In responding faithfully to God’s call for abundant life for all people, a common life in which no one is left behind, we are drawn inevitably to engage in public policy advocacy and decision-making.
This is the goal of the UCC JWM Washington office; to make a better world possible by addressing the systemic problems that we face as a country and as part of the world. Hunger, poverty, peace and security, racism, care for the earth. These are among the types of justice issues that we work to improve through federal policies.
“If a single decision in the halls of the U.S. Congress can either enhance or undo literally millions of acts of Christian caring, I should try to influence such decisions?"
The UCC Washington Office was called into being by a resolution at General Synod 10 in 1975. This predecessor body to Justice and Witness Ministries, then called the Office for Church in Society, was created to assume a leadership function for social action concerns in the UCC and to provide resources to the national, conference and local churches.
Foremost among the tasks assigned to the office was identifying, analyzing and forecasting emerging social issues which call for the attention of the denomination.
Today the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries staff in Washington, DC, in partnership with UCC staff, Conferences, Associations, congregations and individual UCC members, continues this mission by monitoring and seeking changes in legislation at local, state and federal levels through a variety of coalitions and working groups.
The policies that guide our work are crafted by UCC members who gather for General Synod to pray, reflect and discern a faithful response to God’s call through resolutions and pronouncements on the issues facing our world.
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What Matters includes a variety of resources to connect your questions of faith with the deep faith expressed by the UCC. Discover what matters through reflection, stories from UCC congregations and members, stories from history, Bible study, prayer, worship, and service.
Explore on your own or with others. There are plenty of suggestions for seekers, new member classes, baptism preparation or membership groups, or pastor classes. For ideas about how use What Matters with groups, click here. Discover the questions and insights of those not familiar with the UCC in the article "What Matters to Visitors and Seekers?"
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On July 20 last year, a gunman opened fire in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises." Twelve moviegoers were killed, and over 50 were wounded. Yet another anniversary looms on the calendar – Aug. 5 marks the first anniversary of the shooting at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing 7 and wounding three. Even as we remember those who were killed and injured in these shootings, along with their families, a tragic litany of life lost as a result of gun violence comes to mind. Aurora and Oak Creek made headlines, but the painful truth is that every single day on the calendar is the anniversary of the terrible toll of gun violence, somewhere in America, whether or not it makes the nightly news.
We simply cannot accept gun violence as the norm in our nation. We cannot find comfort in saying "peace, peace," without committing to the hard work that makes for peace. Certainly, the larger context of gun violence is complex and multilayered, and no one piece of legislation can address it. It will take hard work on many levels, individual and institutional change on many fronts. But common sense gun violence prevention legislation can save lives. We must take every step, large and small, to keep our children, families and communities safe.
One small step is to institute a stronger system of background checks on gun purchases, a measure supported by an overwhelming majority of the American public, responsible gun owners among them. Yet our elected officials rejected this modest step forward. As people of faith, we are called to be the moral voice that prods our members of Congress and our state legislatures to summon the political courage needed to enact meaningful gun violence prevention policy.
The faith community has come together many times in the aftermath of gun tragedies over the years to urge legislators to pass laws that would help to prevent gun violence, and we will not falter in this critical work.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "The time is always right to do what is right." Every day is the right day to take a step toward ending gun violence.
Prayer of Lamentation:
Gracious God, our Maker and Sustainer, we pause to remember those who were killed and wounded in the shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater one year ago, even as we remember the terrible toll that gun violence has taken since that time. We grieve the promising lives that have been lost, the stories that will no longer unfold, the voices that will no longer be heard, the friends and families left with heartache and a hole that cannot be filled. We hold in our hearts the communities impacted by gun violence that will never quite be the same. Even as we lament the scourge of gun violence and the culture of violence that seems to grip our society, we confess the ways in which we participate in that culture and fail to boldly give witness to your vision of abundant life and wholeness. Strengthen us in the will to do the things that make for peace. Grant us the courage and creative spirit to sow seeds of understanding, cooperation, community and connection. Help us to link hearts, minds and hands in transforming our collective grief into a message of hope.
Sandy Sorensen is the director of the UCC's Washington, D.C. office
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.
What is Justice Leaders Engaging and Developing?
The vision of Justice & Witness Ministries is of a more just, peaceful and compassionate world that honors all of God’s creation. Leaders are needed throughout our churches and communities to help share, pursue and achieve this vision. Justice Leaders Engaging and Developing (Justice LED) is a program that offers training, leadership skills and support to local churches and UCC members who seek tangible ways to move our world towards this vision.
• Download the Justice LED Planning Guide to host a training and use Justice LED!
Going Up River: Why the Church Must Work for Systemic Change
There is a parable that describes individuals coming down a river, struggling to stay afloat. Villagers quickly responded by helping people out of the river and caring for them. But the people kept floating by and the villagers kept rescuing them. In time a few of the villagers decided to go up the river to try to end what ever it was that was causing people to fall into the river.
The church is really good at “downstream” responses. Charitable actions and direct services such as soup kitchens, clothing closets and emergency funds are vitally important – they must be done. Unfortunately, they are not enough to sustain the long-term social change we pray for and long to see. To build the realm of God we need to not only continue to offer mercy by the riverside but also go up river and work for justice.
The Justice Leaders Engaging and Developing (Justice LED) program is a faith based, biblically grounded curriculum and leadership training resource. It is designed to support local church members – laity and clergy – who wish to develop and strengthen their congregation's justice ministries. The one-day training includes Bible study and theological reflection, socio-cultural exploration and practical tools for building justice into existing ministries and mission.
If you are interested in exploring the possibility of hosting a Justice LED training or simply want more information contact our Justice LED organizer, Peter Wells.
The Staff of the Washington office work to promote just public policy. Their portfolios cover a range of domestic and international issues.
Sandy Sorensen - (Bio)
Director of the Washington Office
Rev. Michael Neuroth
Policy Advocate for International Issues
Policy Advocate for Domestic Issues
We welcome visitors to the Washington Office. Please feel free to contact us with any questions about our work.
United Church of Christ Washington Office
To email specific individuals please visit our staff page.
Sandy Sorensen currently serves as Director of the United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries, Washington, DC office. Sandy has served in a variety of capacities in her over 20 years of experience in the national setting of the United Church of the Christ, including work in communications and policy advocacy on civil rights, justice for women and media access. Sandy received a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Grinnell College and went on to earn her Master of Divinity degree from Yale University Divinity School in 1990.
Neighbors in Need (NIN) is a special mission offering of the United Church of Christ that supports ministries of justice and compassion throughout the United States. One-third of NIN funds support the Council for American Indian Ministry (CAIM). Two-thirds of this offering is used by the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) to support a variety of justice initiatives, advocacy efforts, and direct service projects through grants. Neighbors in Need grants are awarded to UCC churches and organizations doing justice work in their communities. These grants fund projects whose work ranges from direct service to community organizing and advocacy to address systemic injustice. This year, special consideration will be given to projects focusing on serving our immigrant neighbors and communities.
Most UCC congregations will receive the NIN offering on October 6, 2019 as part of their World Communion Sunday observance. However, some local churches select another date. NIN contributions can be made on-line at any time here.