United Church of Christ

New UCC church in Louisiana to hold first service on Oct. 1

Journey UCC will meet at a restaurant in Prairieville, La., in a building generally used for weddings and other public events. The new-church start comes at a time when many who once lived in southern Louisiana have moved north into the Baton Rouge area, following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"We have put in months of work and are excited about establishing the only UCC church in what is now the largest city in Louisiana," wrote Malcolm Richard, one of the church's founders, in an email to Conference and National church leaders. "I'm excited, but also nervous. Someone called church planting the 'extreme sport of Christianity.' It has and will be a ride!"

The UCC has only 16 churches in Louisiana, with most being located in the New Orleans area. Funds from the UCC's post-Katrina "Hope Shall Bloom" special offering are being used, in part, to supplement the new-church start.

"God has given me a vision for reaching the unchurched and hurting people of our area," Richard said.

Richard asks that UCC members across the country who know of potential worshipers in the Baton Rouge area to contact him at jmalcolmr@yahoo.com.

John Thomas: 'A United Church That Stands For Something'

Early this week I read a memorial tribute to Dale Turner, a colleague in the United Church of Christ who had a distinguished career in Seattle as pastor of University Congregational Church and as a columnist for The Seattle Times for over twenty years. I was struck by a quote attributed to Dale reflecting on his willingness to speak out on tough moral issues, including support for the civil rights movement and for the rights of gay and lesbian persons, and opposition to the Vietnam War. Dale said, "A divided church that stands for something is better than a united church that stands for nothing." That's a challenging and provocative statement. And I can hear most of you saying what I found myself thinking, "yes, but. . . ." Yet doesn't this statement capture in a compelling way what we've been struggling with as a church? Yearning for unity? Seeking to stand for a world of justice and peace? Can't we have it all? A divided church that stands for something is better than a united church that stands for nothing. How about a united church that stands for something?

The source of this quote was not, by the way, a harsh, stern, unbending prophet, caring more for agendas than for people, but a pastor deeply admired for his compassion for all. Other words attributed to him include this admonition: "Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden." He once said his guiding belief was that "when we draw closer to one another, we draw closer to the God that created us all." No, by all accounts this was a kind and caring pastor who reached out to folks at both ends of the political, economic, and ideological spectrum. He loved the church and he cared for its health and its wholeness. But when it came to the great moral issues of his day, he would not sacrifice principle for placidness. How is it that we bear witness to the unity of Christ's church which is, after all, an article of our confession, not simply a product of our labors? And how do we do that in the midst of the call to address complex moral and political issues that divide us, each wielding what seem to us to be authoritative interpretations of Scripture? As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the United Church of Christ, the enduring question we have wrestled with has been this: "How can we be a united church that stands for something?"

This is not a new problem in America where we mix our belief that the Bible is authoritative on all matters of faith and practice with our high regard for individual freedom that is reluctant to grant any interpreter ultimate authority. Mark Noll, in a new book on theological issues in the Civil War, shares an outsider's perspective on the American Protestant dilemma:
In their perceptions of the theological crisis of the Civil War, foreign observers clearly identified a significant issue. How, in fact, are Bible believers, especially Protestant Bible believers, supposed to act in harmony when interpretations of the Bible seem to fly nearly everywhere - when as the Europeans put it in the 1860's, there is no "respected authority," no "respect for the established orders and authorities? (Mark Noll, The Civil War as Theological Crisis.)
The subject here is slavery. But almost any other hot-button issue could replace it. And has! If everyone has equal access to the Bible, and if there is no single, "respected authority," how can we expect to avoid endless division? In our weariness over church fights, when "interpretations of the Bible fly everywhere," standing for something can seem too costly and unity grows seductive. Remember Rodney King's famous plea? "Can't we all just get along?"

Fifty years ago the General Council of the Congregational Christian Church met for its final meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. It was the meeting that authorized the election of delegates to the uniting General Synod in Cleveland the following year, the meeting that finally brought to a close the long years of struggle to give birth to the United Church of Christ. We tend to imagine the 1950's as a simpler time in American church life, but to read the minutes of the General Council is to experience a meeting as full of contention and controversy as any General Synod since - including Atlanta!

The vast majority of delegates were eager to move toward authorizing the union with the Evangelical and Reformed Church. But a significant and very stubborn minority resisted to the end. They demanded that the minutes of the Executive Committee of the General Council for the previous two years be made available, not merely the summary they had been given. Having heard that President James Wagner of the Evangelical and Reformed Church had been given "assurances" of some kind by the Council, these dissidents were convinced secret agreements had been made and that their precious liberties as Congregationalists had been sold down the river to the stereotypical "Herr Pastors" of the German church. No amount of response from the Moderator could assuage their suspicions, so they went to what was, in the context of that meeting, to the "nuclear option." They dangled the threat of another lawsuit. This caught the attention of the leadership which remembered all too well the decade long delay caused by the Cadman vs. Kenyon law suit in the 1940's. So the Council delegates were reconvened at ten p.m. following worship and sat through the night until 7:45 in the morning hearing the minutes read aloud. One delegate lamented what this all must look like to "our Evangelical and Reformed" brethren, whose long-suffering over these squabbles was surely wearing thin. We haven't had that much excitement at a Synod in a long time!

But it wasn't just conflict over matters ecclesiastical. Debates raged over a resolution about an "Unsegregated Church in an Unsegregated Society," which included the call for a consultation with all Congregational institutions, particularly in the south, to press forward the cause of desegregation. A resolution was passed expressing outrage that one of the Black delegates had been denied accommodation in an Omaha hotel, and lively debate centered around whether or not to take an offering and pursue legal action against the hotel. (Some of you know that we are in the midst of labor issues with hotels in Hartford as we prepare for our 50th anniversary Synod. The more things change, the more they stay the same!) Delegates passed a strong resolution denouncing the tactics of McCarthyism, naming the violation of civil rights going on in the frenzied context of rabid anti-communism. Think about how all of this must have played in the genteel south, or in America's heartland back in 1956. They even welcomed to their podium as a keynote speaker, the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union! I'm not sure I'm brave enough, or foolish enough, to try that!

The point of this little tour through one part of our history is simply this: There has never been a time in our life as a church when conflict has been absent from our life. In the 17th century our forebears in England gathered congregations of dissenters, separatists and Puritans who stood for a church that would be distinguishable from the culture religion of the established church. Later in that same century they struggled in New England over the question of who could be baptized, and they lived with a tense, uneasy compromise called "the Half-Way Covenant." In the 18th century some stood for their orthodox, Trinitarian faith against the rise of Unitarianism, and as a result saw a "great departure" of their churches and even their beloved Harvard, a set of departures far more extensive than anything we have experienced in this past year since General Synod. In the 19th century German Reformed theologians at Mercersburg Seminary in Pennsylvania stood for the integrity of the liturgy and the role of the catechism against the enthusiasms of the revival tent and the anxious bench, and in the process provoked what came to be known as the Mercersburg Controversy that included the use of the heavily freighted word "heresy," not a comfortable word in the culture of our United Church of Christ.

In that same century one of our congregations ordained Antoinette Brown as the first woman pastor in North America. Yet what we celebrate today as a principled stand for the full equality of woman was mocked and derided in the official Congregational newspapers in Boston. A few days before her ordination Antoinette wrote a friend, "People are beginning to stop laughing and get mad." If you read carefully the bylaws of Congregational churches organized in the 1840's and 50's, you will find that many of them were organized by abolitionists. The bylaws of those churches not only refused to admit slaveholders to membership, they also rejected anyone who would not condemn slavery. New Englanders who went to Kansas went to stand against those who would turn that territory into a slave state. The famous name of one of our congregations there, the "Beecher Bible and Rifle Church," testifies to the conflicts in Bloody Kansas that engulfed our churches as they sought to stand for something.

In the twentieth century our church gave formal support to conscientious objectors, not just during the Vietnam conflict, but during the Second World War as well. We stood for the rights of African Americans in the south to see their faces on television news and to hear their stories reported. We stood with migrant farm workers in California, marching with Cesar Chavez even when some of the farm owners were members of our own churches. We took a stand to ordain an openly gay man over thirty years ago, and have been standing with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons ever since as they seek full membership in church and society. We took a stand for language in our liturgies and in our hymns that would embrace both women and men. We took a stand against the militarization of right wing paramilitary groups and oppressive dictatorships in Central America during the 1980's. We have consistently taken a stand for the people of Palestine, for their rights to a viable nation and a capital in Jerusalem, even when that has been heard by Jewish friends and neighbors as taking a stand against their beloved Israel. We took a stand against the wall that separated Germany east and west by entering into relationship with the Evangelical Church of the Union, a stand that literally involved us in clandestine border crossings during the Cold War and that played its own little part in the tearing down of that wall.

Standing for something. All of this has involved a cost, and that cost has been conflict and tension in the life of our church. We have sensed it intensely in recent months again. And what has made this difficult for us is that at the same time we have not been willing to relinquish our vision of unity. Ours is not a sectarian piety that signals to those who disagree, "leave." The ecumenical vocation that fired the imagination of our founders still holds sway for most of us. For all our commitment to being a church that stands for justice, a church that works for peace, we remain a church yearning to embody Jesus' prayer "that they may all be one." We want to be, feel called to be a united church that stands for something.

At the Fifth World Conference on Faith and Order in Santiago de Compostela in 1993, Mary Tanner, an Anglican theologian, reminded us that "tension and even conflict will always be part of the life of the church this side of the kingdom." And then she challenged the church:
We are called to stick with the pain of difference and live through it: "Sharp things that divide us can paradoxically turn out to be gift. . . The world with all its divisions is not used to such a possibility as this: that those on opposing sides should stay together, bear each other's burdens, even enter one another's pain." If we are able, by grace, to live together in visible communion while bearing the cost of difference, never again saying "I have no need of you," we shall get hold, at a deeper level, of a communion with a God who suffers and we shall be rewarded with an experience of reconciliation and unity grounded in the unity of God the Holy Trinity at whose heart is forever a cross. (Mary Tanner, "The Time Has Come," Ecumenical Review, January 1993)
The vision of unity that the Gospel of John offers is of a Christ who, when he is lifted up, will draw all men and women to himself. But it is not to some happy conviviality that we are drawn; it is to the cross on which Jesus is lifted that we are also drawn. If the Trinity is, in a sense, an icon of the unity in diversity we aspire to image in our own life, then we must never forget that at the heart of that Trinity is forever a cross.

Letter after letter has come to my desk over the past several months complaining that I or the General Synod has eagerly and thoughtlessly introduced conflict into the life of the church. I do think some people in our churches really believe that leaders in the United Church of Christ and its General Synod cavalierly and recklessly seek to stir the pot just to get publicity and attention. We may have been the first mainline denomination to call for the extending of the rights, privileges, and disciplines of marriage to persons of all sexual orientations. But believe me, being first was not what this was all about. There would have been far easier races to win or medals to wear. This was about standing for something at a time when much of our nation would stand against. But not just standing for something; standing for people in our churches, in our communities, in our families who yearn to receive the blessing, and to live within the discipline of the church and its sacraments and rites.

Standing for something. While controversy over sex swirls around us, the war in Iraq continues. Conceived in arrogance and deception, pursued with an unholy enthusiasm rather than lament, it continues to consume our beloved children and sow destruction and disruption throughout the land we are allegedly redeeming, a place where civilian deaths are even hard to number. Horrible things are happening and we are doing some of those things. But what should we have expected? That's what war is, what war does, even to our own noble sons and daughters. Neighbors throughout the world who embraced us with profound love and compassion after the terrorist attacks of September 11 now eye us with suspicion and fear, a dangerous nation bent on empire. My son just finished basic training for the Pennsylvania National Guard. What once seemed rather abstract now cuts a bit closer. Will he be called up? Lynda and I worry that he might be put in harms way. But we also worry that he will be faced with an agonizing moral choice in the murky ambiguity of battle, a choice that could follow him throughout his life.

Yet are we standing for something? I fear that most of our congregations shrink back from doing much more than pray for the victims - our troops, the people of Iraq. To stand for something might mean conflict, tension, even division. Can we bear any more of that? But is this not a shrinking back from the cross, which lies at the very heart of the Trinity whose feast day is tomorrow? About thirty five years ago as the war in Vietnam was drawing toward its bloody conclusion, with the tragedies of Kent State, the incursions into Cambodia, and the deceptions of another administration growing more and more evident, I came home on spring break from college filled with the certainty, the conviction, and I suppose the arrogance of youth, and told my pastor that I wanted to read a statement about the war to the congregation. I still can't believe I did it, and looking back through the lens of my own life as a pastor, I can't quite believe he let me do it! As I finished my passionate and, I thought, prophetic plea, I looked down and saw the parents of my two best friends in h gh school, Bob and Eleanor. Their sons were now marines, serving in Vietnam. It was a charged moment, filled with sudden apprehension, one of those "Oh my God, what have I done?" moments. Yet these were the two who first came to embrace me, not arguing a point, or offering a dissent, but embracing me. Can we be that kind of church? "Sharp things that divide us can paradoxically turn out to be gift. The world with all its divisions is not used to such a possibility as this: that those on opposing sides should stay together, bear each other's burdens, even enter one another's pain."

A divided church, a church enduring conflict because it stands for something is better than a united church that stands for nothing. The great irony of the ecclesiastical landscape today is that churches that have quite deliberately avoided taking a stand on the issue of gay marriage or the ordination of partnered gay and lesbian people are enduring just as much conflict as we are in the United Church of Christ. Is this the warning to Laodicea in the Revelation of John? "I know your works, you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth." Some of you know that I have found great insight in the novel, Gilead, written by United Church of Christ author, Marilyn Robinson. Her narrator is a sensitive rural pastor in Iowa, writing a letter to his son. He recalls his best sermon, one that he never preached. It was about the First World War, and his own sense that the influenza epidemic that was sweeping the country with tragic loss, killing more soldiers than bullets were, was a sign of judgment about our warring madness:
The parents of these young soldiers would come to me and ask me how the Lord could allow their sons to be killed by the flu. I felt like asking them what the Lord would have to do to tell us He didn't allow something. But instead I would comfort them by saying we would never know what their young men had been spared. Most of them took me to mean they were spared the trenches and the mustard gas, but what I really meant was that they were spared the act of killing. . . . So I wrote a sermon about it. I said that these deaths were rescuing foolish young men from the consequences of their own ignorance and courage, that the Lord was gathering them in before they could go off and commit murder against their brothers. And I said that their deaths were a sign and a warning to the rest of us that the desire for war would bring the consequences of war, because there is no ocean big enough to protect us from the Lord's judgment when we decide to hammer our plowshares into swords and our pruning hooks into spears, in contempt of the will and grace of God. It was quite a sermon, I believe, but my courage failed, because I knew the only people at church would be a few old women who were already about as sad and apprehensive as they could stand to be and no more approving of the war than I was. . . . I wish I had kept it, because I meant every word. It might have been the only sermon I wouldn't mind answering for in the next world. And I burned it. But Mirabelle Mercer was not Pontius Pilate, and she was not Woodrow Wilson either.
Each of us, like this thoughtful and wonderful pastor, know the difficulty of "standing." As Bonhoeffer once wrote, we know well our capacity to "heroically extricate ourselves from the affairs of the day." Or as the hymn puts it, "our will to dare great things for God," often collides headlong into "the courage that we lack." Are we willing to sacrifice standing for something in the face of conflict and division?

Finally, at the end, we come to our Conference theme: "Neighbors at Christ's Table." It reminds us that our unity is not to be found in agreement, but in the Christ who makes himself present to us in the breaking of bread. We sometimes forget, I think, that this sacrament, this holy sign, has at its center the same cross that is the heart of the Holy Trinity. At the table we do not come to eat together as a happy family. We come to announce: "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." At the table the broken family breaks the bread of the broken Christ. We are neighbors at the table of Christ's passion, not just friendly next door neighbors. That makes this meal both a hard meal to swallow, and a blessed meal to consume. It is a table for neighbors who are ready to stand for something, even when that makes unity elusive, and conflict real. Ultimately we can only be a united church while simultaneously being a church that stands for something when we experience life together under the Word, a life together around the Word made flesh.

At that General Council meeting in Omaha fifty years ago this month, James Wagner addressed the Congregationalists. He talked about the way succeeding generations like ours might assess the worth of the union they had just authorized:
The real worth and validity of this union in the sight of God will eventually be measured by how profoundly and with what deepening devotion we set about getting God's work done in this world. If by the witness of our united churches the world's broken-hearted find hope and healing, the grieving have the comfort and consolations of grace made real, the aged discover that "at evening time it shall be light"; if young men and women are wisely guided in the choices they must make and strengthened when they have chosen the hard right against the easy wrong"; if men and women in the midst of life's struggle are made "strong in the Lord and in the power of His might"; if the imperatives of God's justice and love are brought effectually to bear on the relationships of men in our workaday world and of nations wrestling with the promises and the peril of power - that is, not in devising new and grandiose schemes for making the world better, but in doing better the age old ministries to which priest and prophet have always given themselves - then time and the event and the silent whispers of the Eternal God will confirm our present faith that the establishment of the United Church of Christ was the doing of His will.
I would edit Dale Turner's provocative words to say this: A church in conflict that stands for something is better than a happy and comfortable church that stands for nothing. At our best, for fifty years, and for all the years of our predecessors before, we have often chosen the hard right against the easy wrong. Simply put, we who cherish unity, both our own and that of the larger church, have also attempted to stand for something. And it has brought us to the heart of the Gospel. There's not always much fun in this as many of us have discovered this year. It's a hard path, full of bitterness and strife. Yet Mary Tanner is right: Sharp things that divide us can paradoxically turn out to be gift. So we live as neighbors at the Table, seeking as she puts it "to get hold, at a deeper level, of a communion with a God who suffers," anticipating the reward of an "experience of reconciliation and unity grounded in the unity of God the Holy Trinity at whose heart is forever a cross." Let it be so.

California's American Baptist Churches vote to sever ABC ties

The board of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwestvoted unanimously on May 11 to part ways with the denomination. Less than two weeks earlier, church delegates within the group voted 1,125-209 to recommend the board move to sever ties.

The California group will now use the name Transformation Ministries and will sever ties by Nov. 1. The decision affects about 300 churches affiliated with the denomination in Southern California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii.

Leaders of the Valley Forge, Pa.-based denomination, which claims 1.4 members in the United States, have anticipated this decision but reacted with sadness to Thursday's vote.

"This is not a happy day for American Baptists," said the Rev. Robert Roberts, a spokesman for the denomination. "We will all be left weaker by this, in my judgment, and so it's a very sad day."

Asked if other regional groups are likely to follow suit, the Rev. Dale Salico, executive minister of the Pacific Southwest churches, said: "It's possible, but I really can't speak for others."

Roberts said other regions have voiced similar concerns, but said no other regional body has "moved as deliberately" as the California churches.

Last September, the board of the California churches approved a statement that said "deep differences of theological convictions and values" between the region and the denomination are "irreconcilable."

Its members believe the denomination has not enforced a resolution that states "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

"The inability of the denomination to adequately implement (the policy) was one of the factors," said Salico, whose office is in Covina, Calif., outside Los Angeles.

Salico also cited differences over the authority of Scripture and the accountability of local churches. "When churches are as far apart as we are with ABCUSA, it makes mission really difficult," he said.

"We want to just concentrate on those areas that we're called to be in ministry with and not to be constantly engaged in a struggle within the denomination."

Salico said his organization will continue to send missions-related funding designated to the American Baptist mission efforts by local churches, but an annual administration fee of about $150,000 will end.

Denominational officials said individual churches must also vote if they wish to break ties.

"One of the things that brings us some hope is that there are a number of churches out there that have indicated that they will stay with American Baptists," Roberts said.

"There are enough of them that they will form a new American Baptist association."

Roberts said this is a new dimension for divides within his denomination. In the 1930s, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches split from the American Baptists, who were then known as the Northern Baptist Convention.

"We've had splits before and we have actually lost many churches in an area before, but it's the first time a regional group has left the denomination," he said.

The divide in this faith group is reflected in other Protestant churches, especially the Episcopal Church, that have battled over homosexuality, autonomy and biblical authority.

"We're in a tug of war that's caught all Christendom, which is the tug of war between right and center," Roberts said.

The Rev. A. Roy Medley, the American Baptists' general secretary, said in November that the debate over homosexuality "tears my soul."

The Rev. Ken Pennings, executive director of the Wisconsin-based Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, said he felt a "sense of peace" about the Pacific Southwest decision because it allows the region and remaining denominational members "to move on in directions we feel are consistent with our own faith and testimony."

Rather than viewing it as an omen for other faith groups, he said it is an "inevitable" part of a process that can lead to more inclusion of gays and lesbians in church life.

"There'll be people who feel they must cut themselves off from people with whom they disagree rather than build bridges toward them," he said.

Cally Rogers-Witte: Nomination Acceptance Speech

Thank you, Curtis! And thank you, search committee and board of directors of Wider Church Ministries for this amazing opportunity!

I also want to thank some other very special people who have supported me over the years:

My precious mother and father whose unconditional love I always experienced - and who raised me in the church and modeled lay leadership - my mother was the first female elder in our Presbyterian church. (The only time I ever wished my parents were not so active in the church was when they were asked - as social worker and physician - to speak to my church youth group about sex!)

I am also grateful to many people in the wider United Church of Christ who loved me into this church - faculty and staff at Yale Divinity School and Pacific School of Religion.

And later the amazing family of the UCC Office for Church Life and Leadership in its earliest years, especially our sainted and spirit-filled mentor, Reuben Sheares, as well as former officers of this church who are here this morning - Avery, Joe, Charles, Carol, Paul - thank you!

I am deeply grateful for a forward thinking congregation in Raleigh, North Carolina, who took a chance on calling a young female minister in 1977 - a congregation with a powerful history of struggle for racial justice and for peace with justice - that church formed me and taught me how to be a United Church of Christ minister! Community United Church of Christ was ONA church number 35 (and we thought we were really late taking that vote - actually, we were late!) and the first congregation to be honored with the Just Peace award!

I am incredibly grateful to have served for ten years in what is - objectively (I've done the research!) - the most wonderful conference in the entire United Church of Christ. The large geography, small membership Southwest Conference has a beautiful spirit of collegiality and faithful witness, especially on the border, these days.

And, most of all, I am grateful for the constant love and support of my dear husband Frank Rogers-Witte (welcome him to the podium) who dared to hyphenate his name 31 and a half years ago!

For the past ten years as a Conference Minister, I have thought of myself as a missionary from the Southern Conference to the Southwest Conference, but I confess that I have failed to get the southwest folks to "speak Southern", except we do know this:

God is great...all the time!
All the time...God is great!


I have ten minutes to help you to know who I am and why I'm so thrilled and honored to be nominated for this position.

Ten minutes!

Actually my wonderful husband Frank thinks that it's almost worth my up-rooting our comfortable family life - yet again! - just to come here today to hear me speak for only ten minutes on a Sunday morning! (Sometimes to placate him I make the margins smaller so I can tell him I've shortened the sermon to "only" eight pages)

Ten minutes to tell you why I want the opportunity to serve you - and our beloved church:

- as Executive Minister for Wider Church Ministries! And,

- as Co-Executive of our Global Ministries with David Vargas of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). And,

- as an officer of this church along with the other four members of the Collegium whom I so deeply respect and admire.

It's a complex position. Three different roles.

So, I'm thinking of enrolling in a gymnastics class on how to walk the balance beam because this calling does involve an incredible balancing act: to balance the deep commitment I have to the whole of the United Church (pause) of Christ with the special mandates AND responsibilities for the heritage and future faithfulness of our wider ministries around the world. And to do that always in partnership between the UCC and the Disciples - two different denominations, two different histories, two different cultures of how you do things; but one faith, one mission, one God known to us through Jesus Christ!

Despite all that complexity, I want the opportunity to serve in this way and I am bold enough to offer myself because of some particular experiences and gifts I have been given which might be well-suited for this important work.

First, and very simply, it really feels like I've received a "call", probably more than anything else I've ever done. I was not searching. I expected - I hoped - to continue in conference ministry in the wonderful and beautiful Southwest Conference until retirement. And besides that, I was due a sabbatical this fall! This has to be a real call! The journey to this nomination has been a deeply spiritual one for me this spring! So, first gift - what I believe is a real "call".

Second, I don't really see myself as a visionary leader (I don't see myself as a person who dreams up the vision and then gets the people to follow) nor do I see myself as one who knows how to motivate a struggling or mediocre staff to do a better job.

BUT - and this is part of why this really seems like a call - we already have a profound and inspirational vision for this work; I don't have to come up with a new one by myself, what I get to do is to help communicate and organize. The vision is in place. AND, the staff is incredible, all very talented and deeply committed persons of faith. They already do superb and important work! Work the whole church can be very proud of!!

What I believe I am called to do - if elected - is to help the whole church embrace our global ministry as their OUR global ministry (yours, mine, each person in every pew)- to communicate - to invite greater participation by local churches, associations, and conferences - to partner together even more creatively. Be sure to take home - or order - one of these CD's on how to be a global mission congregation! (Hold up CD)

I believe I am called to help get all of us more deeply involved in global ministry! Just one small example among many: Nearly everyone here could sponsor a child in another country through the child sponsorship program - on the one hand, it's fantastic that right now our church people sponsor 700 children - helping them get the education and health care that will enable them to be constructive citizens when they grow up to work for the common good - - it's fantastic - 700 children around the world. On the other hand, it's really almost criminal that we ONLY sponsor 700 children - - how many of us are here today? Every one of us could either sponsor a child ourselves or invite our church women's fellowship or youth group or SS class to join us to sponsor a child! - Our family all carry in our wallets a picture of the child we sponsor: (show photo) Charlotte Mae Ozoa - at a Child Development Center in the Philippines.

Third, God has given me several other gifts that seem well-suited for this work:

- An enormous amount of energy and an enthusiastic spirit;

- An incredibly supportive husband (who is, by the way, a clinical psychologist and an executive coach - that comes in very handy!) and two delightful twenty-something daughters who share my passion for "the world" - they both studied abroad, and our younger daughter is right now doing tsunami relief work in Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia;

- I think I'm a good team-builder and team-leader, and a good organizer. And I have a deep love for this church.

- I have also been gifted with a number of amazing experiences of the global church:

This "world" that God so loves has been my passion since I was a little girl!

As a child I was captivated by hearing about the experiences of a medical missionary in Africa at a church potluck supper and for many years all I wanted to do with my life was to be a medical missionary. But then in high school my father let me watch him cut a mole off a woman's arm in his office and I almost fainted when the blood spurted out - there went my hope of being a missionary. But now, with your help, I may get to be a primary support for our dedicated mission personnel and our mission partners around the world and for our superb staff in Cleveland and in Indianapolis!

In 1986 Frank and I were blessed to get to take part in a UCC Leaders trip to visit church partners in El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua It was a powerful experience for us to be with persons living in such great danger and distress who had such enormous faith. And now we are all called to care as deeply about our church partners in the Philippines where a number of pastors and priests, and very recently a conference minister, have been assassinated because of their advocacy for the poor.

At this moment in history it is especially important that we in the United Church of Christ "go into all the world" to be and to embody, in partnership, the good news of God's love. Love, not hate, love, not fear, is "what the world needs now": mutual support and respect, not mutually assured destruction; school kits and the ministry of "presence", not weapons of mass destruction. In recent months when we have heard religious leaders announce that the tsunami was God's punishment on a sinful people, we know that words and deeds of God's love must be shared around the world.

In discerning our part in God's global mission we are using two incredibly important words or phrases … take these home with you!. Partnership and critical presence.

We do our global ministry in "partnership" (not partnership as a business model, but partnership as a Biblical virtue - koinonia - community!)- with the Disciples and with our partner churches around the world. No hierarchy - no arrogant telling others what is best for them - partnership - discovering together what the needs are and how we might respond together. Some other churches have mission churches and many more conservative churches are trying to start new churches overseas; we don't have mission churches, we have mission partners. Very different.

And, "critical presence" - in the past year or so Global Ministries has discerned that God is calling us to a ministry of critical presence: "to meet God's people and creation at the point of deepest need - spiritually, emotionally, physically, and/or economically - in a timely and appropriate manner". Critical presence provides the criteria for making decisions about staffing, program, responses to partner churches. For example, a new joint effort in China is just beginning to set up a center for children orphaned by HIV-AIDS, as a new part of the Child Sponsorship program. Maybe the child YOU will sponsor is in China! Critical presence is surely needed there, and partnership is the way we operate.

I want to be your advocate for this incredible ministry. Thank you!

Bless your hearts!

Chicago's Trinity UCC - Live!

Click here to visit the Trinity webcast site.

Through affiliation with TV One, a new cable/satellite television network devoted to programming primarily geared to African-American audiences, Trinity UCC's regular worship services are now able to reach a national audience.

Live webcasts are streamed each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. and 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. (ET). Additional webcasts can be seen on Mondays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. (ET), with a singles study, "The five love languages for singles," streamed on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. (ET).

Ministering under the motto "unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian," Trinity UCC - under the leadership of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Sr. - is a congregation of nearly 10,000 members known for its extravagant welcome, dynamic worship, extensive community outreach and justice activism.

Last year, Trinity UCC contributed more than $1.2 million in basic and special support to Our Church's Wider Mission, the UCC's common purse for mission and ministry.

UCC church knows an 'extravagant welcome' requires intentionality

So, with that in mind, the Rev. Stephanie Weiner, pastor of Union Congregational UCC in Montclair, N.J., started to work on her weekly sermon. But, when she looked to the lectionary, she discovered that "the bouncer" - as portrayed in the church's ad -was, in many ways, much like John the Baptist: muscular, tough and not a warm, fuzzy character at all.

So Weiner changed her plans.

Eventually, she found her sermon pointing to the message found in the UCC's second, soon-to-be-released ad - the little girl who found the joy in "all the people" during her recitation of the traditional children's poem, "Here's the church, here's people. Open the door and see all the people."

Discovered Weiner, quoting an Advent text from Isaiah, "A little child will lead them."

Weiner told her congregation that Jesus, the one who always looked at a person's heart, welcomed everyone. He invited people in.

"He never turned anyone away," she said, "and neither should we."

During the congregation's "second hour" conversation, many parishioners talked about the networks' decisions not to carry the ads. Predictably, the parishioners offered little sympathy for the television executives. Words and phrases like "censorship" and "First Amendment" were used.

"How shall we respond?" several asked the group.

Fortunately, the church's membership committee was prepared in advance of the much-publicized ad controversy. In October, committee members attended a meeting of the UCC's New Jersey Association where the Rev. Laurinda Hafner, pastor of Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Cleveland, described her welcoming congregation and shared how hospitality had played a part in the urban congregation's renewal.

Montclair's UCC contingent took heart, and they attended a "God Is Still Speaking" training session in order to discover more concrete ways that the congregation could demonstrate its "extravagant welcome" more effectively and efficiently.

Soon, members had re-worked their church's name-tag routine, and they got a new banner for the front of the church. And, along with three neighboring UCC churches, they began running supportive advertising in the local papers.

This way, they were ready and waiting - and pleased - when a couple showed up who had seen the ads, visited the UCC's website and decided that Union UCC sounded like "the church we've been looking for."

In the coming weeks, the church plans to be ready for additional visitors, because they know that an "extravagant welcome" takes some intentionality.

The new "All the People" ad may be viewed at www.stillspeaking.com.