United Church of Christ

A visible call for tougher gun legislation marks Long Island church

On the front lawn of Sayville United Church of Christ on Long Island, N.Y., 20 backpacks and six teachers bags hang, each bearing the names and representing the 26 innocent lives that were lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn. The public display isn't an attempt at a tribute, says Rev. J. Gary Brinn, senior pastor at Sayville UCC. Instead, it's a call for tougher gun legislation in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 shooting that may save a future life.

"I am trying very hard not to call this a tribute. While, to the best of our knowledge, the educators that were victims that day were courageous, this is not about heroism," Brinn said. "This was the slaughter of innocents, and our project is one thing only: a prophetic cry for justice and for life."

Inspired by a similar project by Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei, Brinn came up with the idea for the Backpack Project last winter. Throughout the spring, the congregation collected new and used backpacks, as well as six bags to represent the teachers and administrators killed at Sandy Hook – including UCC member Victoria Soto. Deacon Hank Maust, Sayville UCC's Deacon for Prophetic Witness, took charge of the project and led a team to create the backpack display, which they hope to keep in place on the lawn through at least the beginning of the school year.

"For several months we have worked to realize a public witness in the form of an installation on the front of the church," Brinn said. "Deacon Hank Maust has worked tirelessly in recent days, organizing the backpacks [the congregation] donated."

In addition to the visible call for change, several members of the congregation signed a petition calling for a ban on military assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips in early January. The petition was directed at all the congregation's elected representatives of the state and federal government. The state of New York, which at that time was already considering gun reform laws, passed the first set of firearm legislation after Sandy Hook.

The text of the petition reads:

We, the undersigned Covenant Members, Friends of the Church and Guest Worshipers of Sayville Congregational United Church of Christ demand in the name of our God that you support legislation to permanently ban assault-type automatic weapons and the high capacity magazines used in such weapons. We urge immediate congressional action and call on our President, Barack Obama, to sign federal legislation immediately. We call on members of Suffolk County's delegation in Albany to support all possible measures appropriate to the powers of the State of New York to rid our communities of these weapons of mass murder, and call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign such measures into law.

"It is time that we turn from tragedy as entertainment to real action," Brinn said. "In a diverse congregation, there will always be some who dissent from the majority. That is our tradition and our strength. But this witness is bold and represents the overwhelming majority of our members."

The congregation will later determine what it will do to continue its witness once the display is taken down. Maust hopes that members will organize with the community around the issue to "do as the banner suggests and ‘Tell Washington to pass sensible gun control,'  by flooding elected representatives with letters, emails and phone calls," he said.

Read more about the display on the Sayville UCC website.

United Church of Christ to become first U.S. denomination to move toward divestment from fossil fuel companies

general_synod_29_04.jpgA set of strategies to attack climate change — which includes a path to divestment from fossil fuel companies — was passed by General Synod 2013 Monday afternoon at the Long Beach Convention Center. This action on July 1 makes the United Church of Christ the first major religious body in the U.S. to vote to divest from fossil fuel companies.

The resolution, brought by the Massachusetts Conference and backed by 10 other conferences, 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 2015.

By June 2018, a plan would be prepared to divest UCC funds in any fossil-fuel company, except for those identified as "best in class" which the Rev. Jim Antal, the major proponent of the resolution, called an "oxymoron," noting that no such fossil fuel companies are likely to exist.

"Today, the national Synod of the UCC added another 'first' when it became the first national faith communion to vote to divest from fossil fuel companies – and to do it with the support of its major investment institution, United Church Funds," Antal said.

"This resolution becomes a model for all faith communities who care about God's creation and recognize the urgent scientific mandate to keep at least 80 percent of the known oil, gas and coal reserves in the ground. . .  This vote expresses our commitment to the future. By this vote, we are amplifying our conviction with our money."

The original proposal brought to General Synod called for a five-year movement toward divestment. In committee, a substitute resolution that Antal and the leadership of United Church Funds collaborated on to address the UCF and Pension Boards concerns of their fiduciary responsibility to maximize investment.

"This resolution calls on each and all of us to make difficult changes to the way we live each day of our lives," said Donald Hart, UCF president. "Implementing the multiple strategies outlined in this resolution will demand time, money and care — but we believe Creation deserves no less."

The Pension Boards didn't participate in the negotiations that led to the substitution resolution that was ultimately adopted. After the vote, Michael A. Downs, Pension Boards CEO issued a statement that his organization "will support and implement the resolution, to the extent possible, within our legal responsibilities as fiduciaries of the Annuity Plan for the UCC, acting on behalf of the active and retired members who have entrusted their retirement assets to us."

During the floor debate, a number of delegates urged consideration of the economic impact this course of action will have on jobs and the economies of states like Montana, Wyoming and Kentucky, which are heavily dependent on the fossil fuel industry.

"Let’s talk real divestment here," Mark Wampler of Iowa Conference said. "Divest yourself of your airline tickets and find a non-carbon way to go home."

The General Synod also passed a resolution on making UCC church buildings more carbon-neutral. Earlier in the week, the committee amended the proposal to call on UCC congregations to conduct energy audits on their facilities as the first step toward carbon neutrality. Sara Brace, committee chair and delegate from the Pennsylvania Northeast Conference of the UCC, also stressed that achieving carbon neutrality can be a gradual process for congregations.

"The encouragement portions of the resolution are what resonated with many committee members," said Brace. "By reducing our carbon footprint, we are helping the environment one step at a time."

UCC General Synod celebrates same-sex marriage of local pastor

As the first mainline Protestant denomination to affirm marriage equality, it was only fitting that the United Church of Christ General Synod in Long Beach, Calif. played host Sunday to one of the first same-gender marriages celebrated in California after a federal appeals court in San Francisco allowed them to resume.

UCC pastor, the Rev. Dave Sigmund of Seaside Community UCC, in Torrance, Calif., was legally united in marriage to his husband Jay Greaves at 5 p.m. June 30 in front of family and friends, supported in solidarity by hundreds of UCC members from around the country.

"This is such a unique opportunity," said Greaves. "We don't know if we could have had so many of our friends, family and members of our denomination with us at any other time."

The two were united in marriage on the balcony of the Long Beach Convention Center, surrounded by Seaside congregation members, their friends in the 2030 Clergy, and a throng of Synod attendees watching from the promenade floor below. Behind the guests, a crowd of reporters, photographers and camera crews marked this significant moment in time in the movement for marriage equality.  One television station carried the nuptials live.

The Rev. Susannah Davis, pastor of the couple's ‘home church,' Kirkwood UCC in Atlanta, and the Rev. Mel White of Long Beach, a well-known minister and LGBT activist, performed the ceremony. The couple took their vows despite the fact that Proposition 8 supporters tried earlier in the day to halt the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses in the nation's largest state. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy denied the request.

As the ceremony began, White talked about the importance of the wedding, "not just for these guys and the obvious love they have for each other.  We need to remember those who died (before marriage equality) and did not have their relationship recognized.  Remember the great cloud of witnesses who surround us."

Davis, offering a prayer before the vows were spoken said, "Together we gather in the presence of our Stillspeaking God to live into the reality of the truth – it's just love, Dave and Jay. We gather in the presence of people who love you, care about you, and claim you as brothers in Christ."

wedding2.jpgWhen White asked the people of Seaside UCC to do everything in their power to uphold and care for the couple, he got an enthusiastic response. But when Davis then posed the question to the people of the UCC gathered at this National Synod, she got a resounding roar of affirmation from the crowd.

After the men were legally wed, they talked about the community aspect of what they had just done, and the importance of the acceptance of their church.

"To hear that sound of voices rise in support of us, our commitment and our marriage was overpowering, overwhelming, and unbelievably welcome," said Greaves after the ceremony.

Sigmund, ordained two years ago, and Greaves, an executive with a human resource company, have been together 10 years.  And while they embraced the previous acceptance of their community of faith, which affirmed marriage equality in 2005, "The validation and legal recognition of our relationship is incredible," said Sigmund.

Synod exhibit hall coordinator gets a visit that makes it all worthwhile

Valerie Smith has been the exhibit hall coordinator for what is now seven General Synods.  It's a massive job of juggling on Day 1 – making sure all the exhibitors can get all their merchandise, displays, and resources in, set up, and ready for the throngs of visitors who converge on the hall to see what there is to see as the exhibit area opens to the public for the first time.  It's a pretty intricate job of coordination. This time though, everything that could go wrong went wrong – the hall didn't come together as quickly as usual, with missing boxes, late deliveries and lots of questions and confusion – until she got a special visitor who made her day.

But, as to why he was special, you need the back story.

"A couple months ago I got a call from a young man interested in our church," Smith said. "He said he stumbled across the UCC website and wanted to know if our church was really okay with homosexuals. In his culture, he said, homosexuality is not acceptable."

After assuring the young man that the UCC is the church of extravagant welcome, Smith said he asked about churches in his hometown of Chicago. He also wanted to know more about General Synod (he pronounced it Sigh-nod), and "he got real excited. He said he wanted to go, and was just thankful that he could find a church like ours. I told him if he came to California, hey, I'm in the exhibit hall and I'd love to meet you."

Saturday, as she was taking a breather during "a pretty rough day," Smith was approached by a young man asking about the Scarf Project. "Some kid comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, what are all those scarves for?'" And as Smith explained that the 10,000 scarves were collected as part of a pledge to stand up against LGBT bullying, the young man said, "Wow, that is deep – this is my first Sigh-nod." That's when Smith knew she'd been sent a message.

"I said, I talked to you a few months ago, and he said, ‘You're Valerie – I can't believe you are the first person I talked to here,'" Smith said, adding that the young man then got tears in his eyes. "After 24 months of work getting ready – this is why we do this," she said. "Changing lives – It really warms my heart."

Say a prayer on Memorial Day for U.S. military personnel

As the nation celebrates the Memorial Day holiday, pastors of the United Church of Christ and their congregations may take some time Sunday to commemorate the work and sacrifice of the men and women in the United States military.

The Rev. Rebecca McMichael is ministering to the United States Army’s 5th Battalion 52nd Air and Missile Defense (AMD), serving with the unit on deployment in the Middle East for one year. A UCC minister since 2007, Chaplain Captain McMichael said that there are some easy ways the church can observe Memorial Day as part of worship services on Sunday, and honor past and present military personnel.

"Just pray for the soldiers, especially the ones that are deployed," she said. "Make them part of the pastoral prayer, and if there are soldiers deployed from the congregation, send a card, check in with family members to offer support. For veterans in the congregation, thank them for their service, and pray for them, too."

The UCC has 45 chaplains on active duty, in the National Guard and with the U.S. Army Reserves. There are also five seminarians preparing for military chaplaincy in the Army and Navy, and there two UCC chaplains deployed to Afghanistan and two on assignment in Europe. While the UCC ordains those chaplains, they are able to pastor to a variety of faiths within their military unit, while also conducting themselves as commissioned officers.

"Personally, and as the Minister for Chaplains and Specialized Ministers, I appreciate the attention that the United Church of Christ is giving to this important and growing segment of our population," said the Rev. Stephen Boyd. "Our Veterans are an invaluable resource and on this Memorial Day we especially remember those who paid the ultimate price."

Over Memorial Day weekend, McMichael plans to rest, call her family members and check in with them, and of course, go to church on Sunday for a Memorial Day service.

McMichael spent December 2011 through December 2012 deployed with Army soldiers in Bahrain and Qatar. She’s been stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, with the battalion since returning. McMichael has been in the Army for three-and-a-half years. While on deployment, McMichael was tasked with the pastoral care of more than 800 soldiers in her battalion.

"The soldiers are my congregation and they’re my church. I tell them that," said McMichael. "You’re embedded with them — you go where they go, you’re part of the battalion staff and you’re advising on moral, ethical and family-care issues."

With family relatives who served in the military, McMichael reflected on joining the military when she was in seminary. She sought a challenging field of ministry that required the use of full knowledge and talent, and she has found chaplaincy work provides exactly that.

"It pretty much happens every day," she said.

The days were long in Bahrain and Qatar, both coastal countries on the shores of the Arabian Sea. Training started at sunrise for the "five-five-deuce," the nickname for the 5th Battalion 52nd Air (5-52) since temperatures in the region rise above 100 degrees in the daytime, and 16-hour days were common for McMichael and the unit.   McMichael’s work also took her to a base’s hospital to care for wounded soldiers.

"I think [military life] comes down to sacrificing for something that’s bigger than yourself, and working for the greater good throughout the world to protect people in country, our allies and ensure their safety," she said.

"You just work very hard and very long hours, you deal with a lot of suffering – marriage and family issues – and you’re on call all the time whenever a soldier is in crisis, maybe they get bad news from home," McMichael said. "It’s caring for the soul of a solider and looking out for their morale and well-being."

9,000 trees planted in Kenya through Mission 4/1 Earth

Through the hard work and generosity of Mission 4/1 Earth participants, nearly 9,000 trees will be planted in the Kenyan village of Kaiguchu by October. The Rev. Lise Sparrow, pastor of Guilford Community United Church of Christ in Guilford, Vt., who initiated the global partnership between the Mission 4/1 Earth campaign and Kenya, couldn't believe the church was able to reach the lofty goal she imagined before the UCC's 50-day earth care campaign began April 1.

"It was just wonderful," said Sparrow of the donations. "It was a question of dreaming the impossible dream – this will make a huge difference."

Sparrow and the Rev. Carter Via, co-pastor of Talmadge Hill Community Church UCC in Darien, Conn., whose congregation also has ties to Kaiguchu, traveled there in June to discuss with the villagers how to best use the funds. A council that formed to represent the villagers decided to purchase 400 macadamia nut tree seedlings, which will provide a future source of income. Those trees will be planted by 12 volunteers from four UCC churches during the October trip.

"I felt we were responsible for the fact that the UCC was so generous and felt I needed to go there to see what the villagers were thinking and talk though how we would use these funds most responsibly," Sparrow said. "We wanted to give the villagers the most possible say in how these funds should be used to benefit their community."

During their June visit, Sparrow and Via helped plant indigenous, fast-growing trees around the school to act as a type of fencing for protection and also aesthetic appeal. The villagers have been busy planting the remaining 8,000 trees provided by Mission 4/1 Earth funds on a deforested hillside once used for coffee and tea production. The trees will help prevent erosion, keep water levels high, and also create a source of wood for cooking and fuel. The villagers hope to have the trees planted by the time the UCC volunteers arrive in October.

The macadamia nut trees will be planted on the grounds of a secondary school being constructed through a partnership between Talmadge Hill UCC and Cross Cultural Thresholds, a nonprofit that works with grassroots community leaders to build schools and create opportunities for underprivileged children. A stipend has been set aside to compensate the villagers who are willing to help care for the trees once they are planted. Sparrow says this is an important part of the equation, as the trees are only beneficial if they thrive and grow. 

"You can plant the seedlings, but the real cost is in encouraging people to water the trees and keep them growing and weeded," she said. "Those willing to do this will get a little income over the next few years."

"I feel very strongly that we were born to care and we were born to take care of," Via adds. "And that means ourselves, it means other people, it means the next generation, it means the earth. So this project is really kind of a beautiful extension of that. It’s just about caring and taking care of."

Learn more about the partnership between Guilford Community UCC and the village of Kaiguchu.

Everett Parker's influence still impacts today's media


The landscape of media communications has changed in the 30 years since the inaugural Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture. But the influence of Parker's groundbreaking work is still significant today.

"Our gathering always provides a reminder that social justice issues are inevitably tied to media access, and that the principles that Everett Parker was fighting for remain critically important today," said Sara Fitzgerald, treasurer of the OC, Inc. Board of Directors and one of the event's organizers.

The Parker Lecture, hosted annually by the United Church of Christ's Office of Communication, Inc. (OC, Inc.), was created in 1982 to recognize Parker's pioneering work as an advocate for the public's rights in broadcasting. The event is the only lecture in the country to examine telecommunications in the digital age from an ethical perspective.

"I have truly been blessed to have been able to contribute to, be benefited by and help others to serve in the UCC social justice ministry that required accountability of the media by the citizens it serves. This event is momentous for the thirty year legacy of the ethics lecture and the centennial year of Rev. Parker," said Earl Williams Jr., OC, Inc. board chairman. "I look forward to the remarks of our guests that reflect the current state of our media, government and the effect on our nation."

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. will deliver the 30th Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture Tuesday, Sept. 25, in Washington D.C. This year's event will also celebrate Parker's 100th birthday, as well as his pioneering work as an advocate for the public's rights in broadcasting. The lecture and breakfast will take place at First Congregational United Church of Christ.

"It's a rare moment for us. Historically we're a new building but we have history within the civil rights movement," said the Rev. Sidney Fowler, First Congregational's transitional minister. "It's just a very exciting event."

First Congregational is an all-new facility that was dedicated in February, but it sits in the same spot in downtown D.C. since 1868. The new building is the third version the church, which was founded in 1865 by abolitionists as the first racially integrated church in D.C., and played a role in founding Howard University.

Since it was founded in 1959, OC Inc. has been a leading force in the struggle to ensure that women, persons of color and low-income persons have equal access to ownership, production, employment, and decision making in media.

Fitzgerald, a former editor for the Washington Post, said she always found the Parker Lecture very inspiring. "There are so many people involved in media reform and telecommunications policy who recognize how important Rev. Everett Parker's legal battle was to opening up broadcasting to minority voices and ownership and establishing the principle that the public has an interest in how the airwaves are used," she said.

"Many of the persons who attend the Parker Lecture were mentored by Everett Parker early in their careers, and many of them have gone on to help mentor others in the media reform movement and in the broadcasting industry," added Fitzgerald, a member of Rock Spring Congregational UCC in Arlington, Va. "Many of these people are not affiliated with the UCC, so it is wonderful to join with them at his event to celebrate this wonderful legacy."

Parker played a key role in ensuring American media accountability in the public interest. As the director of the Office of Communication of the UCC from 1954-83, his leadership in the development of influential media reform aimed to improve employment prospects for women and minorities in broadcasting.

Two awards will be presented, and two leaders from  the UCC national office will also speak at the event. The Rev. Linda Jaramillo, executive for the Justice and Witness Ministries, will talk about Parker's legacy and OC, Inc., and the Rev. Geoffrey Black, the UCC's general minister and president, will introduce Jackson.

Charles Benton, chairman of the board of the Benton Foundation, will receive the Everett C. Parker Award for his leadership and support in promoting the public interest in traditional and digital media. S. Jenell Trigg, chair of the Intellectual Property and New Media and Technology Practice Group of Lerman Senter PLLC, will receive the Donald H. McGannon Award in recognition of her work to promote opportunities in telecommunications for women and persons of color.

United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) grant Ordained Ministerial Partnership Standing to each other's national leaders

In a move that forges a stronger relationship between the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and that celebrates 25 years of their ecumenical partnership, key national leaders in both denominations now have standing in the respective partner church, and are considered ordained ministers by both churches.

The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, UCC general minister and president; the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister for Local Church Ministries; the Rev. James Moos, executive minister for Wider Church Ministries; the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, minister for ecumenical and interfaith relations; and the Rev. Holly MillerShank, minister and team leader of the Ministerial, Excellence, Support & Authorization (MESA) team recently were recently granted this special category of standing by the Disciples of Christ.

The Rev. Sharon Watkins, Disciples general minister and president; the Rev. Julia Brown Karimu, president of the Division of Overseas Ministries; the Rev. Ron Degges, president of Disciples Home Missions; the Rev. Timothy James, associate general minister and administrative secretary of the National Convocation and the Rev. Robert Welsh, president of the Council on Christian Unity were approved for ministerial partnership by the UCC's Indiana-Kentucky Conference.

"Ordained ministerial partner standing is not new," said Karen Georgia Thompson. "What is new is the deepening of this relationship with the Disciples through the intentionality of these leaders holding this standing as a sign of the commitment to the relationship between the two churches."

This action means each of the UCC and Disciples ministers are now recognized, and will be listed in the yearbooks of the two denominations, as ordained ministers in the partner denomination "with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities pertaining thereto."

"I am really excited about the possibilities that are signalled by this deepening relationship between the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ," said Geoffrey Black. "Working jointly on our shared mission only makes us a stronger, more unified presence."

According to the UCC's Manual on Ministry and the Disciples' Policies and Criteria for Ordered Ministry, the UCC and the Disciples of Christ recognize the ordained ministers of the other church to be effective ministers of grace within that church and these ministries to be valid and full ministries of one Church of Jesus Christ. The ordained ministries of the UCC and the Disciples of Christ are reconciled –– meaning an ordained minister in one church may function, whenever invited and as established procedures permit, as an ordained minister in the other.

The commitment to pursue ordained ministerial partnership for core leadership came out of the 2011 meeting of the UCC-Disciples National Partnership Committee. The committee thought this would be a significant and historic moment in the life of the partnership.

"I wish to express our joy in this concrete act giving expression to our 25 years of ecumenical partnership and recognizing our shared ministry within the one church of Jesus Christ," said Robert Welsh, chief ecumenical officer for the Disciples of Christ and president of the Council on Christian Unity. 

"This is a learning experience," said Thompson of the first in a possible series of joint policy classes, "as both denominations think strategically of who and where this type of joint standing would be beneficial to the life of this partnership, as we move into celebration of 25 years together and plans for where the partnership grows in the future."

The UCC and the Disciples already have a shared staffing model in place in Wyoming and Montana –– UCC Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference Minister the Rev. Marc Ian Stewart and DOC regional minister the Rev. Ruth Fletcher serve churches of both denominations closest to their respective offices.   They also celebrate joint ministerial standing with the national leaders of both denominations.

These new relationships will be publicly recognized and celebrated during the UCC General Synod on June 28 in Long Beach, Calif., and during a worship service July 14 as part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly, July 13-17 in Orlando, Fla.

UCC minister offers progressive praise and worship music for download

A United Church of Christ pastor in Chicago working on a liturgy of rock oriented worship music around themes of justice, peace and extravagant welcome is getting a lot of support for his project from ministerial colleagues around the denomination. The Rev. Rob Leveridge, pastor of First United Church in Oak Park, Ill., is offering free downloads for the use of three songs he has already recorded, and is well on his way to raising the additional funds he needs to finish professionally recording the additional 10 tracks.

"I've always enjoyed praise music, especially the exultation of it, and the way it captures a deep love for God," said Leveridge, a member of the UCC's 2030 Clergy network. "But as a pastor in a very progressive church, I looked for praise music that talks more in-depth about the activity of God, moving people toward justice, peace and radical welcome. I found a small group of songwriters making this kind of music, and realized God was calling me to contribute as well –– I'm writing songs to be as fun, catchy, energetic and open-hearted as possible."

"Rob's utterly delightful and singable melodies enhance the growing movement of musical works, including the ‘Sing' Praise Songbook for progressive, welcoming, inclusive and justice minded congregations," said the Rev. David Schoen, team leader for the UCC's Congregational vitality ministry.

This summer, Leveridge is planning to release a CD and songbook of worship songs as a resource to faith communities, titled "Dancing On The Mountain." The title comes from the 65th chapter of the book of Isaiah, which describes a divine future on God's holy mountain, where communities thrive in peace and mutual enrichment. But his project depends on the successful conclusion of his very creative fundraising campaign via kickstarter.com.

Leveridge, part of a growing number of musicians and worship leaders creating praise songs and liturgical rock music that speaks to the heart of faith with inclusive language, social relevance and theological depth said when that he conceived of the project he realized that the music would have a greater impact if he could get his work professionally recorded with the assistance of a high-caliber record producer. So he initially raised enough money to record three songs at Soundcake studios in Chicago, and set a $14,000 goal to record the rest of the album. With just a few days left in his fundraising campaign, it looks like Leveridge will be back in the studio soon.

"We are excited to support the project, because Rob's music will energize and enhance any worship of God through word, deed and song," said the Rev. Steve Angel, of Eden UCC in Chicago, one of more than 200 backers who've pledged funds to the project. "The church needs fresh words to sing, and Rob's words to God are sung from the heart!"

A sample of Rob Leveridge's lyrics:
For every act of goodwill defying
All that hate intends
For every kindness and understanding
Changing foes to friends
For every choosing of peaceful measures
Bringing wars to end,
Let the voice of praise be heard this day!
 –– from the song, "The Voice of Praise," off the upcoming CD, "Dancing On The Mountain"

The Rev. Luke Lindon of Sylvania United Church of Christ in Sylvania, Ohio is another enthusiastic supporter. "Our church is excited to support Rob's project because we feel that modern praise music often neglects the themes of justice, inclusion, and liberation," Linden said. "We are excited to support music that shares the same theological outlook as our community!" 

Learn more about the project or to download three songs from Rob's new album for free, as well as get lyrics and notation, at www.robleveridge.com.

Rob says that pledges that take him beyond his $14,000 goal will be invested in the production of CDs and songbooks for distribution to churches. He hopes to have the material ready for circulation later this summer.

"I've been thrilled by the support I've received –– hundreds of people from across the country have made pledges and helped to spread the word about the project," Leveridge said. "It's a shared ministry –– I'm the one who's penned the lyrics, but the calling and strength have come from God, and the resources and encouragement have come from a great cloud of witnesses! I can't tell you how grateful I am."

UCC, reformed tradition churches celebrate baptism agreement alongside Roman Catholic Church

The United Church of Christ and three other reformed tradition churches joined the U.S. Roman Catholic Church to sign a historic agreement this week as the denominations will recognize each other's baptismal rites and celebrated the commitment publicly for the first time.

The formal agreement, known as the "Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism," is the product of seven rounds of discussions among the UCC, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Presbyterian Church (USA), Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America.

The Rev. Elizabeth Nash, an associate minister for the UCC's South Central Conference, signed the document for the denomination at the national meeting of Christian Churches Together in Austin, Texas.

The UCC Minister for Ecumenical Relations Karen Georgia Thompson said the move is a step forward for the work among the sides. "The fact that there was actually an agreement between the Reformed Churches and the Roman Catholic Church is helpful to a lot of folks in the UCC and Roman Catholic Church," Thompson said. "Many families live in more than one tradition, so it's helpful that families can be united in a common understanding of baptism."

The UCC is part of the reformed tradition, Thompson said, because it was formed in 1957 through a union of the Congregational Christian churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

"The dialogue between the reformed church and the Roman Catholics goes back 40 years, and there's been a commitment from the UCC to be part of that dialogue," Thompson said. "There have been several rounds of dialogues, and each round has been a different topic. In the last round (Round 7), the conversation was around Eucharist and baptism. The mutual recognition we are celebrating here came out of that dialogue."

The agreement was first approved by the UCC at the 2011 General Synod in Tampa, a moment Thompson described as "significant" in affirming the "Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism" signed by President and General Minister the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black.

Thompson and Nash were joined in Austin by the Rev. Sidney Fowler, a pastor at First Congregational UCC in Washington, D.C., as the UCC's representatives to the Christian Churches Together meeting.

Before the agreement, the Reformed Protestant churches had recognized the baptisms performed in Catholic traditions, but the Catholic Church had not accepted theirs.

"I don't think we, as the UCC, haven't recognized the baptism of others, but through mutuality, the Roman Catholic recognition of the way we perform baptisms in our church is significant," Fowler said. "It's reciprocal, and refreshing."

Fowler said the recognition of baptism represents "the reformed community coming together and appreciating each other, and our differences, in a new way. It allows us to go into a new dialogue with a new sense of communion."