U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), an active UCC member since 1988, has accepted an invitation to speak to his fellow UCC members gathered in Hartford, Conn.
Obama — a member of Trinity UCC in Chicago, the denomination's largest congregation — will speak to delegates and visitors at 2:30 p.m. at the Hartford Civic Center during the day-long "Synod in the City" line-up.
Obama joins an impressive schedule of prominent presenters during the five-day General Synod, including journalist Bill Moyers, activist Marian Wright Edelman, preacher Peter Gomes, actress Lynn Redgrave, author Marilynne Robinson and more.
The Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president, said Obama will further strengthen the draw to the 50th anniversary gathering.
"Sen. Obama is one of the most exciting figures on the political landscape today," Thomas told United Church News. "More than that, he is a public figure who takes seriously the relationship between faith and public life. We look forward to being challenged by one of our membership about how to make a difference in the world."
Obama has spoken often about his profession of faith, his membership in the socially progressive UCC and the need for Democrats to take seriously the concerns of religious Americans.
He became familiar with Trinity UCC during his days as a Chicago community organizer in the mid-1980s, an experience he wrote about in the August-September 2006 issue of United Church News.
"You come to church — in the first place — precisely because you are of this world, not apart from it," Obama wrote. "You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away, because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey. It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity UCC on 95th Street in the Southside of Chicago one day and affirm my Christian faith."
In 2004, just after being elected to the U.S. Senate, Obama told United Church News, "Trinity UCC has been a true community to me — a place in which the mind, heart and soul come together to celebrate God's goodness."
As of May 8, more than 6,200 had registered for General Synod, which guarantees it will be denomination's largest national gathering in its 50-year history.
With a few weeks still remaining, it's being rumored that as many as 10,000 might attend, especially since the celebration gathering is being held in New England, where the UCC is the largest Protestant church.
Billed as a high-point of this summer's biennial national gathering, "Synod in the City" will be a day-long series of celebratory events held in multiple venues throughout downtown Hartford where an array of speakers, artists and performers will help take Synod out of its traditional convention-hall setting and into the streets of the city. "The world comes to Hartford … courtesy of the UCC" is how the event is being billed locally.