God is still stepping
Written by Dorothy Gunn
December 2004


During a Nov. 7 celebration of the UCC's Still Speaking Initiative at New York's Riverside Church, members of the congregation's Send Judah First Step Team burst into movement, with words urging participants to "give the world the holy step." Mike DiSciullo photo.
 
Jazzed and excited, UCC churches are preparing to leave invisibility behind, as ad campaign begins.

In case you've been sleeping through much of the past year, then maybe you've missed the news that, starting Dec. 1, the UCC is stepping out—boldly—with the launch of its first-ever, nationally coordinated television advertising campaign.

With hopes of reinvigorating the UCC and enhancing its distinctiveness in the marketplace of religious ideas, the UCC's Still Speaking Initiative is taking to the airwaves. Meanwhile, thousands of generous individuals and innovative congregations are doing their part to recast the once-fuzzy image of the denomination.

"Enclosed is my weekly paycheck," wrote the Rev. Mark Clark, interim pastor of First Congregational UCC in Fulton, N.Y., in an Oct. 29 letter that accompanied his generous contribution. "I'm working for a minimal salary, [but] I live well on this amount, and I feel strongly enough about this initiative, especially the ad campaign, to give you a week's salary for the cause."

"I thank you for giving me hope, as a pastor of a nearly dead, inner-city, mainline liberal church still struggling to break out of the 1950s mold of Ôlet them find us' and Ôby-God-they-better- fit-into-our-way-of-doing-things mentality,'" Clark wrote. "Thank you for your openness and welcoming—a message that really is from Christ. God is still speaking."

Throughout November—in anticipation of the campaign's offi cial, national unveiling—more than 40 regional "All Saints" celebrations were held to lift up the "still speaking" theme, to honor the covenantal partnership of UCC congregations and to celebrate the rich legacy of the UCC's devotion to a still-speaking God.

On Nov. 6, at the famed Riverside Church (UCC/American Baptist) in New York City, the UCC's New York Conference, with guests from the Central Atlantic and Connecticut Conferences, held a five-hour event that began in the afternoon with faith sharing, bible study and a preview of the commercial.

Following dinner, Riverside's senior minister, the Rev. James L. Forbes, led a special worship service that featured music by renowned soprano Kathleen Battle. A mass choir—comprised of musicians from across the Conference—sang the anthem, "Maybe God is Still Speaking," composed and conducted by James Ahrend of Sayville (N.Y.) Congregational UCC.

During the offering, members of Riverside's Send Judah First Step Team burst into movement, with words urging participants to "give the world the holy step."

Said Forbes, in his closing remarks, "Oh, God, speak, speak! We, your saints, are listening from the depths of our souls."

In Reading, Pa., UCC congregations joined together on Nov. 7 to host a city-wide "Still Speaking Revival."

"This one service won't solve all of Reading's problems, or all of the churches' problems," said the Rev. David Lawton, pastor of St. Thomas UCC, "but it can help give us energy, hope and resolve to get to work for the sake of Jesus Christ and our neighbors."

On Oct. 31, at UCC-related Dillard University in New Orleans, Ken Medema performed in concert, where UCC members took part in a traditional New Orleans-styled celebratory processional known as a "second lining."

On Nov. 7, members of Eden UCC in Edwardsville, Ill., and St. Peter UCC in Okawville, Ill. shared dinner and worship, then offered "practical, hands-on, take-it-home workshops" as they prepared to "get ready to receive new people," an organizer said. On Nov. 21, at Immanuel UCC in Shillington, Pa., the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference held a jazz communion service.

At a cost of $1.5 million, the initial 30-second spot will run on network and cable television for 26 days and is expected to reach 60 percent of the population who will see the ad four to five times. A second commercial is expected to air in February, if the financial backing is there.

"People are responding," says Don Hill of the UCC's financial development ministry. "Last week, we got a $100,000 commitment from a UCC leader who lives in Chicago. We still have to raise a lot of money obviously, but I remain very encouraged by the response."

Editor J. Bennett Guess and ucc.org staff writer Dorothy Gunn contributed to this story.

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Contribute to the Still Speaking Initiative online at stillspeaking.com/campaign

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Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-3801
guessb@ucc.org