Single-payer health care gets nod and a march from UCC assembly
Written by Micki Carter and Jeff Woodard
September - October 2009

Bert Perry of the UCC's Florida Conference, Grand Rapids Mayor George Hartwell and the UCC's Barbara Baylor lead the march for health care during General Synod 27. Randy Varcho photo
Citing both specifcity and urgency, General Synod 27 passed without amendment a resolution "Calling for the Support of H.R. 676 – Single-Payer National Health Care Reform to Advance Health Equity for All and to Eliminate Health Disparities."

Mary Beth Cross, a delegate from the Nebraska Conference, said after a unanimous vote out of committee, that the time to rally is now. Prior to the Tuesday, June 30, vote, she said, "This is a Gospel-mandated mission of faith for everyone to make sure that universal health care becomes a reality."

Several delegates expressed the necessity for action within the next four months, before another election cycle begins. They agreed that it was crucial for the resolution to support a specific action — H.R. 676, in this case — rather than a general endorsement of universal health care.

The resolution was submitted by the Council on Racial and Ethnic Ministries (COREM). Key among its proponents was Barbara Baylor, UCC Minister for Health Care Justice. "We lift up our [belief] that all persons deserve and must have quality, accessible, affordable health care and related social services – including mental-health service and full accessibility for the disabled," said Baylor.

Two hundred Synod-goers marched from DeVos Place to City Hall Monday afternoon, June 29, and gathered in the shadow of Grand Rapids' signature Calder stabile to demonstrate their commitment to universal health care.

Chanting "Health care now!" they wound their way through downtown streets on a path cleared by city police. Leading the 15-minute walk was Mayor George Heartwell, a UCC pastor, and the demonstration organizers, Bert Perry of the Florida Conference and the Rev. Peter Wells, an Associate Conference Minister from Massachusetts.

At the Calder stabile, marchers were joined by Paul Mayhew, a Baptist minister and Kent County Commissioner who also is a mental-health activist.

"We've got a president who's committed to health care for all, but we have to keep him on task," Mayhew said. "We've got to get on the telephone to our Congressmen and the White House so everyone knows where we stand."

Perry introduced Baylor, who told marchers, "The UCC still speaks prophetically for health care for all … Remember that two people die every hour every day due to the lack of health care."

Recalling the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho, Baylor led the marchers in a chant, repeated six times, "All the walls of health-care injustice came down!"

The protest event was organized and staged within 36 hours. Perry and Wells were chatting on Saturday, and "we couldn't believe that the UCC was meeting in the middle of a city and we weren't out in the streets making a public statement," Perry said. "Quality health care should be available to all, and that's the issue on everyone's mind right now."

Perry and Wells recognized that they needed to enlist some local help and they knew just whom to call.

"When the mayor welcomed us to the city, he gave out his cell phone number and said to call him if we needed anything. So I called him," said Perry. And he answered.

"We called the mayor on Saturday," Wells said, "met with him on Sunday and marched with him [on Monday]."

The complete texts of General Synod 27 resolutions can be found at