Written by Michelle May
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess has been named as the executive director of the United Church of Christ's historic media justice arm, the Office of Communication, Inc. Since 1959, OC, Inc. has been a leading advocate on FCC-related public policy issues on behalf of the 1.2-million member United Church of Christ.
"We are delighted to welcome Ben to OC, Inc." said Cheryl Leanza, OC, Inc.'s managing director. "His background in journalism and knowledge of UCC's advocacy ministry will be a great asset for OC, Inc."
A journalist, activist and pastor for more than 20 years, Guess will have an opportunity to build on the recent successful work of OC, Inc.
"In 2007, OC, Inc. has obtained the biggest fine in FCC history, fought to oppose media consolidation, and started the important task of educating other people of faith about the importance of media reform in achieving justice," said Guess. "I look forward to taking the next step of bringing people of faith more visibly into media justice advocacy."
Guess, 41, has worked in the national setting of the United Church of Christ for seven years, first as minister for communication for the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries and, later, as editor of its denominational publication, United Church News, and as news director. He has served as the acting director of communications since August.
"Our commitment to justice in the media and to access for all remains a core mission for the UCC. With Ben at the helm, our work will continue with vigor" said the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president. "Ben's knowledge and love of the church, his experience as a pastor of a vibrant, renewing church, his commitment to justice, and his editorial work with United Church News equip him for this key position."
At the same time the OC, Inc. Board of Directors confirmed Guess as executive director, it made several changes to improve the operations of OC, Inc. that will enable it to continue on a firm financial footing. Cheryl A. Leanza will continue as Managing Director, but as a part-time consultant. A full-time coordinator position for OC, Inc.'s Media Empowerment Project was eliminated this month; however, two of the project's organizing sites will continue in San Antonio, Texas, and Edenton, N.C.
Leigh Greenhaw, chair of OC, Inc.'s Board of Directors, said, "Ben's leadership is welcome at this important time, we are pleased to have such a talented individual leading us forward."
Guess succeeds the Rev. Robert Chase, who became founding director of Intersections, a global interfaith justice initiative based in New York City.
Guess is chair of the news and media relations committee of the National Council of Churches Communications Commission; a member of the board of governors of the Religion Communicators Council; and a member of Associated Church Press and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
He is a former member of the Kentucky Council of Churches Executive Committee, the Kentucky ACLU Board of Directors, and co-founder and co-chair of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance.
Since taking over the helm of United Church News in 2003, Guess has won more than 60 journalistic awards and citations. He was the 1997 recipient of the UCC's Just Peace Award, presented at the UCC's biennial General Synod.
After completing his B.A. degree in journalism from the University of Kentucky School of Journalism (1988), Guess began his career as a journalist for The Daily News in Bowling Green, Ky. Feeling called to both social policy and ministry, he studied Public Administration and Policy at Western Kentucky University and Murray State University, and also enrolled full time at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville. He received his M. Div. degree in 1991, and completed a D.Min. in preaching from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2001.
Guess and his partner, Jim Therrien, are members of Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Cleveland.
The Cleveland-based United Church of Christ has 5,700 local congregations across the United States. It was formed by the 1957 union of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.