The Top 10 United Church News stories in 2015
A new general minister and president to guide and shape the future of the church, and the selection of a strong voice for civil rights to lead the denomination’s justice work. Issues of racism and hate speech, and grief following a mass shooting in Charleston, S.C. The recognition of one of our own as ‘New Yorker of the Year.’
Those are just a few topics addressed in the top news stories published by United Church News in 2015, and there are other heartwarming narratives that were among the most read articles on the UCC website.
For our purposes, we define a ‘top story of the year’ on this list as those with the largest number of unique readers, according to UCC website analytics. So, counting down from 10, here are the UCNews stories that garnered the most interest in 2015:
In his first remarks to the UCC Board after his election at General Synod 2015, UCC General Minister and President the Rev. John Dorhauer introduced five initiatives he planned to undertake as 90-day goals.
“What we are called to do matters, and lives will be transformed because of it. In preparation for my nomination and election, I began to think about, if elected, what steps I would take to architect our future,” Dorhauer said. “Now, these are bold initiatives, and we are not going to complete them all in 90 days, but we can partner together and have a foundation in place within 90 days.”
Those five initiatives include strategies to build closer ties between local churches and the national setting, broadening the UCC’s missional base with ecumenical and interfaith partners, and refreshing the denomination’s identity.
The Rev. John Dorhauer was elected as the denomination’s general minister and president during General Synod 30 in Cleveland in June with 89 percent of the vote by delegates.
At the conclusion of General Synod, outgoing General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey Black presented his successor, the newly elected Rev. John Dorhauer, with a stole, a symbol of the new leadership role Dorhauer was stepping into, reflecting his calling to do new things.
The denomination’s next president said he hoped the people of the UCC use the power of the church, as a progressive faith community, to speak for those who have no voice. “I want you to prepare to fail,” he said. “I want you to give yourself permission to take risks and then be there to receive the risk-takers with grace when they fail, and to learn from those failures and pass on what we learn to others.”
Old South Union Church counts 650 in ministry with 500 active members — and while that is an impressive membership for any church, those numbers don’t describe the makeup of the entire congregation, but rather the size of its youth group.
The Rev. Jennie Barrett Siegal, the church’s senior pastor, explains that it took 30 years to grow a small youth group into the large organization that today draws hundreds of teens from the local and neighboring communities.
“The whole church has to be behind a youth ministry of this size — or of any size — in order for it to succeed,” said Barrett Siegal. “Through the respect we show for teens and the safe space we create for them here at Old South Union Church, we can communicate God’s love without saying a word.”
“Please keep my family, Mother Emanuel congregation and all those impacted by this rampant culture of violence in the center of your prayer,” wrote the Rev. Waltrina Middleton, associate for National Youth Event Programming with the UCC national offices, after losing her cousin to gun violence.
Middleton wrote the reflection the day after a gunman entered a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., and opened fire on the 12 people gathered inside, killing nine of them. Middleton’s cousin, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, was one of the victims. [T]he unspeakable grief of this loss has knocked me and my family off-kilter,” she continued.
The leadership of the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) were moved to condemn the growing number of comments that denigrate the Muslim community. In a December statement, officers of both churches offered support and solidarity to communities of faith standing against xenophobic and racist remarks that motivate hate speech and actions.
“In this moment, we own our Christian responsibility to lift up our voice once again to express our love and concern for our Muslim sisters and brothers,” the leaders of the two churches wrote. “We stand in solidarity with communities of faith in our abhorrence of the xenophobic and racist attitudes that motivate such hate speech and actions.”
Community Church of Mountain Lakes, in New Jersey, was left searching for answers after someone threw red paint on its “Be the Church” banner that includes several messages — from “Protect the environment,” to “Care for the poor,” “Reject racism” and “Embrace diversity.” But pastor the Rev. Debra L. Duke and the church council decided to leave the defaced banner up. “We hope that this might spark conversation about inclusivity and rigidity in our society,” she said.
The banner was left to hang outside the sanctuary in a visible location during a church open house so that the community could see it. “The Church Council thought this an important step in not cowering or hiding the act,” Duke said. “We want our community to see the red paint and to think about how we might better live together.”
The Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ The King UCC, in Florissant, Mo., was appointed as the executive minister of Justice and Witness ministries in October by an enthusiastic and unanimous vote of the United Church of Christ Board of Directors.
“I am extremely excited, a little overwhelmed, and honored by this new opportunity for ministry,” Blackmon said, adding that she believes the denomination is “uniquely positioned to reimagine the welcoming table of Christ in ways that create space for all voices to be heard.”
Blackmon begins her work with the UCC national offices in January.
Brooklyn minister the Rev. Ann Kansfield was named The New York Times 2015 “New Yorker of the Year” after readers overwhelmingly chose her for the inaugural award on Dec. 23, her 40th birthday.
Kansfield was nominated for the honor for her role as the New York Fire Department’s first openly-gay and first female chaplain. “I’m so honored to serve the wonderful people of New York, and to represent all of the clergy who work hard to partner with God in ‘seeking the shalom’ of our cities,” Kansfield said.
Chicago Theological Seminary posted a social media message on racism on social media on Aug. 18, only to have it taken down for “violating Facebook Community Standards”.
The post of a graphic, which read, “If you don’t think racism exists, you’re white,” reached more than 200,000 people in the two weeks it was seen on Facebook. Over 16,000 people engaged with it through likes, comments, or shares. CTS President the Rev. Alice Hunt said that people of faith must love enough to get angry at great injustice and call it out.
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