Year in review: Our top stories of 2023

2023 was a year filled with historic events in the United Church of Christ and the world. And the UCC News team was there to capture it in stories along the way.

As this eventful year comes to a close, here is a snapshot of the UCC News top stories that captured the attention of our readers, together with some highlights you may have missed.  

UCC General Minister and President Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson smiles and claps as she sits with her family during her installation Oct. 20 at Lakewood Congregational Church. Photo by Angelica Martinez.

1. Karen Georgia Thompson becomes first woman to lead UCC in historic vote

This story unfolded over much of this year, from the announcement of Thompson’s recommendation by the UCC Board’s search committee as the next General Minister and President in February, to the historic vote at General Synod in July, all the way to her service of installation and celebration in October. The outgoing GMP, the Rev. John Dorhauer, was honored at Synod as he completed his GMP term in July.

UCC advocates pray on the grounds of the Indiana State Capitol during General Synod on Saturday, July 2.

2. General Synod 34 elects new leadership, changes frequency, witnesses justice

Plenty of groundbreaking news came from this year’s national gathering of the United Church of Christ, which took place in Indianapolis in July. Top stories from the five-day event include:

Photo courtesy of the Apartheid-Free campaign.

3. ‘Just peace, human dignity’: UCC joins calls for ceasefire, prayer vigil for Israel and Palestine

In May, the UCC joined a coalition of faith groups in organizing an “Apartheid-Free” pledge to build solidarity with Palestinians in North America. As hostilities and violence in Israel and Palestine escalated in October and have continued, the UCC has joined partners in calls for ceasefire and moral response, issued an appeal for humanitarian aid and action alerts, while releasing regular partner updates though Global Ministries along with its Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) colleagues.

Drag queens read to crowd in church auditorium
Billings First Congregational UCC in Montana hosts a Drag Story Hour as part of Billings Pride Fest.

4. Churches in Ohio, California attacked for sponsoring drag shows

In a year where a growing number of UCC churches experienced attacks and vandalism for their stances on LGBTQ+ inclusivity and racial justice — in Ohio and California, Washington, North Carolina, and Massachusetts, Missouri and Virginia, and Texas — churches, pastors and other leaders responded with messages that “Love Is Louder” than hate.

And, amid all that, there was great celebration of extravagant welcome. During Pride month, the UCC offered special events and resources, and UCC churches celebrated with glitter blessings and acts of justice and liberation. National leaders affirmed the value of trans youth with love letters on Trans Day of Visibility and advocated for protecting their rights amid unprecedented legal attacks.

A new “Love Is Louder” campaign this year included a webinar series inviting deep listening to the LGBTQ+ community and the release of a toolkit on communal care for trans and nonbinary siblings as part of Transgender Day of Remembrance.

5. Amid wildfires devastation, UCC makes appeal for Hawaii

UCC congregations and members across the country joined together to support those impacted by disasters. In August, Wider Church Ministries launched an appeal to respond to the tragic wildfires in Hawaii. Meanwhile, a February appeal responded to the devastation caused by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Disaster ministries offered resources and response to the toxic chemical spill caused by a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, as well as to individual congregations in places like Vermont, Illinois, Massachusetts and Indiana recovering from storm damage to their historic buildings.

Church building says Mayflower Church UCC, Just world for all, migrants and refugees welcome

6. ‘Who we want to be’: Mayflower Church in Minneapolis considers reparative work on church name

Mayflower Church in Minneapolis was one of countless UCC churches seeking to pursue justice initiatives in their communities, demonstrated in the congregation’s journey examining its “Mayflower” name and what that evokes from the United States’ history of colonialism.

Other news stories covered churches building affordable housing, drawing attention to banned books and launching climate justice initiatives like cultivating pollinator gardens and investing in renewable energy.  

7. UCC leaders call on Georgia officials to stop prosecution of Atlanta activists

UCC leaders condemned the prosecution of Atlanta organizers and activists seeking to protect the Weelaunee Forest from the project dubbed “Cop City,” and UCC advocates brought together Atlanta faith leaders to speak about why this issue matters for environmental justice.

It was also a year of climate hope, with a year-long initiative involving UCC climate fellows and over 140 churches, conferences and camps culminating in the delivery of 8,000 postcards urging environmental protections to staff of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

New College of Florida students speaking out against the Florida governor’s plans to remake their small liberal arts university.

8. UCC pastor brings lawsuit against religious charter school as ‘a matter of faith’

Efforts by UCC advocates to limit the impact of political ideology in education gained traction in the news this year. This included a lawsuit, with a UCC pastor as one of the plaintiffs, to stop the first religious charter school in Oklahoma, as well as then-GMP John Dorhauer’s presence at New College student protests in Florida, culminating in a fiery speech to the board of trustees contesting right-wing political maneuvers attempting to remake this institution with UCC roots.

Further, four UCC leaders brought a lawsuit challenging Missouri state abortion bans, accusing state officials of weaponizing their religious beliefs to deny abortion access.

Justice League gathering at Michigan Capital
Edgewood United Church UCC members participated in an apology to the African American community “for the sin of slavery and its aftermath” at the Michigan State Capitol Building. Justice League photo.

9. Michigan church releases $170,000 as faith-based reparations

Pushes for reparations due to racist systems were also strong in 2023, with UCC leaders supporting legislative efforts toward reparations and General Synod overwhelmingly passing a resolution for the study and development of reparations proposals for African Americans. Join the Movement Toward Racial Justice honored the 60th anniversary of the Birmingham Church bombing with an invitation for community-based reparations.

Reparations efforts also took root locally, such as in the Michigan church listed above and a Virginia church that, upon closing, made a reparative gift to historically Black churches.

Congregants tied red ribbon to a wire heart and offered prayer following the shooting in Monterey Park at Montebello Plymouth Congregational Church UCC.

10. UCC leaders grieve deaths in Nashville school shooting, urge gun reform now

The church responded to tragic gun violence this year in places including Nashville; Monterey Park, Calif.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Lewiston, Maine with communal prayer, mourning and renewed calls to action. A resolution passed by General Synod encouraged gun violence prevention ministries like the “Guns to Gardens” efforts undertaken by the Colorado church members who created the resolution.

Southern Conference leaders organized collaborative panels responding to gun violence in several Virginia cities, and UCC members responded to the Lewiston shooting with support for expanding access to American Sign Language interpretation for those grieving.

Stay tuned in 2024

What will 2024 bring for the United Church of Christ?

Stay tuned to UCC News and subscribe to the weekly UCC News Digest emails here to find out.

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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