From safe rooms in basements to solar panels on rooftops, local church actions on immigration and climate change were subjects of repeated coverage in United Church News and Keeping You Posted last year – along with national policy work and demonstrations on those two issues.
Below are 10 major United Church of Christ topics of 2019, from the news department in the Office of Philanthropy, Technology, Identity and Communication. While it is not a comprehensive list of newsworthy issues or UCC ministries, it nonetheless reflects what often appeared in the news section at ucc.org and in the weekly e-news digest, KYP.
Some issues overlap. For example, climate breakdown and disaster response were surely related. Immigration and refugee work was sometimes also LGBTQ work. General Synod, a topic unto itself, acted on issues in several of these categories. And Number 10 – promoting love over hate, unity over division, welcome over rejection – summarizes much that is being done in Jesus' name in many settings of the UCC.
Here, then, are 10 issues that were frequently in the news in 2109 – marked with relevant hashtags from the UCC's 3 Great Loves, and including links to a sampling of stories.
1. Immigration and refugees #LoveOfNeighbor #LoveOfChildren:
The year started with UCC leaders speaking out against President Donald Trump's January push for a "steel barrier" at the U.S. southern border, and with congregations aiding federal workers furloughed by a related government shutdown … By the hundreds, General Synod participants joined local citizens in a June 24 protest outside U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Milwaukee … Nationwide "Lights for Liberty" demonstrations July 12 – against border “concentration camps” and the separation of families and children – drew broad UCC participation … Bearing letters from UCC people around the country, Conference ministers converged on Capitol Hill (above) in September to pray, wash immigrants' feet and visit members of Congress, calling for humane immigration policies … UCC and other religious leaders took to the steps of the U.S. Capitol Oct. 15 to oppose a proposal to cap refugee resettlement at a historic low … All year long, local churches provided sanctuary, legal help and basic support for daily life to all manner of immigrants, ranging from Central African asylum seekers in Maine, to a Ugandan refugee in Ohio, to a Honduran father in Missouri, to people needing water in southern deserts, to a transgender Nicaraguan and a gay Muslim in California – to name just a few.
2. Climate breakdown #LoveOfCreation #LoveofNeighbor #LoveOfChildren:
Advocacy efforts ranged from January clergy visits to U.S. senators to General Synod's June endorsement of the "Green New Deal", making the UCC the first U.S. Christian denomination to do so via a national deliberative body. Noted climate scientists said it mattered … Youth materials co-produced by the UCC were embraced by the World Council of Churches as part of its climate strategy … Youth-led climate strikes around the country drew support from UCC demonstrators (such as those in Cleveland, pictured above) Sept. 20 … UCC leaders took part in "Week of Climate Action" activities in New York City and Washington, D.C., following the United Nations' Sept. 23 Climate Action Summit … UCC speakers were at the mics during one of actress Jane Fonda's "Fire Drill Fridays" in D.C. Dec. 6 … UCC buildings, from a Conference office in Wisconsin to local churches in many regions, continued to go solar to save energy costs and reduce carbon footprints.
3. Housing and homelessness #LoveOfNeighbor:
UCC congregations in every region reached out to homeless and houseless people around them. A New Hampshire church filled a tent with items for homeless people and a California congregation joined in … Ohio young people slept outside to raise money and awareness … A General Synod keynote speech in June by Matthew Desmond – author of "Evicted," subject of an all-church read – inspired Indianapolis churches in August to keep a family housed … An Oregon congregation let houseless people camp on its property and strove to keep city and county officials from outlawing it … Churches in Colorado and North Carolina reimagined their small campuses to make room for micro-homes … The Florida Conference, several of its churches and a national ministry raised $200,000 to complete a campaign to build affordable housing for farmworkers … A Cleveland congregation (above) fought City Hall in December for the right to offer overnight hospitality to homeless neighbors.
4. LGBTQ affirmation #LoveOfNeighbor:
The number of local churches with Open and Affirming covenants reached 1,500 in January … UCC leaders and local churches voiced pastoral concern and support for United Methodist colleagues, whose denomination continued to struggle, and may be on the verge of a split, over LGBTQ inclusion … National leaders criticized the U.S. administration's proposed ban on transgender persons serving in the military and a Supreme Court decision temporarily allowing it … The UCC had a visible, supportive presence at a Sept. 28 National Trans Visibility March in Washington, D.C. … In Missouri, Iowa and elsewhere, congregations that had ONA rainbow banners torn down from their buildings and property reacted with creativity and resilience (above). … In emotional debates, delegates struggled over whether displays disagreeing with the General Synod’s long-held ONA positions should be permitted in Synod exhibit halls. The Synod asked the United Church of Christ Board to work on the matter over the next two years.
5. General Synod 32 #LoveOfNeighbor #LoveOfChildren #LoveOfCreation:
Delegates and visitors from throughout the U.S., and guests from around the world, attended the UCCs 32nd biennial General Synod at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee, June 22-25 … As noted elsewhere in this review, delegates held elections, passed resolutions on a variety of concerns in church and society, and took to the streets with demonstrations (above) and service projects. Links to Synod-related news articles, in reverse chronological order, are here … In addition to items elsewhere in this list, major internal actions included the launch of an 18-month, denomination-wide Southern Asia Initiative, via Global Ministries of the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); the approval of a new Conference in Southern New England, replacing three historic Conferences; and the recognition of the Colectivo de UCC Latinx Ministries (replacing the Council for Hispanic Ministries) and the UCC Mental Health Network as historically underrepresented groups
6. Medical debt relief #LoveOfNeighbor:
A new effort that will continue into 2021 began in the fall of 2019 when local, regional and national UCC bodies (their leaders are pictured above) and local partners from other denominations raised $38,000 to abolish $5.3 million in medical debt for 5,888 families in Chicago. … Churches and mission bodies throughout the UCC got into the act by donating more money on Giving Tuesday, Dec. 3, so that additional debt purchases can take place in other regions of the country.
7. Disaster relief, recovery #LoveOfNeighbor:
The UCC and its partners were active in disaster response – and, especially, long-term recovery – in several U.S. regions and overseas … In the U.S., Disaster Ministries grants through Global Ministries and on-the-ground work by local members and churches were among the UCC responses to Pennsylvania floods in February, Iowa floods in March, Ohio and Kansas tornadoes in May, Missouri floods in June, and many more severe incidents. … A multicultural church in Puerto Rico became a center of hope in that island’s long recovery from Hurricane Maria …By July, more than three dozen major U.S. disasters had been declared … Overseas, the devastation (above) caused by tropical storms in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi prompted a special UCC Disaster Ministries appeal in May.
8. Gun violence response #LoveOfNeighbor #LoveOfChildren:
Mass shootings in Ohio and Texas drew leadership and pastoral work from local members of the UCC clergy (above) and a call from national UCC officers for immediate U.S. government action to curb gun violence … Numerous congregations spoke out publicly and creatively. A Maryland church remembered victims with communion and a memorial display of T-shirts. An Ohio congregation did so with prayer, songs and a display of shoes. A New York church planted crosses in its lawn and issued a public "Call to National Sanity."
9. Leadership transitions #LoveOfNeighbor #LoveOfChildren #LoveOfCreation:
The Rev. Charles Buck was named president and CEO of United Church Funds, succeeding Don Hart, who retired after 28 years at that helm and received a farewell at Synod … Also feted at Synod was the Rev. Jim Moos, who moved on after eight years as associate general minister of global engagement and co-executive of Global Ministries. He joined the staff of The Pension Boards in October … The Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, minister for ecumenical and interfaith relations, was nominated in March to succeed Moos as associate general minister and was elected at General Synod … The Rev. John Dorhauer, general minister and president, was elected to a second four-year term at General Synod, where he also announced he would not seek a third term.
10. Bridges, not walls #LoveOfNeighbor:
There were moments when local, Conference and national UCC leaders countered rising trends of nationalism, racism and xenophobia by beckoning toward other paths. … They called on the U.S. to "transcend the confines of nationalism" … demanded that the U.S. end its "outrageous acts of harassment" in persecuting a UCC minister, the Rev. Kaji Dousa, for her border work with immigrants … condemned deadly Easter bombings in Sri Lanka and warned of "increasing religious intolerance" behind the attacks … grieved "hatred made lethal" by a gun-wielding intruder at a Pittsburgh synagogue … named a "concerted effort to build divisions in our country," which "disciples of faith must not tolerate" … decried the "harsh, dehumanizing realities" of a southern U.S. border wall and racist incidents at a New York university … opposed the narrowness of fundamentalist Franklin Graham, visiting Maine, with signs that said, "Jesus built bridges! (Not walls)" … pictured U.S. congresswomen of color – derided by President Trump as un-American – on church banners promoting "respect for all" … joined Muslim colleagues in visiting a U.S. senator's office (above) to call for an end to bans on travel from Muslim countries … and encouraged German partners to fight fear and racism with organized love.
As the Rev. Traci Blackmon, associate general minister, said in a January commentary observing the holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., "Nationalistic sentiments are overwhelming our sense of community, causing us to forget we are all interrelated, particularly on issues of war, the environment, climate change, and poverty. … No wall built to divide us will ever stand the test of time. From Jericho to Berlin to our Southern Borders, the walls must come down! Because on both sides of every wall, God's children are present."