (1972).
"In 2005, we became the first mainline church to affirm same-gender marriage equality," Black wrote the openly gay celebrity. "And, if you will oblige our request, we will become the first U.S. Christian denomination to have Ellen DeGeneres as our keynote speaker."
High-profile personalities are no strangers to General Synod. In recent years, Barack Obama, Bill Moyers, Eugene Robinson, Marian Wright Edelman, Andrew Young and Lynn Redgrave have appeared.
Acknowledging the vast number of speaking engagements requested of DeGeneres, Edith Guffey, associate general minister for the Office of General Ministries, says that persuading her will take some effort.
"While we're not asking Ellen to bring her show to Synod, we do think she will need some heavy convincing as to why a major Christian denomination would want her to be their keynote speaker," says Guffey. "Ellen receives hundreds of invitations annually; we want our invitation to stand out."
"As a television icon, Ellen's constructive use of humor, her sensitivity toward others, and her ability to touch and lift the spirits of millions every day is something we can affirm as a sacred calling," says the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, the UCC's team leader for Publishing, Identity and Communication.
It's not uncommon for DeGeneres' fans to launch campaigns to bring her show to their area. Most recently, fans in Australia have been doing so.
"We are asking UCC members and churches to unleash their inner Ellen by creating funny, inviting photos and videos and submitting them so we can upload to YouTube and send them along to her," says Guess.
"We're a church that resonates with Ellen's personality, even as we advocate for justice," adds Guess. "Ellen's address before a major religious body could send a powerful message to the world, a message of hope, inclusivity and acceptance – and the need for more love and laughter."
Learn more about the "Get Ellen to Synod" campaign at http://www.ucc.org/get-ellen-to-synod/