Written by J. Bennett Guess
June - July 2008
Message finds groundswell of support
It's the ad that keeps on running.
On April 2, thanks to a one-week flood of contributions from UCC members nationwide, the denomination placed a full-page ad in The New York Times at a cost of nearly $120,000.
It was an expensive-yet-prominent attempt to proclaim the UCC's fuller story at the height of the media flurry surrounding the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the retiring senior pastor of Trinity UCC in Chicago.
"We are a church of open ideas, extravagant welcome and evangelical courage," the ad proclaimed in part. "We support liberty in our pulpits, just as we affirm the individual conscience of our 1.2 million members to agree, disagree and wrestle with the biggest questions in a spirit of love."
Thankfully, the ad wasn't a one-day throwaway. It continues to have a life of its own.
In April and May, the ad appeared in no less than 30 newspapers nationwide, with the text often being adapted to lift the profile of local UCC churches.
"Thanks to the incredible generosity of one individual in our congregation, the New York Times UCC ad has been placed in the Redlands Facts, the San Bernardino Sun and the Riverside Press Enterprise," reported the Rev. Sharon R. Graff, pastor of Redlands UCC in California, on May 9. "It was amended to include the names and contact information of our four area UCC congregations in Mentone, Redlands, Riverside and San Bernardino.
Similarly, churches nationwide have been eager to see the ad find a spot in their local papers.
First Congregational UCC in Colorado Springs placed the ad in two different newspapers, while the Congregational UCC of Valley City in North Dakota ran it in the Valley City Times-Record. Grace UCC in Taneytown, Md., bought space in its hometown newspaper, The Taneytown Record.
Inspired by the Times' ad, UCC churches in Madison, Wis., raised money to place their own full-page message in The Capital Times.
Conferences, too, have jumped on the ad-running bandwagon.
In the Penn Central Conference, churches raised money to place the ad in the Gettysburg Times and the York Daily Record. The Maine Conference purchased ad space in the Portland Press Herald, and the Northern Plains Conference placed the ad in three prominent North Dakota newspapers - the Bismarck Tribune, the Fargo Forum and the Minot Daily News.
The Falls Church News-Press in northern Virginia was the first newspaper to reprint the ad on April 3 - the day after it appeared in The New York Times - thanks to the generosity of owner-editor Nicholas F. Benton, a member of First Congregational UCC in Washington, D.C.
Benton also wrote a column that day that explained his reason for choosing to run the ad in his own newspaper.
"The UCC is unapologetic in affirming its role as a church whose founders came over on the Mayflower ‘of open ideas, extravagant welcome, and evangelical courage,'" Benton wrote. "I've been a member of the UCC since I was in college and chose to enter a UCC seminary. Once again, in the heat of controversy, they've made me proud."
On April 11, with $93,000 in contributions from UCC members, the denomination also placed a full-page ad in USA Today calling for a nationwide "sacred conversation on race" on May 18.
If your church is running the ad in a local newspaper, let us know at email@example.com.
Thousands of thanks!
In less than two weeks, UCC members raised more than enough money to place full-page ads in both The New York Times on April 2 and USA Today on April 11.
An impressive 2,918 donors contributed $238,612 to the UCC's "Tell Our Story Fund" in late March and early April, with nearly three-fourths of the donations coming through online giving.
The two ads cost about $213,000. Excess contributions will be held for future ad buys.
In a thank you message to donors, the Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president, wrote, "No single newspaper ad will ever fully capture our denomination's diverse story or our justice legacy, but as the media spotlight continues to focus on the UCC like never before, it is imperative that we be proactive in sharing who we are and what we're about, lest others continue to define us in narrow and distorted ways."