2004 saw a hopeful groundswell of support for the UCC's ÔStill Speaking' identity campaign, but the national church continued its wrestling to rise above difficult financial realities. ÔThe best of times, the worst of times,' commented Bernice Powell Jackson, a member of the Collegium of Officers, in summing up the church's hope amid despair.
PASTORAL INPUT. About 90 local church pastors came to Cleveland, Jan. 28-30, to offer advice and suggestions about the emerging "Still Speaking Initiative"—then referred to as the "Catalyst Project"—the UCC's national identity campaign which seeks to reinvigorate the denomination.
LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES. The UCC's Nebraska Conference and its Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) regional counterpart received more than $1.3 million from the Lilly Endowment to fund a joint, five-year project to help those in rural areas have greater access to theological education opportunities.
HOSTILE CHRISTIANS. The UCC was included in a 15-page list of organizations and individuals considered by the National Rifle Association to be "hostile" to the rights of gun-owners. Also on the list? U.S. Catholic Conference, Mennonite Central Committee and the Congress of National Black Churches, among others.
DEAN OF CONGREGATIONALISM. Curious questions were raised about the relatively unknown "Congregationalist" religious beliefs of one-time presidential frontrunner and infamous January screamer, Gov. Howard Dean, a member of First Congregational UCC in Burlington, Vt.
ONE BIG SECRET. Talking heads still were squawking over the Dec. 19 announcement by Essie Mae Washington Williams, a member of Christian Fellowship UCC in Los Angeles, who ended her 78 years of secrecy by announcing that the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R.-S.C.), once a strident racist, was her father. Williams' mother was African American.
A MILLION-DOLLAR MORNING. It was Friday, February 13, of all days, when the Rev. John H. Thomas's stack of morning mail included a small envelope containing a donor's personal check to the UCC. The amount? $1 million. The donor, who asked to be anonymous, gave the gift for two purposes: to support the equipping of new lay and ordained church leaders and to strengthen the church's commitment to women's justice issues.
PASSION ABOUT ÔTHE PASSION'—WHO'D HAVE THUNK IT? An exhaustingly- long, foreign-language film—with subtitles, no less—about the death of Jesus would become a record-shattering, cultural phenomenon that would open new, hot debate about who Jesus was—and who he wasn't. UCC members weighed in. "Please stop showing death, violence, hate and torture as the main message of the life and teachings of a prince of peace," wrote one United Church News reader.
ONE BREAD, ONE BODY. The Southern Conference's Eastern North Carolina Association held a Eucharistic worship service on Feb. 29 to formally welcome its newest congregation, North Raleigh UCC. The congregation was granted standing in Oct. 2003, after three difficult years when, as a UCC-funded new church start, it had been denied affiliation in the Association because of its open and affirming welcome of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.
SPOUSAL RIGHTS. In March, thousands of same-gender couples sought marriage licenses in San Francisco, including the Rev. Wendy Taylor (facing front), a pastor at Community Congregational UCC in Pescadero, Calif., who hugs her partner of 20 years, Ellen Sweetin. On August 12, the California Supreme Court ruled that the licenses were not legal and must be voided.
TEST DRIVE. The UCC's 30-second television ads began a six-week test run in Harrisburg/Lancaster, Pa.; Raleigh/Durham, N.C.; Oklahoma City; Springfield/Holyoke, Mass.; Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Cleveland/Akron/Canton, Ohio. Churches reported positive responses—and an increase in first-time visitors.
REMEMBERING BRAVO. UCC representatives, including two members of the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers, attended the 50-year commemoration on March 1 of the U.S. government's detonation of the 15-megaton, hydrogen "Bravo" bomb—the largest ever tested—in the Marshall Islands.
JAVA JUSTICE. The UCC launched a new denomination-wide partnership with the Equal Exchange Interfaith Coffee Program on March 27 at First Congregational UCC in Pasadena, Calif. equalexchange.com/interfaith
NEWSPAPER ACCOLADES. United Church News received four awards, more than any other publication, at the Religion Communicators Council, March 25-27, in Birmingham. Three weeks later, it received eight awards at the Associated Church Press convention in Toronto, the most the paper had ever received in a single year.
DIFFICULT WORK. Members of the UCC's four Covenanted Ministries' boards of directors met jointly, April 22-25, in Atlanta and wrestled over $2 million in proposed budget cuts. Afterward, the Office of General Ministries (OGM) cut five staff positions. Local Church Ministries and Wider Church Ministries made one-time contributions to OGM to avert cuts to United Church News and the UCC's video production services.
ÔNO' ON THE AMENDMENT. The UCC's 76-member Executive Council and the boards of directors of the UCC's four national Covenanted Ministries passed resolutions calling for the defeat of any federal or state legislation or proposed constitutional amendments that would deny civil legal protections to same-sex couples.
GOD'S INSTALLMENT. Olivia Masih White, elected at the 2003 General Synod to become the new head of the UCC's Wider Church Ministries, was formally installed on April 24 at First Congregational UCC in Atlanta. White, however, had been working in the post since the previous October.
YOU GOT QUESTIONS? WE GOT ANSWERS. Askthequestion.org, a new UCC website designed to help would-be ministers explore vocational possibilities, was unveiled.
FAIR ACCESS ADVOCACY. Gloria Tristani, a former member of the Federal Communications Commission, accepted a newly-created position as managing director of the UCC's Office of Communication, Inc., a church-related organization committed to representing the telecommunications interests of underrepresented and disenfranchised communities.
OUR FAITH. OUR VOTE. The UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries launched a non-partisan, get-out-the-vote campaign encouraging voter participation.
THE COLLEGIAL CABINET. The Rev. Davida Foy Crabtree, Connecticut Conference Minister, was elected chair of the UCC's Cabinet of Conference Ministers, replacing the Rev. F. Russell Mittman, Pennsylvania Southeast Conference Minister, who stepped down after leading the group for three years.
SUPPORTIVE SUPPORT STAFF. The UCC's Office Support Staff Network met April 15-18 in Cleveland. The national group offers a supportive environment for office support staff in all settings of the church.
MAY DAY. On May 1, the Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken, the first clergyperson in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to face disciplinary action for performing same-sex marriages, received privilege of call in the UCC's Southern Ohio Northern Kentucky Association, even though the PCUSA's Permanent Judicial Council had cleared Van Kuiken of any improper ministerial conduct, saying "Éthe rebuke is removed."
LET THEM EAT CAKE. First Congregational UCC in Santa Cruz, Calif., hosted "the largest wedding reception ever held in Santa Cruz County" when it gathered California's same-sex newlyweds and their friends for an interfaith blessing ceremony on May 2, following the short-lived, but well-publicized issuance of same-gender marriage licenses in San Francisco.
BANNER HOSPITALITY. New two-panel UCC banners went up on the lampposts that line downtown Cleveland's Prospect and Huron Avenues, two major streets surrounding the UCC's national offices. The identity boosters include phrases like "Restore your belief in believing," "Diversity is what unites us," and "Come as you are."
ALL ABLOOM. The 69th installment of the Dogwood Festival at Greenfield Hill Congregational UCC in Fairfield, Conn., attracted thousands of New Englanders. Proceeds, as always, support more than 20 justice-related organizations.
GLOBAL PARTNERSHIP. Bernice Powell Jackson, executive minister of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries, was elected World Council of Churches president from North America, joining seven co-presidents from other regions.
HONORING THE FALLEN. On June 21-22, about 1,000 people from across northern Ohio wandered about the expansive green lawn at The First Church in Oberlin (Ohio), UCC to view "Eyes Wide Open," a multimedia exhibit about the impact of war. The display included rows and rows of black combat boots, each identified with the name of a fallen U.S. soldier in Iraq. Inside, a display of 100,000 bullet casings were a reminder of the number of civilians who have died in the conflict.
CUBA CONFAB. Celebrating 25 years of bridging the U.S.-Cuba divide, 62 of the more than 400 participants who have traveled to Cuba during the past three decades with the UCC Cuba Study Seminar, led by the Rev. Ted Braun, came together in Pleasant Hill, Tenn., June 25-27, to reflect on their experiences and to renew the call for a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba.
HISTORIC CONVOCATION. About 250 gathered in Chicago for a convocation of the UCC's Council for Racial and Ethnic Ministries, to discuss the denomination's future, especially as it impacts people of color. It was the first such gathering in 12 years, and participants urged the church to stay true to its multiracial, multicultural commitments.
RECORD-BREAKING EVENT. Embrace, enlighten, encourage and empower were the e-words used to describe the "e-attitude" of some 3,800 youth and adults who attended the UCC's quadrennial National Youth Event, July 22-26, in Knoxville, Tenn. Record-breaking attendance made it one of the largest UCC gatherings—of any type—in the UCC's history.
A RISING STAR (WHO'S UCC). Barack Obama, a member of Trinity UCC in Chicago, gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention on July 27. Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate on Nov. 2, thus keeping the UCC's presence in the Senate at six, despite the retirement of Sen. Bob Graham, a member of Florida's Miami Lakes Congregational UCC.
BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A SPOT? Northshore UCC in Woodinville, Wash., made some neighbors fume when it offered its property for Tent City4, a temporary encampment of about 100 homeless residents from the Seattle area, who had no place to go. The city stepped in and provided land, but the church agreed to serve as the group's host.
GOOD NEWS ENTHUSIASTS. More than 400 clergy and laypersons attended the UCC's National Evangelism Event, Aug. 5-7 in Atlanta. Dozens of workshops focused on increasing church membership, invigorating congregational hospitality and equipping churches to reach out to all segments of the population.
TABLE MANNERS. One finding, among many, from a 2004 denomination- wide worship survey revealed that nearly 70 percent of UCC congregations offer Holy Communion to non-baptized persons. Some said it reveals an unfortunate break from orthodox Christian teachings, while others insisted it represented a biblical and inclusive view of Christ's invitation to the table. Letters poured in to United Church News from readers anxious to express their views—both pro and con.
LET US STAND AND SING. About 200 attended the UCC's National Musicians Event, Aug. 12-15, in Cleveland, where musicians, worship planners, liturgical artists and pastors celebrated both traditional and emerging forms of music and worship.
LEADERSHIP DECISIONS. The Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president, and the Rev. Jose (Joe) A. Malayang, executive minister of Local Church Ministries, announced that they do plan to seek re-election to their posts at General Synod 25, July 1-5, in Atlanta. However, Bernice Powell Jackson, executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, said she would decline the opportunity for an additional term.
FAMILY VALUES. On Sept. 9, a Florida court ordered that a gay couple—both members of Chapel on the Hill UCC in Seminole, Fla.—could remain the legal parents of their two daughters. Church members filled the court room to hear the historic verdict that established the long-term partners as Florida's first same-gender couple to have joint, legal custody of their children.
PASS US THE PICKLES. The UCC-supported, five-year boycott of the Mt. Olive Pickle Company ended successfully on Sept. 16 when a "ceremonial signing" was held at Community UCC in Raleigh, N.C. The victory for impoverished farm workers ensures a 10 percent increase in wages over three years. "The UCC was a very key player because they were the first national denomination to endorse the boycott," said Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, the union that led the boycott.
WHAT A RELIEF. UCC members and entities at the local, Conference and national levels responded generously after four hurricanes socked the eastern region with strong winds and heavy rain. For starters, $69,000 was contributed by individuals and congregations, $50,000 was given by the UCC's Local Church Ministries and $25,000 was offered by the UCC Insurance Board. Churches in Florida provided leadership, while volunteers from across the UCC were—and still are—offering clean-up assistance.
ON THE AIR. On Oct. 19, during a live web simulcast—the first of its kind for the denomination—the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, unveiled specifics about the church's first-ever, national advertising campaign. Thomas told 1,500 online viewers that, beginning Dec. 1, a 30- second ad will be aired nationally on network and cable stations for 26 days, reaching 60 percent of the population who will see the commercial four to five times. A second run in February 2005 is expected, if sufficient contributions are received to support the on-air campaign.
CUT AND DRIED. The board of directors of the UCC's four Covenanted Ministries began four consecutive weeks of independent meetings, where $4.9 million in diffi cult budget cuts—the largest in the UCC's 47-year history—were enacted. Twenty-eight positions at the UCC's national offices were eliminated, and the annual frequency of United Church News was reduced from 10 to six issues.
MISSIONARIES' MOMENTS. Nearly 200 global mission enthusiasts gathered in Cleveland, Oct. 14-16, for the biennial MissionWorks conference, where global missionaries reported a shift in the world's attitudes toward the United States. "Americans are now perceived as a dangerous people," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, while addressing the group.
PARALYSIS ANALYSIS. A final report of the UCC's Restructure Evaluations Oversight Committee, presented on Oct. 15 to the Executive Council, concluded that much of what's not working in the UCC's new national structure stems from "the lack of clearly defined lines of authority and accountability for visioning, planning and setting priorities." (See story on page 8).
WHEN SAINTS COME MARCHIN' IN. Across the UCC in November, churches joined together and held regional "All Saints" celebrations in anticipation and celebration of the December launch of the denomination's national television advertising campaign. In the Penn Central Conference, more than 600 participated in one of four regional gatherings. On Nov. 7, in Rhode Island, more than 650 attended a single service at Beneficent Congregational UCC in Providence, R.I. Denominational leaders are hoping the first-ever regional worship opportunities will become annual occasions to honor the UCC's past and future.
TUNE IN. The UCC's first-ever, nationally coordinated television advertising campaign was launched on Dec. 1, when a 30- second commercial was set to begin airing on network and cable stations for 26 days. "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here," the ad touts.
SPIRITUAL SOAKER. The Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, will lead a retreat for Florida clergy, Dec. 5-7, in response to pastors' spiritual and pastoral care needs following an exhausting hurricane season that saw four major storms rock the region.
MANY HAPPY RETURNS. Just in time for Christmas, all UCC congregations were set to receive a series of new songs, liturgies and images—to use experientially and experimentally—as part of the next phase of "Worshiping into God's Future," a church-wide effort to promote renewal in the denomination's worship life. Churches were being asked to use the resources in early 2005, then offer feedback by April 11. (See story on page 10).
WHERE WE STOOD IN 2004
Ordained ministers in full standing: 10,323
Source: 2004 Yearbook (year-end 2003 data)