Written by Jimi Izrael
Local church members allege covenantal relationship breached; buy newspaper ads
In mid-July, 55 clergy and laity representing 24 different Cincinnati-area churches agreed to a statement expressing their dissent from the decision of the UCC's Executive Council in April to support the economic boycott of Cincinnati. The boycott is fueled by ongoing economic and social justice issues, including police shootings of 19 black men.
The Consensus Statement, printed on July 19 in both the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Cincinnati Evening Post at a total cost of $5,000, affirmed the UCC's "historic commitment ... to justice in all its aspects" but stated "that the covenantal partnership that we have within the denomination has been severely breached."
The statement continued: "We believe that the Executive Council and the Boards of Justice and Witness Ministries, Office of General Ministries and Wider Church Ministries did us a great injustice by not first gathering input from United Church of Christ clergy and members in the greater Cincinnati area: therefore we disavow any support of their resolution to honor this economic boycott of Cincinnati."
"Twenty-seven of the 39 Cincinnati churches agreed with the statement," said the Rev. Calvin Klumb, an intentional interim pastor who convened the meeting. "Twenty-four of them agreed to have their names printed. I think that sends a powerful message."
One day, three meetings
After the statement appeared in the newspapers, three meetings were convened on July 23. Two small morning and afternoon meetings were held at Phillipus UCC in Cincinnati, and a large public, evening meeting was held at St. John's UCC in Newport, Ky. Although United Church News sent a reporter to all three meetings, he was asked to leave the first meeting and to treat comments at the second meeting as "off the record."
"These were meant to be small, informational sessions," said the Rev. Virginia Duffy of Phillipus UCC, "where people could talk about the issues as though they were sitting around a kitchen table, without worrying about whether what they said would appear in the paper."
The third meeting attracted about 200 persons. Two members of the UCC Collegium of Officers, the Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President, and Bernice Powell Jackson, Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, were there to address the concerns and listen to the voices from the pews.
Much of the discussion concerned whether Cincinnati-area UCC churches and members had been consulted before the Executive Council vote in April. Most felt they had not, even though pastors had received notification by e-mail.
People seeking apologies
"You need to be aware," said the Rev. Elise Higginbotham, Interim Association Minister, "that at the point that I became aware of the resolution, a few weeks before it appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer, every pastor received a copy of that resolution. I know it was received because I was told how it was published and distributed in various congregations. Other pastors did not. It is certainly a regret of mine that some of you learned of it in the local newspaper, but your pastors received that memo."
"I realize that the issues that are being addressed are important," said Greta Carpenter of Lakeview UCC in Maineville, Ohio, "but I also think it's important that the Executive [Council] know that we want to be represented and our voices be heard by them before they make decisions for us."
While many came looking for an apology, one lay person offered an apology of her own.
"I'm sorry that I didn't pay closer attention to the bulletins and announcements issued by my pastors some months back," said Erma Fritche of Price Hill UCC in Cincinnati. "I'm big enough to offer an apology for not paying closer attention." Many present wanted to know how the Executive Council will prevent this kind of mis-communication from happening again.
"We are considering revised standing rules for the Executive Council," said Thomas, "and part of that deals with resolutions and the process by which they are presented and passed."
"You are angry at us because [the process failed], and rightly so," said Bernice Powell Jackson. "We apologize and acknowledge that we made mistakes."
"But," she added, "we are not wrong about what's going on in Cincinnati."