Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, the former executive director of the UCC's former Commission on Racial Justice, has resurfaced in a new incarnation, that of president of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer recently carried a long story on his trip from 700 Prospect Ave. to a promoter of hip-hop music. After leaving the church position, Chavis became Executive Director of the NAACP until he was forced out following allegations of paying off with association funds a woman who had accused him of sexual harassment. He helped Louis Farrakhan organize the Million Man March and then joined the Nation of Islam in 1997, adding Muhammad to his name and getting stripped of his UCC standing. Writes Plain Dealer reporter April McClellan-Copeland, "Chavis Muhammad's immersion into the hip-hop world is yet another example of how adept he is at rolling with the punches. The man is like one of those inflatable punching toys which can be knocked to the ground, only to pop back up, unfazed by the blow.Ó Says Chavis Muhammad, "Life is a faith journey that will take you on different journeys and to different environments. I'm still the same brother Ben. People still call me Minister Ben and Rev. Ben. I'm still the same brother who started a journey for freedom and justice in my native Oxford, N.C., many years ago.Ó
A letter by Massachusetts Conference Minister the Rev. Nancy Taylor is making news in The Boston Globe and the prominent gay and lesbian monthly, The Advocate. Taylor's letter was in response to the four Massachusetts Catholic bishops who wrote their priests to urge Catholics to support a Massachusetts constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and woman. The Globe carried a portion of Taylor's letter, which went to more than 400 UCC churches: "What the bishops fail to recognize is that families come in every size and configuration: extended, nuclear, patriarchal, matriarchal, single mom, single dad, adoptive, foster, childless, broken, mended and blended. Among these configurations of family there are many gay and lesbian people who, living in committed relationships with life-partners, are gifted parents.Ó Taylor told The Advocate she wrote the letter to her churches "to ensure that the bishops weren't the only religious leaders speaking out on the issue.Ó
From The Kentucky Post comes the story of a church closing, a Catholic church, St. Anthony of Padua in Bellevue, just across the river from Cincinnati. The church closes as its aging membership dwindles and its pastor, Fr. John Kroger, retires. Who was there the day the church closed? The Rev. Jim Hill from St. Paul UCC just down the road in Dayton, Ky. Hill gave Kroger a hug. The two clergymen arrived at their respective churches at just about the same time, back in 1990. Hill had experienced Kroger's emotions of that day Hill's home church, Grace UCC, was forced to close in 1995. "It's kind of painful,Ó Hill told the paper. "I was part of our final service, and I cried.Ó
The celebration to open a new 16,500 square foot education and administration building at Eden UCC in Edwardsville, Ill., marked the culmination of 30 years of planning and fund raising, going back to the early 1970s. The ribbon cutting was covered by the Edwardsville Intelligence. Said Church Council President Jim Duey, "Hundreds of people made this evening possible, some of them no longer with us. This is a beginning as we use this facility to the glory of God., we dedicate it to God's service and pray this spirit will stay in our hearts.Ó The two-story building was designed in the same style as the main sanctuary. Edwardsville Mayor Gary Niebur was at the ceremony and told the paper, "There is no better growth and no better investment in the community that what they were gathered to celebrate. This is more than the bricks and mortar we see here. The services this church gives to the community contribute immensely outside the walls of the church.Ó Eden was established in 1868 and has a current membership of 1,730.
When he's not writing this column or taking care of business as Director of Administration for the UCC's Proclamation, Identity and Communication Ministry, Lee Foley can be found on the golf course, delighted that warm weather finally has returned to Cleveland. If your church has been mentioned in a newspaper or magazine, send him a clipping c/o Clippings, United Church News, 700 Prospect Ave., Cleveland, OH 44115-1100. Be sure to mention the name of the publication and the city where it is located.