UC News

Art Submissions

Please find here the artistic submissions made to the December 2008-January 2009 issues of UCNews. Each of these works represents the theme of "Welcoming the Exile" as it pertains to Matthew's Christmas story. A special thanks to our artists. May you be blessed by their creativity.

'The Welcome Carol' : a song by the Rev. Ellen Chahey
'Mother and Child' : oil on canvas by Anne Ierardi
'When' : a poem by Margaret Kratch
'Exiles' : a poem by the Rev. Carol A. Prochaska
'The Gospel of Harim' : a short story by Pamela Schoenewaldt

Note that use of these materials is restricted to personal use. Please contact the author if you would like to use their materials in corporate worship or for publication.

The Welcome Carol

Based upon the Gospel of Matthew. Tune: Greensleeves

1. Christ left his home at the side of God
    For an earthly life, for a wanderer’s life.
    He loved the world and he emptied self
    And he welcomed the life of an exile.

2. When Mary learned she would have a son
    It was strange to hear – should she go away?
    But God sent Joseph a peaceful dream
    And so Joseph did welcome the exile.

3. The Magi traveled from far away
    By a shining star, by a prophet’s say
    Unwelcome, used, by a jealous king,
    They brought gifts as they welcomed the exile.

4. When Joseph dreamed of the need to flee
    They left all behind in the dead of night.
    The little children who did not flee
    Gave their lives while the family was exiled.
5. Christ left his home at his mother’s side
    And he wandered far on his Gospel ride.
    A Roman cross is where he then died
    And that cross was the end of his exile.

6. Christ rose again, and he left the tomb
    Yet he promised always to stay with us.
    He welcomes each one who comes to him;
    We meet Christ when we welcome the exile.

CHORUS: So welcome each other now
             For we all must wander beneath the sky.
             Come, welcome as Christ shows how
             For the exiles are children of God.

Dedicated to my grandparents of blessed memory, who left their homes in Hungary for new opportunities in the United States. They helped to found the Hungarian Reformed Church of South Norwalk, Conn., one of the first congregations of the UCC. Our church and our family welcomed many exiles after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

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Mother and Child

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When the song of the angels is still,
And the shepherds have gone from the hill,
     The Babe in the manger
     Will not be a stranger
To voices that tell of God's will.

When the star in the East sky is gone,
And the kings and the herdsmen withdrawn,
     The wee Prince of Peace
     Asleep mid the beasts
Will waken to greed a new dawn.

When the Spirit of Christmas is past
And our everyday role has been cast--
     The Boy that was born
     To waken that morn
Inspires us to rise to the task.

When the people who cry in the night
(And they tremble and hide in their fright)
     Can feel that the Lad
     Who made our hearts glad
Has moved us to help mend their plight.

When they hunger and have not a home;
And need clothing and drink--there are some
     Who look to the Man
     Who has in His plan:
A promise of His kingdome--Come!

When we do to to the least of them now,
And can ease their misfortune some how,
     Our Savior is served,
     We heed His word;
The message is clear we avow.

Whe He'd gone to His heavenly home,
And had died for our sins to atone--
     This Lamb was our loss
     As He hung on our cross
To save all mankind for His own.

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LIGHT disrupts
Joseph's sought-after sleep 
life so very far from the ordinary 
an untried walk with Mary.
For them 
an Exile. 

LIGHT summons
magi from their homeland 
pathways through foreign darkness to the Child 
to present gifts to God's Gift. 
For them
an Exile. 

LIGHT commands 
Get up! Flee to Egypt!
survival amid King Herod's darkness 
safety for Emmanuel.
For Him
an Exile.

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On Behalf of the Earth




Roxanne Germain (c.), daughter Marina (l.) and Jim Kelly (r.) tout <350.org> in front of First Congregational UCC in Sheffield, Mass., on July 6 as the church prepares to ring the steeple bell, along with parishioners’ cow bells, to draw attention to global warming. UCC churches across Massachusetts participated. Scientists say 350 is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide measured in “partners per million” in the atmosphere.

Photo furnished


On Behalf of the Earth

Making the Appeal

Older subscriber: 'Don't forget about me'

After concluding a workshop at the South Dakota Conference annual meeting in June, a woman in her 80s approached with a sincere request, "Don't forget about me."

Her concern was that United Church News — in its printed format — would disappear, due to new-placed emphasis on electronic communications.

Each month, United Church News reaches 206,000 homes. It's the largest denominational newspaper in the nation, and remains one of the UCC's most effective and reliable means of communication. It's delivered, without charge, to any church member who requests it, and nearly one-third of our households receive it.

But it's also expensive.

To the extent that United Church News will thrive in the future depends on our readers' regular contributions. It really is those $10, $25 and $100 contributions that keep this newspaper afloat.

There's a reply envelope tucked inside this and every issue. Or contribute online at <ucc.org/ucnews>. Have we received your voluntary gift in 2008?

The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, publisher-editor



United Church News is an expensive enterprise, made even more expensive in recent months by significant postal increases.

Here's a look at the financial breakdown:

$90,0000 =

cost of printing and mailing a single issue of United Church News to 206,000 households.

$540,000 =

cost of printing and mailing six issues annually.

$125,000 =

support from "Our Church's Wider Mission," the UCC's shared fund for connectional ministries.

$235,000 =

advertising revenue

$180,000 =

goal in 2008 for readers' contributions in order to offset cost of two issues per year.

$40,801 =

amount readers have contributed through June 15.

$139,299 =

amount needed from readers before year's end.

Never Ourselves Alone: Circling Back on the Journey

Editor's note: In September, I will turn over this newspaper's editorial leadership to the Rev. Gregg Brekke (see story on page 3). Although I will continue to have a hands-on role as the newspaper's publisher, you'll probably hear a little less from me as reporter and editor.

Five years ago, when I became editor of United Church News, my first editorial explained the rationale for the name of my recurring column, "Never Ourselves Alone," which I plan to continue, but only on occasion.

So, as I continue to serve this newspaper and the denomination in new ways, I have decided to end this part of my journey just where I started it. Enjoy the reprint.

At the first National Woman's Suffrage Convention held in 1869 in Washington, D.C., there was heated debate over the heart and soul of the emerging women's movement. Would it be a campaign for women's suffrage only? Or would it support universal voting rights for both men and women, black and white?

At the end of the Civil War, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony — arguably the founders of the U.S. women's movement — refused to support black male suffrage exclusively. Instead, they insisted that black women, as well as white, had an inalienable right to the vote, along with their male counterparts. In her newspaper "Revolution," Stanton wrote an editorial column about the controversy.

"When we contrast the condition of the most fortunate women at the north with the living death colored men endure everywhere, there seems to be a selfishness in our present position," she wrote. "But remember we speak not for ourselves alone, but for all womankind, in poverty, ignorance and hopeless dependence, for the women of this oppressed race too, who in slavery have known a depth of misery and degradation that no man can ever appreciate."

"Not for ourselves alone." It did not take long for Stanton's words to become a mantra for those who insisted on "both/and" rather than "either/or."

Almost 100 years later, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would echo Stanton's sentiment, saying he dreamed "of a nation where all our gifts and resources are not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity." Likewise, centuries earlier, the Apostle Paul said it his own way, "How can the head say to the foot, 'I have no need of you?'"

Never ourselves alone — It's not only a political statement; it's a theological one. It underscores the best of who we hope to be as the UCC — a multiracial, multicultural, open and affirming, accessible to all church. It's about widening our gaze so that the joys and concerns of our neighbors become our own.

When I was named editor of United Church News, I considered a thousand possible titles for my new column. But my mind eventually fixed on Stanton's editorial catch phrase of generations ago. How right she was: No movement can ill-afford the defeating luxury of self-interest, especially one that is rooted in the life and love of Jesus Christ.

That's why I can't envision a single column I would want to write that would not fit well under this three-word heading: Never ourselves alone. Whether writing about what it's like for someone to live with a chronic illness, or how U.S. policies are affecting the poor at home or abroad, or why it's so difficult to stay focused as a Christian in this age of distraction, every issue worth our while as Christians consistently invites us to stretch our worldview and widen our embrace, so that more and more of God's love will flow among us.

Jokingly or otherwise, the mantra of our age has become "It's all about me." That's why, when asked what I want this editor's column to say to our readers, I will reply, "We are never alone." I believe this affirmation includes pastoral and prophetic dimensions, and I'm betting there will be hundreds of stories, both comforting and challenging, to prove my point.


It is No Small Thing to Stand in a Historic Moment

California clergy couple say 'I do' — again

I had said "I do" before, standing in the front of a church sanctuary, wearing a white dress and looking into her beautiful eyes. She wore a white dress, too.

In good and bad, joy and challenge, we'd promised before God and community to stay by one another's side and share it all. We had already said "I do" to all of it.

And so I didn't think about what it might be like to say it again, standing in the Santa Cruz County building. I had no idea what it would feel like for us to walk into a clerk's office and actually receive a marriage license.

It didn't occur to me that I would be so happy to write a check to the county for anything. Truth is, saying "I do" in front of the county clerk meant more than I could have ever imagined.

It is no small thing to stand in an historic moment, to participate in the righting of an injustice you haven't dared dream would come true for you.

Does having a civil marriage license make our Christian marriage any more valid?  Absolutely not. The promises we made to God and each other are not subject to any civil authority. We are blessed beyond measure to serve and participate in a Christian community that already believes our growing family is equal to any other, a community that has been working for many years to move the state to practice the equality of citizens stated so clearly in the Constitution.

I learned the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States flag almost 30 years ago. As an adult, I've discovered my allegiance is first to God and that primary allegiance sometimes comes into conflict with the laws of the United States.

I've also learned that these conflicts between my core Christian convictions and certain laws, policies and decisions by the government can be held in a creative tension.  This tension is possible because of the innate freedom given to me in my creation as a child of God, and because of the freedom of choice and expression promised in the U.S. Constitution.

What I also learned as an adult, though, is that there were limits to the freedom under the law for me. My sister and her husband could be married under the law. They had that choice in every state. But, because I was oriented differently and knew that a woman was the life partner for me, the choice of legal marriage was denied me.

"With liberty and justice for all" didn't mean me, not wholly.

But then came an ordinary Tuesday morning in June. I said "I do" — again. This time, in a courthouse. This time, surrounded by another community of people we love and who love us. This time, with a simple dress for me and maternity clothes for Shannon.

And the room erupted in joy, tears and applause. The state had made good on its promise to us, as citizens. Our family was finally recognized as equal under the law.

We are deeply and profoundly grateful to God for the loving and inclusive Christian community that surrounds us every day. And we are proud to be citizens of California, where "liberty and justice for all" rings ever closer to being true for all its people.

The Rev. Heather Dillashaw Spencer is an associate minister at First Congregational UCC in Santa Cruz, CA.  She and her wife, the Rev. Shannon Spencer, are expecting their first child this fall.

Science is 'God's native tounge'

July 1 marked the 150th anniversary of the theory of evolution. For years, I believed that Darwin was of the devil. Now, I deeply honor his contribution to religion and my walk with God.

Indeed, other than Jesus, no one has had a more positive impact on my faith and my ministry than has Charles Darwin.

For the last six years as an itinerant evolutionary evangelist, I have preached the good news of evolution from the pulpits of hundreds of churches. Faith can be strengthened and difficulties in life surmounted — all by bringing a mainstream scientific understanding of evolution into our religious lives.

The response has been phenomenal. People of all ages and across the theological spectrum light up when they see new possibilities open for them. Often tearfully, always excitedly, they share their testimonials. Here is mine.

Jesus and a nurturing church community gave me a lifeline in my struggles to find sobriety as a young man. A corollary of being born again, however, was that the preachers I listened to and the authors I read told me that accepting evolution would seduce me away from godly living. At first I believed them. But then I met professors, ministers, priests, nuns, rabbis and chaplains who not only accepted an evolutionary view of cosmos and culture but found it religiously inspiring. Soon I too came to embrace the history of everyone and everything as our common Creation story.

Today, thanks to Charles Darwin and the countless evolutionary scientists and writers he inspired — in fields as diverse as astrophysics, geology, genetics, primatology, sociobiology and brain science — I interpret my Christian faith in far broader and more this-world realistic ways than ever before.

It is obvious to me now that God didn't stop revealing truth vital to human well-being back when people believed the world was flat and religious insights were recorded on animal skins. God is still communicating faithfully today, publicly, through the worldwide, self-correcting scientific enterprise. I now see science as revelatory and facts as God's native tongue.

From this perspective, divine grace and guidance extend back billions, not just thousands, of years. Looking at the history of the universe through sacred eyes, my faith is strengthened.

For me, the ethics of evolution are not only consistent with the teachings of religion, they advance it. An evolutionary understanding urges me to grow in morality and to expand my circles of compassion — even to include those who see the world in very different ways. My worship of God now includes doing everything I can to ensure a just and thriving future for planet Earth, for our children's children, and for as many species as possible. As an ordained Christian minister, I cannot imagine a higher calling for myself.

Of course, Darwin's legacy has not been entirely positive. Just as atrocities have been committed in the name of Jesus and Christianity, so have evils been perpetrated in the name of Darwin and evolution. There will always be those who distort the work of great men and women to advance their own shortsighted and self-centered ends. But when I look back over my life and reflect on the significant people who have blessed me, my relationships, and my world, Jesus and Darwin are at the top of my list.

The Rev. Michael Dowd, a UCC minister, is author of "Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World." Learn more at <thankgodforevolution.org>.


This is right moment to bring ‘Steeples’ ad to millions

When the UCC embarked on its Stillspeaking campaign, little did we know where it would lead us.

But, four years later, we know that our national ads have reached millions of people, reenergized the leadership and membership of many of our local churches, created a buzz about the UCC's extravagant welcome, empowered us to tell the story of our many historical firsts, rooted us in a common identity that pulls from the past and invites into the present, and declared a future open to the Stillspeaking God.

We did not shy away from getting our message out across the airwaves, because we knew that our message was newsworthy. We knew that we had something edgy, bold and creative to say. We knew that we were stewards of the church's story and that it was an imperative of the UCC to draw outside of the box — with bright and beautiful colors. We knew that we could be as bold and daring as any other in the history of the church who challenged the confines of exclusive identities.

As the Stillspeaking Coordinator, whenever I hear or think upon the question, "Why us?" my response is always, "Why not us!"

When the Apostle Paul declared that "there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer female and male, for all of you are one in Christ" (Galatians 3:28), he was radically altering everything he had been taught and everything he had defended.

Where did he get such an idea? Jesus!

When Jesus said, "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me" (Matthew 10:40), he gave his followers the only dictum by which to live and measure their faithfulness to God.

The UCC is a steward and storyteller of this welcome. The UCC is responsible to make good on this universal welcome that is played out on the local fields of our hearts, homes, neighborhoods, churches, beliefs, theologies, convictions, stories, poetry and art. Never is there a time for pulling back or holding back this most extravagant of welcomes.

In my heart of hearts, I believe the UCC has come upon another moment to declare that "all the people" belong to God and that all are welcome in our churches.

This is our moment to take the beloved "Steeples" TV ad to the masses. Already produced and primed for airing, we can do this together if we will open our hearts and treasure troves. If we dig deep into our pockets, we can make a national ad run possible that will reach millions more with a message of radical inclusion.

Every dollar we raise will go to airing "Steeples." Not one penny will go to production. Not one penny will go to overhead. Every time this ad airs, you will be the storyteller, the messenger, the witness. You will be the one giving expression to the UCC in this unique moment.

Last year, we celebrated the wonderful history of the first 50 years of life as a denomination. As the UCC historian Luis Gunnemann said, "The UCC was a venture of faith in the context of new responsibilities."

Well, we have come upon a new context of new responsibilities today. Now is the time to move into the next chapter of our history by acting on the belief that we will not die on the vine, but thrive and grow like never before.

The future belongs to those who are not fearful or faint-hearted; it belongs to those who dare to say, "Here's the church, here's the steeple, open the doors, and see all the people."

As our ad proclaims, "God accepts all the people. So do we. The United Church of Christ. No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here."

Imagine this message reaching millions. Let's make it happen now.

The Rev. Felix Carrion is coordinator of the UCC's Stillspeaking Ministry.

Ordination becomes 'sacred conversation'

A multiracial, multicultural assembly gathered on May 18 for the ordination of the Rev. Lizette Merchán Pinilla in the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference, as Pinilla was authorized for ministry by the Oklahoma Association and Community of Hope UCC in Tulsa, Okla.

The multicultural celebration took place on the same day that UCC pastors across the country were calling their members to a "sacred conversation on race." (see story on page 3)

"One hundred people came from many races, genders, abilities, disabilities and faiths to celebrate Lizette's ordination," said the Rev. Rosemary McCombs Maxey, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and interim pastor of Community of Hope UCC.

Pinella, who is Colombian by birth, is in the United States on a worker visa. In addition to working in the ecumenical church relations office of Disciples-related Phillips Theological Seminary, she will serve Community of Hope UCC as its justice and witness minister.

"Complex as her immigration and visa statuses have been, her life testifies to the struggle and strength of her people and her determination to stand faithful," Maxey said. "She credits her companions at the Community of Hope for bringing her 'from the pew to the pulpit.'"

Milestone: ‘Pilgrim’ and ‘Youth’ fellowships came together 50 years ago

 In 1958, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. met with UCC youth at Purdue University.

Just as thousands of UCC youth were gathering this summer in Knoxville for National Youth Event, many UCC elders are remembering that 2008 also marks the 50-year union of our predecessor bodies' youth organizations.

On June 20-27, 1958 — one year after the founding the UCC — the Pilgrim Fellowship of the Congregational Christian Churches in America and the Youth Fellowship of the Evangelical and Reformed Church held its first "joint national council" at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

"Many of today's generation of UCC leaders trace the origins of their global justice commitments to seeds sown in Pilgrim and Youth Fellowships," says the Rev. John Thomas, general minister and president. "As a product of Pilgrim Fellowship in the 1960s, I have much to be thankful for as we mark this milestone of the union of the youth movements of our predecessor churches.

"Rooted in the life of congregations, these local fellowships nevertheless saw themselves as part of statewide and national movements of United Church of Christ young people that helped us see beyond our local communities to the reality of a global church and to the pressing needs of the world," Thomas says.

Bridgette Kelly, the UCC's archivist in Cleveland, says the anniversary is a testament to how young people can make a difference in this denomination and in society.

"It is significant to know that the Pilgrim and Youth Fellowships were already working together before the UCC union," Kelly says.

About 330 delegates attended the uniting meeting in June 1958, where they worked to hammer out programmatic details as a joint body moving forward.

"I had never seen an E&R young person before," admitted an unnamed Congregationalist teenager, as quoted in the joint council's 1958 program book.

The June 1958 meeting was followed up later that year with a much-larger gathering of 3,000 UCC participants at the National Conference on Christian Education, held at Purdue University, where teens were given an opportunity to interview the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"To a great extent, we will have to depend on the youth of this generation to solve the problem [of racism]," King told the UCC audience.

The Rev. Stephen Sterner, acting executive minister for the UCC's Local Church Ministries, says the 50-year milestone for "PF/YF" is an occasion to look back and move forward.

"The many youth fellowship programs in local UCC congregations in 1958 reflected a time of strong institutional participation, the wave of baby boomer children, and the time when Sundays were still relatively free of shopping, organized youth sports and the many other Sunday options families now experience," Sterner says. "A significant number of the current leadership in our churches and our denomination found their faith and their call to serve in these highly organized and mostly full youth fellowship activities."

 But Sterner says today's youth movement is different — but still vital — pointing to the more-than 3,000 youth who attended NYE this summer.

"As we look back on this historical moment, we are not given only to a wistful nostalgia for what used to be," Sterner insists. "We have a great base from which to grow."

Local Church Ministries and Justice and Witness Ministries are working with the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries, Conferences, and local church youth and leaders to develop and implement a plan for youth and young adult ministry in the years ahead, Sterner says.

"By the summer of 2009, we will be prepared to begin a renewed emphasis on youth and young adult ministry in the UCC," Sterner says. "We hope that 50 years from now, the church will look back on this moment with as much joy and fondness as we now remember the union of the Pilgrim Fellowship and the E&R youth fellowship."

Learn more @ ucc.org/youth

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