General Minister and President John Thomas addresses the delegates. Randy Varcho photo.
One billion dollars.
Can a small denomination like the 1.4-million-member United Church of Christ raise that kind of money in annual giving? The Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president, thinks it can.
During the Friday, July 11, opening session of the UCC's General Synod in Minneapolis, Thomas challenged church members to increase the denomination's annual giving to $1 billion annually by 2007, the 50th anniversary of the church's historic union in 1957. Like the church's forebears, Òwe are invited to a love for Jesus that makes us daring,Ó Thomas told the 2,500-plus delegates and visitors. ÒWe are called to an amazing generosity.Ó
UCC members now give $850 million annually through their local churches. Over 95 percent of that figure never leaves the local setting. The remaining balance goes to the work of the wider church through Conferences and the Covenanted Ministries of the national setting.
The increase could turn the church around in the face of declining mem- bership rolls and a diminished national and global missions program, Thomas thinks.
New money will bring in new members by strengthening local churches and building new ones, explained Thomas. ÒWe will be able to send more missionaries and volunteers overseas and into our communities,Ó he added, along with increasing support to partners doing the work of reconciliation and justice.
Thomas lifted up the denomination's pilot emphasis on expanding the UCC's name-brand identity through modern advertising and marketing. ÒWith one billion dollars we can launch an identity campaign so that every household in America will one day know our name, the United Church of Christ,Ó Thomas said proudly.
Thomas framed his vision and its challenge by juxtaposing the images of two ships. The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, Thomas said, is a vessel that Òconjures and proposes an imagination in which the fear prompted by terrorist attacks is manipulated to pursue vengeance and domination,Ó while the freedom schooner Amistad overcame violence to Òremind us of forebears who imagined freedom rather than bondage.Ó
William C. Winslow, a veteran General Synod press room reporter, is a free-lance writer in New York.