Karen Georgia Thompson becomes first woman to lead UCC in historic vote
The General Synod of the United Church of Christ made history Monday, July 3, when it elected the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson as the first woman, and the first Black woman, to lead the denomination as General Minister and President.
Rev. Thompson is the third woman nominated for the post, after the Revs. Yvonne Delk (in 1989) and Barbara Brown Zikmund (in 1999), but the first to be elected. A Jamaican immigrant, Thompson is the third person of African descent to serve as leader of the denomination.
“Today, United Church of Christ, we created a first together,” she said after the vote. “It won’t be the last first.”
She thanked Delk and Brown Zikmund, stating that they “kicked in the doors,” paving the way for her election.
“As I stand here before you as your newly and duly elected General Minister and President, I stand here as a Jamaican immigrant woman, a mother and a grandmother, a sister and a friend to many,” Thompson said. “… The enormity of this moment will be with me for many years to come.”
Her election took place at the UCC’s 34th General Synod in Indianapolis, with 626 delegates voting for her election, 43 against and seven abstaining. She will start her new role Aug. 1, taking over from the Rev. John Dorhauer, who has served for the past eight years.
In a prayer after the vote, surrounded by her family, she recalled Synod’s theme, quoting Revelation 21:5 — “Behold, I am making everything new.”
Locally rooted, globally focused
As the denomination’s current Officer for global concerns and interfaith relations, Thompson speaks frequently about building connections on all levels.
“Being church means we are locally rooted and globally focused, connecting the issues we see in ways that allow us to bring justice to the world,” she has said.
In speaking to the UCC Board before her nomination, she emphasized that dismantling oppressive systems everywhere is necessary for both communities and congregations, internationally and domestically, to thrive.
“Decolonizing the church on all levels has to be a priority,” she said. “Decolonizing the church includes our commitment to racial justice and more. Being antiracist and inclusive requires that we decolonize our institutions in ways that afford all to be present and participate equally. This is a commitment to equity for all.”
In her nomination speech to General Synod on June 30, Rev. Thompson spoke about the hope she sees springing forth within the UCC.
“Here is the place where we have seen the Spirit of God poured forth among us in many ways. Here is the place where we continue to identify the many accomplishments of the ancestors. Here is where we honor the resilience of those who came before us, took risk and oftentimes did more with less than we currently have. And here is the place we identify as now, as we ponder the call of God to be salt and light to the world,” she said.
Thompson has been serving as Associate General Minister for Wider Church Ministries and Co-Executive for Global Ministries since 2019. She has served in the National Setting of the United Church of Christ since 2009, previously as minister for racial justice and minister for ecumenical and interfaith relations. Prior to joining National Setting staff, Thompson served on staff of the UCC’s Florida Conference, as a church planter in Florida and in family ministries in New York.
Thompson holds a doctorate in ministry, with a dissertation in religious multiplicity among African Caribbean people, from Seattle University; a master of divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary; and a master of public administration degree from North Carolina Central University.
The UCC Board will name an interim Associate General Minister to serve in Thompson’s vacated position until the following General Synod 35 in 2025.
Tiffany Vail, a General Synod newsroom volunteer, is the director of media and communications for the Southern New England Conference.
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