Ecumenical Awards ceremony highlights interconnection, call to mend the world

It was an international gathering of honored guests at the Ecumenical and Interfaith Awards luncheon held Saturday, July 1 at the United Church of Christ’s General Synod.

The Avery D. Post Ecumenical Award was presented to UCC minister the Rev. Kerri Parker, executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches; while the Divine Pathways Interfaith Award was bestowed upon Tarunjit Singh Butalia, executive director of Religions for Peace USA

The Rev. Liddy Barlow, executive minister of the Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, served as the emcee. Barlow started the hour with a prayer, and the introduction of the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, candidate for General Minister and President of the UCC, who currently serves as Associate General Minister for Wider Church Ministries and Co-Executive of Global Ministries.  

“It’s hard for any of us to think we can be the church alone,” Thompson said. “It’s so interesting to me when we are together to see how much we have in common. We are learning from each other as we grow.” 

Mending the world

The Rev. Michael Blair

The ceremony included a keynote address from the Rev. Michael Blair, who currently serves as the General Secretary of The United Church of Canada.

Blair said Christians have an imperative to mend the world, to worry about what God worries about.  

“Let’s start from the perspective of doing no harm,” he said. “All of our religious traditions have a history of violence, a history of harming. What is happening today is the chickens coming home to roost.”  

He went on to further call for the building of relationships between churches, challenging each other in our understanding of the Gospel and “to hold each other accountable.” 

Parker honored for work during pandemic 

The UCC’s ecumenical partners from all over the world, including those from Ghana, Zimbabwe, Fiji, Greece, Germany and Bangladesh were welcomed by the Rev. Mark Pettis, UCC minister for ecumenical and interfaith relations. Pettis then presented the awards to Parker and Butalia.  

Pettis uplifted Parker’s work in Wisconsin over the course of the pandemic.  

From left, awardee Tarunjit Singh Butalia, ecumenical minister the Rev. Mark Pettis and awardee the Rev. Kerri Parker pose for a photo. 

“While others were reducing staff during these unprecedented times, Kerri’s team was applying to grants to respond to needs for racial justice and COVID, allowing her staff to at least double in size,” he said. 

Parker said of the award, “Growing an ecumenical organization through the pandemic taught me a lot about rapid response, grace and community care. To have this hard work honored by my own denomination means so much.” 

First awardee from beyond UCC

Pettis noted that he was especially impressed with the amount of content Butalia’s Religions for Peace organization produced during the pandemic.  

“Dr. Butalia and his team put on a series of webinars on all kinds of topics, keeping people engaged in interfaith conversation during a difficult time,” he said.

Butalia is the first person who is not a member of the UCC to receive this award. 

“It is an honor to be a recipient of this prestigious award on behalf of Religions for Peace USA,” he said. “The United Church of Christ has been a long-standing, foundational member of our organization, and the church’s commitment to peace and justice inspires me.”


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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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