United Church of Christ

UCC youth, families invited to National Youth Event 2016 at Walt Disney World® Resort

The youth throughout the United Church of Christ should plan on bringing sunglasses and short sleeves to National Youth Event 2016. And so should their parents and the rest of the family, too. That's because the event will take place at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., from July 26 through July 29. The decision to make the event into a family-inspired gathering where everyone is welcome prompted the decision to take NYE to Walt Disney World.

UCC ministry protecting, providing for young refugees in Pennsylvania

The United Church of Christ is calling for compassion, care and prayer for the thousands of children who have come to the United States fleeing violence and conflict in Central America and the people in this country who are offering them refuge. Bethany Children’s Home, a UCC ministry serving children and families in need in Womelsdorf, Penn., northwest of Philadelphia, is one of the places these children have found safe harbor.

"This is perhaps the largest crisis our country has experienced regarding children since the Civil War when Bethany was founded," said Bethany Children’s Home CEO Kevin Snyder.

Since 1863, Bethany has been providing a safe space for youth who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned and want to take back their lives. With this wave of young refugees, the home has launched the Helping Hands program for unaccompanied children who have made the dangerous journey to America. Right now, 32 of them are housed there.

This Sunday, as part of an Interfaith Weekend of Compassion and Prayer for Unaccompanied Children, the UCC is asking its congregants and churches to take time during worship services on Sunday, July 20, to stand in silent witness and prayer for these young refugees and the people around the country reaching out to help them.

The Rev. Don Wetzel, pastor of St. Thomas UCC in Linglestown, Penn., and a Bethany Children’s Home board member, is proud of the facility staff and the children he is looking forward to ministering to.

"Bethany welcomes prayers for the staff of Bethany Children’s Home, as they carry out the faithful witness of caring and hope," said Wetzel. As for the young refugees, "Bethany welcomes prayers on their behalf and for their families who have endured so much, for God’s blessing of protection, well-being, safety, and surprising joy."

The circumstances the children have faced are hard to take in. "Children are talking about walking for months, through jungles, crossing rivers, through unbelievable terrain to get to the United States," Snyder said. "The only thing they come with is what they are wearing. And though they are not related, the older children are very caring, very protective of the younger children."

While in the care of the professionals at Bethany, the children are fed, housed and given a week's allocation of clothing. They are medically evaluated and spend time learning English, among other subjects, in school. In addition to classroom education, the children are able to socialize and have fun. Most importantly, Bethany offers a way to reunite the young refugees with family members in a safe and timely way.

"It has been a delight to have them," said Snyder. "But it's a quick turnaround. They stay with us for 10 days to two weeks and we send them out to their families. It's been extremely rewarding."

One of the children, an 11-year-old girl from Honduras, came looking for her mother who left her home when she was two. Her caseworkers said the child traveled with other children in the care of several "guides" along the way. One of them, described as "very irresponsible" only fed them once in 48 hours, took money to change their currency and the child never saw her money again. She crossed two rivers, the first river to pass into Mexico, and the second river to cross over to America. She was scared, as she could not swim. However, she was placed on a makeshift raft and crossed over. 

Once in Texas, the "guide" directed them to keep going until they got caught. When captured by U.S. Border Patrol, she said she was scared, kept in a holding cell for 10 days where she slept on the floor and was not allowed to shower. 

The girl's life changed once she got to Helping Hands. She got a shower, a phone call, food and new clothes. She went to school to learn English. After 11 days she was reunited with her family. Before she left, her caseworker said, "She knew how to say hello, good morning, how are you, please and thank you. She said her goodbyes, and, before leaving, she stated that she would never forget us and that she would miss us."

Bethany is just a month into the Helping Hands program and has already assisted 60 children, ages 4 to 14. The facility is remodeling a few buildings right now so additional children can be served. The hope is, by the end of August, the 32 children in residence at one time will grow to 64. Snyder believes the program will help resettle 300 young refugees as part of this government program in the next year. That's in addition to the 300 children from the local community that Bethany assists every year, but Snyder and his staff are up for the challenge.

"We have been blessed to be a part of this program," he said. "We are proud to be a part of this effort, because these are very loving, needy children. We get so many 'thank-yous' throughout the day."

But Helping Hands could use a helping hand. "It's been extremely rewarding," Snyder said. "But the challenge we have, the shortfall we face, is with clothing."

The program provides $70 for seven sets of clothing for each child, and the financial generosity of donors is making up the rest. Bethany is currently working to secure contracts with clothing manufacturers so they can purchase the sizes and quantities they need at wholesale prices. The UCC has also issued a special appeal for those wishing to provide financial assistance to efforts and programs like Helping Hands.

Snyder wants to extend a sincere thank you to the churches that have and those that intend to support this ministry through prayer and resources. "Our greatest need is to provide these children a safe, warm environment to learn and grow while in our care," he said. "Together, we are working to provide a brighter future for kids and families."

To learn more about Bethany Children’s Home visit its website.

United Church Funds announces fossil-fuel-free investment fund

On the anniversary of the United Church of Christ's historic vote to take action to lessen the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, United Church Funds announced the launch date of a new fossil-fuel-free investment fund. The Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund is a domestic core equity fund that will be free of investments in U.S. companies extracting or producing fossil fuels, and is targeted to open for investment on Oct. 1, 2014.

"Our staff has worked hard this year since General Synod to identify appropriate investment options and managers for this fund," said Donald G. Hart, president of UCF. "Our final manager selection will be based on total investment commitments from current and new investors."

The UCC became the first mainline religious denomination to vote to move toward divestment from fossil fuel companies as one strategy to combat climate change on July 1, 2013, at General Synod 29 in Long Beach, Calif. The resolution calls for enhanced shareholder engagement in fossil fuel companies, an intensive search for fossil-fuel-free investment vehicles, and the identification of "best in class" fossil fuel companies by General Synod 30, taking place June 26-30, 2015.

Since the resolution's passage, UCF and The Pension Boards of the UCC, the denomination's main investment vehicles, have been actively engaged in various levels of shareholder activism, using the process of shareholder engagement to work toward the goals of the UCC resolution. The Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund is another step toward meeting those goals, which the Rev. Geoffrey Black, UCC general minister and president, says is a realization of the UCC's act of prophetic witness on climate.

"As stewards of God's creation, we must continue to grow in our commitment to initiatives like this if we are to have a sustainable future on earth," said Black. "The United Church of Christ's support of this fund will make it possible for others to follow."

With a commitment of $10 million in seed money from the United Church of Christ Board's Investment and Endowment Committee, UCF will be able to offer a fund based on the S&P 500 index, free of fossil fuel companies and inclusive of UCF's traditional set of exclusionary screens, which eliminate companies that conflict with the values of the investor. However, UCF's preferred outcome would require a total commitment of at least $20 million, with which UCF would be able to offer an enhanced index fund that provides an opportunity for higher investment returns.

Investors who are interested in shifting part or all of their domestic core equity allocation to the Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund can visit the fund's website or send an email to BFFfund@ucfunds.org to receive a call from a UCF staff member. After Aug. 31, 2014, UCF will make a determination on fund style and manager based on investor commitments to the new fund.

"We, who are dedicated to protecting our planet, appreciate UCF's fidelity in fulfilling the commitment they made at General Synod," said the Rev. Jim Antal, conference minister of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC who spearheaded the UCC's resolution to move toward divestment. "I urge UCC churches and conferences to prayerfully consider an investment in this fund."

Arizona UCC to provide sanctuary to immigrant family facing deportation

Update - June 26: On Wednesday, June 25, Marco Tulio was granted an order of supervision for one year by Immigration Custom Enforcement, allowing him to stay in the United States with his family.

Marco Tulio is desperately trying to stay in the United States with his wife and children. But complications with Immigration Custom Enforcement (ICE) and other aspects of the legal system make his deportation seem more likely every day. On Wednesday, June 25, advocates from the United Church of Christ and a number of immigrant rights groups will rally together in Arizona to support the Tulio family in their time of desperation by accompanying Tulio to submit one more request for a stay of removal and offering him sanctuary at Shadow Rock UCC in Phoenix.

"Marco Tulio is a human being with a beautiful family doing the best he can do," said the Rev. Ken Heintzelman, pastor of Shadow Rock UCC. "This is the bottom line which motivates the actions of our congregation."

Tulio previously had a stay of removal from deportation, but despite numerous attempts to apply for renewal, ICE has refused to accept his applications. On Wednesday, Tulio, joined by clergy including Heintzelman and the Rev. John Dorhauer, conference minister of the Southwest Conference of the UCC, will once again deliver a request for a stay of removal, as well as an order of supervision, which would require Tulio to check into an ICE facility once per year. After submitting his applications, Tulio will take sanctuary at Shadow Rock UCC until ICE grants him deferred action or an order of supervision, ensuring that he can remain in the United States with his family.

"We have long witnessed families unjustly torn apart by an overzealous government agency whose policies are executed with little regard for family security," said Dorhauer. "I am proud of Shadow Rock UCC, and of the pastor the Rev. Ken Heinzelman, for showing the courage of their convictions and taking Marco Tulio into sanctuary. May it be that he finds in their loving arms the safety that America refused to offer him."

Shadow Rock UCC was initially involved to offer assistance to other congregations that were in line to provide sanctuary to Tulio, as a sanctuary church option would improve his leverage in the case. But as options – and time – began to run out, Heintzelman felt it was his duty and responsibility to offer his church as the safe space Tulio and his family needed to ensure they could stay together.

"The offer of sanctuary is like a card the legal team has but does not want to play unless they have to," Heintzelman said. "I understand that part of my pastoral office is to provide sanctuary as a sign of God's mercy to whoever I discern God has brought to us."

After much conversation, the board of Shadow Rock UCC voted unanimously on June 17 to support Heintzelman's offer of sanctuary for Tulio, which will be recognized with a community worship service at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

"Marco's life is caught up in the machinations of a broken system arbitrarily enforcing unjust laws created by bigotry and unfounded fears," Heintzelman said. "The congregation of Shadow Rock United Church of Christ wants to stand between Marco Tulio and the system which would rip him away from his family, thus we offer him and his family sanctuary.

"We do not know, nor can we help, every deserving and suffering family that lives under the threat of deportation and devastation, but we do know Marco, his family, and his story," Heintzelman continued. "We stand with him and act with compassion and justice. All other political, economic, and legal arguments and rhetoric fail in the light of this human family and their need."

UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns changing name, advocating core mission

To strengthen the commitment to its Open and Affirming program, the United Church of Christ Coalition for LGBT Concerns will undergo a name change next year. However, that change won't alter the Coalition's core mission and identity as advocates for and with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities in the UCC. In fact, the name change will hopefully lift up the ONA movement as a broader justice issue extending beyond church congregations and into society.

The Coalition's 12-person leadership team voted unanimously at its annual retreat in late April to rename the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns to the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ.

"We wanted to strengthen the Coalition's identification with the Open and Affirming program, which continues to be the priority to which we devote most of our financial resources and staff time," said Andy Lang, executive director of the Coalition. "We wanted to make this identification clear, and at the same time open up space in which UCC members can explore together the future of the ONA movement."

In 1985, the General Synod of the UCC adopted a resolution calling on congregations to declare themselves "open and affirming." In the almost 30 years since, the Open and Affirming (ONA) Program of the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns has worked to encourage congregations and other UCC settings to live out that call to welcome LGBT people as full participants in the life of the church.

The change to the new name will be phased in before General Synod 2015, which in late June next year, but Lang invites the wider church to begin using "ONA Coalition" or "Open and Affirming Coalition" in its conversations.

Ammon Ripple, vice president of the Coalition's leadership team, believes the new name allows the Coalition to reframe the ONA mission as a broader work for justice.

"We do not only seek Open and Affirming congregations. We strive for open and affirming societies across the world as well," he said.

"Instead of focusing specially on LGBT concerns and justice, we are working to include LGBT people in God's expansive vision of justice," Ripple said. "It's our hope that by expanding the vision that all people in the church, straight and LGBT, will feel welcome in this community."

The Coalition's leadership team is sharing a letter on its website explaining the change. "We have begun to see that Open and Affirming is not just part of what we do at the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns," they wrote. "Open and Affirming is who we are."

The ONA Coalition has worked to equip UCC congregations to become witnesses for extravagant welcome, and helped the denomination reach milestones on the journey towards acceptance and justice for its LGBT and same-gender-loving members.

"We want to continue to remind our members that ONA covenants are a commitment to a broad vision of a church and a world in which everyone is wanted and needed, no one is excluded," Lang said. "This means our work emphasizes, but is not limited to, the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in our church. And we want to build on the progress we've made in the past three years in deepening our partnerships with communities of color, with the Widening the Welcome movement, and especially with the national setting of the church."

The ONA Coalition, founded in 1972, welcomed its first ONA church in 1986, and its 1,000th in 2012. To date, there are 1,150 ONA congregations in the UCC, representing almost 23 percent of the churches in the denomination.

The ONA Coalition has also seen a growth in the membership of ONA churches, in particular young heterosexual parents raised in other traditions who want their children to learn faith in an LGBT-inclusive church.

"They're looking for the values that ONA represents," Lang said

That growth correlates with recent research from the Public Religion Research Institute, with data that shows significant numbers of Millennials, people ages 18-34, who felt alienated from organized religion left their churches primarily over the perception that their teachings or behavior towards LGBT people were "negative."

Lang estimates that 27 percent of the UCC membership belongs to an ONA church, and said that the Coalition hopes to have 30 percent of the denomination's membership as part of an ONA church by General Synod 2015 — in time for the organization's 30th anniversary.

"But 30 percent isn't where we want to stop," Lang said. "Over the next decade we'd like to be at 50 percent. Our ultimate goal is to be at 100 percent. Our perspective is that LGBT youth are growing up in [UCC] churches that are not ONA. We want every LGBT youth to be part of a church that offers a confident and well-informed welcome, and supports their relationships."

United Church of Christ files landmark lawsuit against North Carolina to protect First Amendment rights of clergy

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The General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC) has filed suit against the State of North Carolina, arguing that the state's marriage laws violate the First Amendment rights of clergy and the principle of "free exercise of religion."

In what is believed to the first-ever challenge by a national Christian denomination of a state's marriage laws, the UCC filed the lawsuit Monday morning, April 28, in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, N.C.

Under Amendment One, which passed in late 2012, it is a crime in the State of North Carolina for clergy to officiate a marriage ceremony without determining whether the couple involved has a valid marriage license. United Church of Christ ministers, interested in conducting a religious marriage ceremony for same-gender couples, could face up to 120 days of jail and/or probation and community service if found guilty, since North Carolina marriage laws define and regulate marriage as being between only a man and a woman. As lead plaintiff in this lawsuit against the State, the United Church of Christ asserts that these laws are unconstitutional and violate clergy's First Amendment rights.

"The United Church of Christ is proud to defend the religious freedoms upon which this nation was founded," said the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president of the UCC. "It is unfortunate that, even today, laws are designed to treat gay and lesbian people unequally. In its efforts to restrict gay marriage, the State of North Carolina has restricted one of the essential freedoms of our ministers and of all Americans."

North Carolina's state marriage laws are the only laws in the country that not only limits a domestic legal union to a covenant between a man and woman, but also makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor for a minister to perform a marriage ceremony for a couple that hasn't obtained a license. The UCC believes that this prohibition and penalties also apply to clergy performing a religious ceremony not intended to result in a legal marriage, infringing on their freedom of religion.

The Rev. Dr. J. Bennett Guess, a national officer of the denomination and an openly gay man, said, "The United Church of Christ believes in advocating for justice. We believe that the UCC is called to be a prophetic church. God calls the church to speak truth to power. We are standing up for the freedom of religion, and to protect the rights of our ministers to do their jobs in faith."

The United Church of Christ is joined by several individual plaintiffs in the case, including UCC minister the Rev. Nancy Ellett Allison, senior pastor at Holy Covenant UCC in Charlotte, N.C. Allison is seeking to marry church members Lisa and Kathi, partners of nearly 13 years and active members of Holy Covenant. "When gay and lesbian congregants come to me asking that I perform their wedding, I want to be able to offer them both the blessing of Holy Covenant United Church of Christ and that of the state of North Carolina," said Allison. "It is time to challenge an unjust law and bring greater freedom to every religious leader in North Carolina."

Limiting the freedoms of ministers and others conflicts with the UCC General Synod's "Equal Marriage Rights for All" resolution, adopted in 2005. This resolution affirms "equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage."

For more information ucc.org/ido

Next Generation Leadership Initiative an investment in church of the future

A transformational leadership program administered by The Pension Boards United Church of Christ, which uses gifts from our forbearers to bring together young clergy dedicated to parish ministry and train them to lead the church of the future, is seeing an explosion of interest in 2014.

The Next Generation Leadership Initiative, which was created to address the issues of decline in the life of the UCC by the United Church Board for Ministerial Assistance (UCBMA) has received 59 applications this year for the class of 2024. That is double the amount of applications taken in 2013. Each year since 2011, just over a dozen seminary graduates embracing their first call are chosen for the training program — a 10-year commitment on their part, but one that the Rev. Danielle Neff, associate pastor of Mt. Zion United Church of Christ in York, Pa., didn't hesitate to embrace.

"I believe that God desires for us to be life-long learners and that we are called to be in constant pursuit of knowledge and experiences that can help us to better serve and be in relationship with others. NGLI, without question, provides that opportunity," said Neff, who joined the program four years ago as one of 11 accepted to the inaugural class of 2021. "There were a lot of unknowns at that time about what the program would become—but it felt clear to me that I would benefit tremendously from being in relationship with other colleagues who understood the unique challenges faced by clergy and young clergy in particular."

One of the program's lead architects, the Rev. Gayle Engel, a former UCC conference minister who served four different conferences, sees NGLI as a way to support young clergy to lead the denomination's shift away from shrinking membership. "What if the UCBMA, with gifts from our forbearers, was able to bring together young clergy who are dedicated to parish ministry and who have a readiness to be engaged in training, critical thinking, and transformation leadership experiences? Wouldn't that help local churches move from survival to embrace God's gift of a future? Our dream was to help the local church, through transformational leadership, to make this shift," said Engel. "It makes a difference if your focus is on the 'future of the church' OR 'the church of the future.'" Engel, who retired in 2005 as Conference Minister in Missouri Mid-South after serving 34 years in conference ministry says the initiative provides personal growth for each participant, and for the churches they serve.

"NGLI brings together seminary graduates in their early years of ministry in the local church for an intense journey of four years of core curriculum in Family Systems Theory, Adaptive Leadership, Teamwork, Communications Styles, Natural Church Development, Personal Assessments and an annual 360 Assessment with their church leaders, said Engel. "In addition, during the first four years they participate in two General Synods, two Leadership Institutes in transformational parishes, Facebook network support, and related team building."

The classes meet twice a year during those first four years for study and field experience. That time together as a team was a huge selling point for one of NGLI's newest participants. "The financial support and continuing education opportunities were certainly draws, but the most attractive aspect of the program was the potential for building relationships with people like me: young clergy who've heard the call of Christ and Christ's church, who've answered that call and because of it find themselves in far-flung places," said Jonathan M. Chapman, pastor of the Westfield Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Danielson, Conn. Chapman just started NGLI in January, one of 17 members of the class of 2024.

"Despite being in my first year, I can already see the benefits of the program. The support system it's created has been fundamental to my continued success in the parish. The continuing education element has provided a solid foundation, even in my first months, on which to build my pastoral ministry. Just this week, I actively called upon lessons and topics learned through NGLI to deal with a parishioner's crisis. Not to mention the affirmation of my call to ministry the program provides."

The last six years of the program, though more self-directed, still provides funds to the participating clergy to pursue the objectives they have identified for growth as they continue to serve in local congregations of the United Church of Christ.

"NGLI has a laser focus on providing a rich experience for those young clergy who have a readiness to engage in parish ministry and who are eager to learn and grow through self-reflection and leadership development for the local church setting," said Engel.

Another participant says the program will help him with one of his objectives — to mentor the young people in his congregation. "Serving as a local church pastor for the first time I thought it would be helpful to be part of an intentional program to focus on leadership," the Rev. Marvin Silver, pastor Jubilee United Church of Christ in Lanham, Md.

"The first year in NGLI was a sign of affirmation of leadership training I received as high school and college student. Young people can be taught leadership. That's a key part of my ministry now," said Silver, one of the 16 members of the 2023 class. "NGLI strengthens the church, to prepare the youth and young adults to be future leaders in the church and in ministry. A lot of the young people don't pick up the concept of how important they are, and they pick it up later in life. We see immediately though, there is a change in young people to their approach to their education; their grades go up, their self-esteem improves, they begin to discern their purpose in life."

"One of the biggest benefits isn't just mine, it's my congregation's," said Chapman. "A decade ago, my church, founded in 1715, was on the brink of disaster. From trying to scrape by to merger to even closure, their future was, at best, uncertain. Through a series of intentional interims, the church found its way back from the edge, and finally called me to a 3/4-time position. They knew this was their shot, and they took a gamble on a young clergyman looking for his first call. This program affirmed that they were on the right track, that they had made good decisions. Simply put, we're going to make it. NGLI is denominational affirmation that my leadership is a valuable asset to this congregation. It helps me and it helps them. I suppose the way to say that would be: It helps us."

"It is a powerful thing to feel that your denomination (vis-a-vis The Pension Boards) has invested in you as a minister," Neff said. "I also feel that, though it can sometimes feel awkward to say, the financial incentive that NGLI offers towards our retirement savings is really critical, particularly as congregations face continuing stressors on their budgets."

"In return for a 10-year commitment to local church ministry in the United Church of Christ and faithful participation in the NGLI program, a $10,000 contribution is seeded in the participant's Annuity Plan account," said the Rev. Krista Betz, director of Ministerial Assistance, The Pension Boards and NGLI administrator. That contribution "should have a value of approximately $75,000 at the end of a 35-year career."

"Out of all the many enterprises I have had the opportunity to engage in within the UCC family as a longtime Conference Minister, NGLI ranks at the top of my involvements in the wider church because of the very special opportunity to provide for the enhancement of young leaders to lead "the church of the future." Engel said. "Our UCC family is enriched because of these talented and insightful young leaders."

"I would say NGLI is an opportunity to become a better minister for Christ. It's that plain and simple," said Silver. "If young pastors want an opportunity, this is the program to do that."

For more information – ngli2030.pbucc.org.

Chicago's Trinity UCC to replace traditional roof with green roof

Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago is making some upgrades to its facility, and doing so with the good of the earth in mind. Under the leadership of the Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity UCC, the church is working to raise funds to replace its current roof with a green roof, which will provide the church environmental and financial benefits, while preparing it for a sustainable future.

"We have a leader with a vision and the chutzpah to get it done," said Ramona Westbook, Trinity UCC member and an architect who is helping with the project. "We talk about the people who have a mind to build. Well this is our wall, and this is our time, and this is our opportunity to be part of some amazing stewardship."

Trinity UCC's Raise the Roof campaign launched last fall and is seeking to collect $5 million in the next three to five years to complete the green roof project, as well as other infrastructure improvements such as replacing roofs on other properties, updating heating and cooling systems, modernizing the worship center, and repaving parking lots. The Raise the Roof campaign has already received $4.1 million in donations towards its goal from Trinity UCC members.

"This is a tremendous response from 1,026 members and households from Trinity United Church of Christ," said the Rev. Mark A. Smith, Trinity UCC's minister of stewardship. "The members are overly excited about the campaign, as has been exemplified through sharing their Raise the Roof testimonies during Trinity UCC's regular worship services."  

The Raise the Roof campaign website lists several benefits the green roof will provide the church and the surrounding community, such as providing insulation to the building, increasing the church's green space, and absorbing and cleansing rainwater. The roof could also provide space for urban gardening and help mitigate the "heat island" effect that can cause higher temperatures in urban areas that have few trees and little green space. Green roofs are also known to have longer lifespans than traditional roofs and decrease the amount of energy a building needs to operate.

Preliminary stages of the project are already in the works. The project's Feasibility Committee has provided reports detailing research and recommendations for moving towards energy efficiency and sustainability, and the church had a site assessment conducted by a sustainability services firm. On March 19, Trinity UCC had a lighting audit conducted, and on March 21, met with a project manager from the firm that will advise the planning and phasing of the project with LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification as an objective. At this time, a timeline to begin construction and to complete the roof has not been set.

"Taking advantage of the latest in green technologies as we reinvigorate our aging infrastructure is a wonderful way to match what we preach with what we practice," Smith said on the Raise the Roof campaign website. "It is truly a blessing for me to be in a position to witness our church moving into this exciting area."

Mission 4/1 Earth, the UCC's 50-day earth care campaign that took place last spring, inspired an organizing theme around environmental issues that has really caught on at Trinity, said Rosalyn Priester, member of Trinity UCC's Green Committee and member of the UCC's Environmental Ministries Steering Committee. The church's theme for 2014 is "Love God, Live Green, Liberate All," which is meant to provide an overall framework for worship and become infused into the congregation's language and theological understanding.

"The spiritual practices of this church draw on African spiritual traditions in which there is no separation between the sacred and the secular," Priester said. "This means that church is not just about what happens within the walls of the church building, but is also tied directly to what happens in the larger community."

UCC unfurls painting displayed at 1964 World’s Fair

The archivist for the United Church of Christ spends a lot of time cataloging and tracking material that dates back decades. Even so, it comes as a bit of a surprise that he unfurled a piece of history Tuesday. The UCC's national offices in Cleveland have been in possession of a painting, possibly since the 1960s, that shares a message of love and faith, which was displayed at the World's Fair 50 years ago.

The artwork, a banner that is more than 40 feet long, is the work of Sister Mary Corita (Corita Kent). The Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art sent curators to the UCC Church House to examine the piece on March 18. The museum is considering featuring the banner during an upcoming travel exhibit, Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent, which will run from June through September.

"Finding out about this incredible piece, right here in Cleveland, sent some shockwaves through our curatorial team," said Rose Bouthillier, associate curator and publication manager for MOCA. "It's quite the coincidence, and the banner would be an absolutely stunning addition to the show."

Sister Mary Corita Kent, whose signature is visible in the lower right corner of the canvas, was known for artwork during the 1960s and 1970s that depicted love and peace. The nun painted the piece for the Vatican Exhibit of the 1964 World's Fair in New York City.

The missing bit of information about the painting is how it came into the UCC's possession.

Ed Cade, archivist for the UCC's national setting, said the Corita Art Center contacted him to inquire about the piece, Beatitudes Wall, for the exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Five women, two from MOCA and three from the Intermuseum Conservation Association, inspected "The Beatitudes" in detail and measured its dimensions, and will determine soon if it will be displayed at MOCA this summer.

"My hunch is when the World's Fair was over that no one knew what to do with it," said the Rev. Robert P. "Rip" Noble, who served with the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries as executive associate from 1985 to 2000. Noble hung the artwork in the Church House years ago because "it's a piece of UCBHM and UCC history in terms of support by the church for the arts, and specifically our relationship with Sister Corita. It's a fabulous piece."

When the UCC first moved to Cleveland from New York City, Noble, who chaired the effort to renovate part the building space, designed a wall long enough to display Beatitudes for a few years in the early 1990s. When the building was reconfigured the piece came down and was relegated to the archives where it has remained over the years.

Because of the UCC's relationship with Kent, the United Church Press published two books of her works in the late 1960s. Historians say Kent's art often depicts a blend of social justice, peace and spirituality. Those elements are present in the 40-foot canvas the UCC possesses, with the word "happy" in large colorful letters in several places.

The painting is strewn with a mix of Bible scripture, and quotes from Pope John XXIII and President John F. Kennedy. JFK and Pope John XXIII both died in 1963, but Kent used their comments for "The Beatitudes" because they were "great heroes of the time," according to archives at the Corita Art Center. Kent actually painted three 40-foot banners for the World's Fair and chose this one to display.

Kent later gained international attention for her vibrant artwork in the style of serigraphs – an art form of silk-screening. She was born Frances Kent and joined the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and ran the art department at Immaculate Heart College until 1968. Kent died in 1986.

Some of Sister Kent's collection has been held by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Whitney Museum of American Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, both in New York City.

Commentary: Why We Can't Give Up on Preventing Gun Violence

I am not writing this in the immediate aftermath of another horrific mass shooting. I am not marking the anniversary of a prominent gun violence tragedy, although given the estimated 30,000 deaths from gun violence annually, it is likely the anniversary of a gun tragedy in some American community somewhere. And although legislation to strengthen background checks on gun purchases is still before Congress, most political observers give it little chance of moving in a midterm congressional election year. But perhaps it is just such a time as this when we need to redouble our efforts to prevent gun violence from continuing to take its tragic toll in our nation. Truly our silence will not protect us.

The fact is that gun violence is preventable. We have the means to reduce gun violence, and we have the knowledge to implement prevention approaches. We have studies that give us insight into the factors contributing to gun violence and insight into effective strategies for preventing it. We certainly know the cost of failing to prevent further gun violence, although we may not ultimately be able to fully measure the cost of trauma, despair, hopelessness and grief that is left in its wake. It is striking and sobering that 14 months after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, charities that helped to provide funds for mental health care in the Newtown community have nearly exhausted those funds, and it is unclear how long into the future the need for such services will remain.

What we seem not to have is the political will to take action. An overwhelming majority of the American public, including a majority of gun owners, supports strengthening the background check system on gun purchases in response to gun violence, but such legislation remains mired in the fear of alienating special interests in an election year. These same special interests have even gone on the offensive to derail the nomination of Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy for Surgeon General, because he has identified gun violence as a public health crisis.

Faiths United Against Gun Violence, a diverse, interfaith coalition of faith-based groups united by the call to confront our nation's gun violence epidemic, just concluded its Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath observance. As part of the Sabbath, thousands of people of faith around the country engaged in prayer and action to address gun violence in our communities through public policy advocacy, participation in community prevention programs and education. Faiths United rests on a core belief that is reflected across faith traditions, the belief that violence and death cannot and will not have the final word. That is reason enough to continue our efforts to prevent further gun violence.

It is time to reclaim our streets, schools, and workplaces from the threat of gun violence, and it is time to reclaim the power of our vote from narrow special interests that seek to block even modest, common-sense measures to prevent gun violence. Our culture has a heavy investment in death; isn't it time we invested in hope and change?

Sandy Sorensen is director of the UCC's Washington, D.C., Office.

View this and other columns on the UCC's Witness for Justice page.

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