God is still speaking,

God is still speaking,

"God is still speaking", also known as "The Stillspeaking Initiative", is the name of the identity, branding, and advertising campaign of the United Church of Christ that was launched in 2004.

The Initiative was originally promulgated by the national office's Stillspeaking oversight team as a coordinated denomination-wide effort to raise awareness of "the UCC identity" and "UCC theology" [ [http://www.ucc.org/ucnews/dec03/dose.htm] ] and to unify the visibility and "brand recognition" for the United Church of Christ as a whole. The initiative also tried to train churches in hospitality and evangelism and paired these efforts with national and local level television and print advertising, all in an attempt to invite and welcome unchurched persons to congregations of the United Church of Christ.

Envisioned by Ron Buford, who served as the coordinator and spokesman of the initiative until mid-2006, the advertising portion of the campaign was themed around a quote by comedian Gracie Allen: "Never place a period where God has placed a comma", summed up in the refrain "God is still speaking."

According to an unnamed "administrator" at United Church News, "The campaign's "Bouncer" and "Ejector" ads became known nationally for their edgy, youthful appeal and won several prestigious advertising awards for their multicultural and gay-affirming messages. But when several broadcast networks rejected the church's inclusive 30-second ads as "advocacy" spots, the refusal triggered national news coverage for the campaign." [ [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=576&Itemid=1] ]

According to the Ohio-based www.gaypeopleschronicle.com, [ [http://www.gaypeopleschronicle.com/stories06/june/0602062.htm Everyone is a superhero at Cleveland Pride ] ] Ron Buford and the Stillspeaking Initiative "puts the UCC at the forefront of liberal theology, and the denomination itself, fighting for LGBT equality from pulpits across the nation."

Several conservative groups (which may or may not be within a Confessing Movement) within the denomination panned the ad campaign for its efforts to create a ONA/progressive perception of the UCC identity despite its actual majority in centrist/moderate viewpoints. [http://www.ucctruths.com/Archive/2004DecemberArchive.html December 2004 Archive ] ] [http://www.biblicalwitness.org/pdf/Witness%25202005%2520Winter.pdf Witness 2005 - Winter ] ] [http://www.faithfulandwelcoming.org/faw/content/show.asp?mne=faq Faithful and Welcoming - FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions ] ] [http://www.ucc.org/ucnews/apr01/identity.htm] ]

According to John Evans, associate professor of sociology at University of California, San Diego, "The UCC is clearly going after a certain niche in American society who are very liberal and have a particular religious vision that includes inclusiveness...They are becoming the religious brand that is known for this." [http://www.fortwayne.com/mld/journalgazette/16148802.htm] In March 2006, in response to the ad and associated criticism of the Institute on Religious Democracy, prominent evangelical Chuck Colson remarked: [http://www.biblicalwitness.org/coulson/mp3ss1.htm] "what's going on, why the effort to drive conservatives out of the mainline church??"... and he concludes "if they want to be taken seriously again, the could start by listening to their own new slogan, 'God doesn't reject people, neither do we' and then start by not rejecting people who happen to be Bible-believing Christians."

Identification of need for an identity campaign (1999)

In 1999, the General Synod passed a resolution, "ON NAME RECOGNITION", that urged the expenditure of national United Church of Christ public relations funds to enhance the name recognition of the United Church of Christ for the purpose of membership growth and new starts at the local church level.

The resolution complained that local UCC churches were frequently misidentified as the Church of God, Church of Christ, or unknown as a mainstream denomination; and that lack of name recognition had become an obstacle to promoting growth or new church starts.

Thus, in order to halt the decline in membership and stimulate growth and new starts, Synod decideed to adopt a policy of expending public relations monies to enhance the name and image of the United Church of Christ; "so that the American people will know who we are and be more receptive to local churches’ attempts to grow and offer their theology and services to the community." [ [http://www.ucc.org/synod/gs22.pdf Page 210 of GS 22 minutes] ]

tudies of local church beliefs and worship habits (2001- )

In 2001, Hartford Institute for Religion Research did a "Faith Communities Today (FACT)" study that included a survey of United Church of Christ beliefs. Among conclusions were that the UCC is 45% self-identifying as moderate with equal numbers of conservatives and liberals. the Study also concluded that "among Protestant denominations as a whole, "uplifting worship" was a key element of the identity of growing congregations."

Starting in 2003, a task force commisisoned by General Synod 24 studied the diverse Worship habits of UCC churches. The study can be found online [ [http://www.ucc.org/worship/witgf/ss2005.pdf] ] [ [http://www.ucc.org/worship/witgf/witgf.ppt] ] [ [http://www.ucc.org/worship/witgf/pptscript.pdf] ] and reflects statistics on attitudes towards Worship, Baptism, and Communion.

Early campaign planning 2002-2004

Ron Buford was the face of the Stillspeaking campaign. When the program was launched in 2004, congregations opting in received a DVD media kit called "Ron in a Box". According to a profile on Ron Buford in a LGBT convention publication, "Buford had been a member of the United Church of Christ for more than a decade when he came to Cleveland, Ohio, to work at the church’s national offices. Laboring “under the radar,” he saw that the denomination had an identity problem: the church's rich progressive history — its defense of the "Amistad" slave-ship rebels in the 1830s, its leadership in the abolitionist and civil rights movements, its groundbreaking decisions to ordain blacks, women and gays — was largely lost to the people in the pews and beyond. “As a church that often speaks to the head,” says Buford, “we needed something that also speaks to the heart. People needed to fall in love with their church again.” [http://www.echelonmag.com/buford.htm denim bag canvas leather shoulder at echelonmag.com ] ]

Beginning in January 2002, Ron developed the “God is still speaking” campaign in collaboration with Randy Varcho, designer with the UCC's Proclamation, Identity and Communication Ministry.

The 2003 General Synod was themed "God is Still Speaking". [ [http://www.ucc.org/synod/gs24minutes.pdf] ] Following acceptance of the budget, Preesident and General minister John Thomas was invited to give remarks which included the following: " "Our staff in Cleveland has extended its consulting services to assist conferences in capital campaigns. Under the leadership of our Financial Development Ministry team, and in collaboration with conference ministers, we have been actively nurturing relationships with potential major donors, some of whom are already beginning to support initiatives in leadership development, growing new churches, identity and justice ministries. We have embarked on an exciting identity emphasis and are now raising money to take the next bold step in moving toward a church-wide identity campaign with the help of a major national advertising firm. Last month the Stewardship and Church Finance Ministry Team convened a group of Conference Ministers along with leaders on the national staff to put in place a plan for growing Our Church’s Wider Mission support in dramatic new ways. The group is meeting again in ten days to further develop that plan, a plan that will make our identity campaign the major engine driving our generosity in the coming years. By the fall they will have a plan to present to the Boards and the Executive Council. We are committed to careful management of our resources that, right now, are limited. But we are also committed to growth, amazing growth. “And what about you? On your tables is a “God is Still Speaking” postcard with five ways to be a part of an exciting new vision of financial support for the United Church of Christ. Take it with you; decide how you will respond. Each of us must be a part of this; complaining about someone else won’t do. It's all about our love for Jesus, our amazing generosity - - yours and mine!”"

According to a stillspeaking letter on June 9, 2006, Ron Buford (Coordinator and Team Leader) thanked several key players who were involved in the stillspeaking initiative: [ [http://www.stillspeaking.com/news/rb060906.html] ] [ [http://www.stillspeaking.com/resources/news0106.pdf] ]
* Randy Varcho (graphic designer for Proclamation, Identity, and Communication in the national offices)
* Nelson Elseheimer (national Evangelism Office)
* Gotham, Inc. in New York City ad agency
* Sally Sandorf, Ron's Administrative Assistant
* Marilyn Dubasak, Program and Grant Manager;
* Mike Cormier Data and Information Assistant
* David Harsh and Sushama Austin Connor, fundraising team (Eastern Regional Manager, and Western Regional Manager respectively)
* Erin Smith and Megan Hoelle, and now in Marsha Appling-Nunez and Lynn Herbst (part time "Customer Service Representatives")
* Heather Iriye (part time Web Content Coordinator) [ [http://www.ucc.org/youngadults/heatheririye.pdf] ]
* supportive colleagues throughout the national and conference settings:Stillspeaking Task group::Chuck Barnes ::Doris Bunte ::Steve Camp ::Jennifer Craig ::Lillian Daniel ::John Deckenback -- Central Atlantic Conference Minister::Steve Gray ::Edith Guffey ::Jane Heckles ::Stewart Hoover ::Bernice Powell Jackson::M. Linda Jaramillo - Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries::Julius Jefferson ::Joe Malayang - Minister of Local Church Ministries::Russ Mitman (co-chair)::Cally Rogers-Witte ::Kenneth Samuel ::John Thomas (co-chair) President and General Minister of the UCC ::Angel Toro ::Bennie Whiten

: Stillspeaking Catalyst Group:::Ron Buford ::Bob Chase - Director of the UCC office of Communications::Bill Green ::Edith Guffey ::Don Hill ::Dave Schoen::John Thomas -- President and General Minister of the UCC::Tina Villa

In 2004, before committing to run this commercial it was test marketed in Springfield, Massachusetts; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Tampa Bay, Florida; and San Diego. According to denominational statistics, there was a 27-percent increase in new people coming to UCC churches in those cities after the commercial aired. [ [http://chuckcurrie.blogs.com/chuck_currie/2004/11/matthew_243644_.html The Rev. Chuck Currie: Matthew 24:36-44: God Is Still Speaking This Advent ] ]

Meaning of the campaign

Despite its widespread use as a rallying cry, no precise official definition of the phrase "God is still speaking" was given. Select quotes below conveys the use of the phrase by UCC leaders. David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research who has studied the United Church of Christ, said surveys show the national church's pronouncements are often more liberal than the views in the pews but that its governing structure is set up to allow such disagreements. But, "The gay issue on the national level is such a divisive … issue" the churches' "old tolerance … just doesn't seem to be working as well." [ [http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061105/NEWS01/611050403/1008/NEWS01] ]

* Brochure "A Message from Our General Minister and President Rev. John H. Thomas" "Since 1957 other phrases have helped us articulate our distinctive vocation: We are a "united and uniting" church seeking renewal through the vision of Christ's prayer "that they may all be one that the world might believe." We are a "just peace" church committed to overcoming violence and oppression. We are a "multi-racial, multi-cultural church" yearning for the day when our congregations more fully reflect the vision of Pentecost. We are an "open and affirming" church where no one's baptismal identity can be denied because of his or her sexual identity. We are an "accessible" church cherishing the gifts of all regardless of physical or mental abilities. More recently we have been thinking about what it means to call ourselves "the church of the still speaking God," a church that believes God has yet more light and truth to break forth from the Word. "

* from the "Welcome to the United Church of Christ" section of the same brochure "One of the UCC’s distinguishing characteristics is its penchant to believe that ... God is still speaking, ... even when it puts us out there alone. History has shown that, most often, we’re only alone for a while. Besides, we receive so many gifts from our ecumenical partners, being “early” seems to be one of ours." [ [http://www.psec.org/download/GISS%20WeBelieveBrochure8.5x14.pdf] ]

* From April 2004 Stillspeaking missive "The UCC’s identity emphasis, “God is still speaking,” has been welcomed by widely different congregations throughout the church. Churches across the political and theological spectrum have found that their members respond to these words with interest and growing excitement about being a part of the United Church of Christ. Most important, many of our churches are finding that it is a good vehicle in helping them reach out to today’s religious seekers." and later "The phrase, “God is still speaking,” is embraced by so many because it suggests openness and flexibility, characteristics of the UCC’s wide welcome and hospitality. That sense of our identity, rooted in history and in our commitment to Jesus Christ, stresses an attitude of respect and acceptance—an attitude that runs deeper than agreement or disagreement around any one social or political issue. It also calls members and leaders to take pride in our history, polity, and our ever-evolving call to serve each generation in new and relevant ways. The Good News of Jesus Christ is not static. God is still speaking. We are continually challenged to be open to God’s call—even when it challenges our institutional structures and ideals." [ [http://www.stillspeaking.com/resources/news0404.pdf] ]

* an ad discussion guide produced by the UCC Proclamation, Identity and Communication Ministry Revised June 2004. "Why the theme, “God is Still Speaking”? The theological context of the identity theme may have been best addressed by Dr. Wilson Yates, president of UCC-related United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (New Brighton, Minnesota.), in the most recent issue of New Conversations: ::“The formulation [God is still speaking,] , brief and succinct, is foremost a creative forging of images that gives shape to an aspect of our understanding of God … Four words: “God” and a verb, “is,” the location of action; “still,” and the action itself, “speaking,” followed by a comma. The words imply a past –– if God is still speaking, we can assume God has spoken in the past, speaks in the present, and, by implications that fl ow from both the verb and the comma, will speak in the future, for the future is indicated by the comma and is being created by the actions of the present. And the word “speaking” points to the active presence of God and to the possibility of dialogue between God and the human community … “But the statement is not simply a linguistic structure of an idea. It is a theological statement that is related to a context, the United Church of Christ … The statement’s four words and a comma call us more deeply into that theology … In the shaping of a single simple sentence with a creative ending, we are invited to play with that theology through the sentence’s words, images, verb and its clever transforming of an item of punctuation into a metaphor. And through its particular formation, it engages us in asking such questions as, “Who is the God who is still speaking?” Where will God speak?” “How do we prepare ourselves to hear God?” It is a simple, imaginative statement that, once it has entered into our thoughts, becomes a marker that leads us into our theology and our spirituality, that invites us into authentic dialogue with God. The statement’s theology, then, is not new; it’s part of the church’s tradition. What is new is the statement’s formulation of that theology in such an imaginatively simple and direct way that it is given to us with a freshness and immediacy, inviting us to explore new experiences.” [ [http://www.stillspeaking.com/resources/guide.pdf] ]
* Rev. Arlene Nehring, pastor of Eden UCC, as quoted extensively in a December 2004 "United Church News" article during the third week of the campaign, 2004.

"People are dying in our communities for a church that offers an extravagant welcome," Nehring said, "and people can't believe there really is a church like they've been hoping for."... "We had been dreaming and scheming about Eden's evangelism ministry, and we knew that - immediately - we had to be in step with the national church's campaign," Nehring said, "and we knew we needed 'big money' to be a significant part of this national effort." In addition to raising much-needed dollars, Nehring said the whole process invested members' hearts and souls in the campaign. At each house party, guests watched and discussed the commercials, and they received various "God is still speaking," trinkets, such as pens and coffee mugs. "Eighty percent of the congregation attended [one of the house parties] , and that's extremely high saturation," Nehring said. "The goal was to get as many people involved. ... Nehring is convinced the campaign is evidence of "how God really is still speaking." ... "This is really a campaign that is changing the whole culture of our denomination," she said. "It's saying that we don't have to apologize for being progressive and Christian." [ [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=150&Itemid=1] ]

* Kenneth Samuel, July 2005 at General Synod 2005 sermon entitled, "Come, Let's Reason Together". " The bible is not just about the word made flesh, the bible is also about the word speaking through flesh. “My god, my god, why hast thou forsaken me?” And at no point, throughout the whole bible, does God cut the conversation off. In fact, the message of the bible is that as long as we call on God, God will hear and answer. And the message is that as long as God is speaking, it behooves all of us to keep listening. Somebody in here tonight ought to be glad about the fact that God is still speaking. You know it’s one thing to know what God has said in the bible. It’s another thing to know what God is saying to you and me through the bible in our particular context. Colossians 3:22 says, “Slaves obey your earthly masters in everything. Not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.” But those of you who look like me aught to be glad that God was still speaking. And thank God that somebody was still listening until they received the new revelation of God of liberty and justice for all. Leviticus 19:19 gives us a list of strict prohibitions against the mixing of seeds and fabrics. But for all of us here tonight who have made friends with those twins, Polly and Ester, you ought to be glad that God was still speaking. Leviticus 20:10 says that if a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. But somebody in here tonight aught to be glad that God was still speaking, because if adultery still warranted death, a whole lot of us wouldn’t live to see tomorrow. Leviticus 11: 7 and 8 tells us that swine is unclean. It’s really, according to Leviticus, an abomination, and forbids us from eating it or even touching it. But on this Fourth of July weekend I know somebody aught to be glad that God is still speaking. All of us who love bacon, fatback ham, barbecue ribs, pork chops and football ought to be glad that God is still speaking. And thank God that somebody was still listening until they got the revelation God gave Peter that God made everything and what God has made clean let no one call unclean. First Corinthians 14: 34 and 35 says, “Let your women keep silence in churches for it is not permitted unto them to speak. But they are commanded to be under obedience as also sayeth the law.” By the way, that’s the New Testament. The bible goes on to say that if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a shame for women to speak in the church. But all my sisters in here tonight ought to be glad that God is still speaking. Especially all of my single sisters, because without a husband you might never get your questions answered. Leviticus 20:13 says if a man lyeth also with mankind as he lyeth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. But somebody in here tonight ought to be glad that God is still speaking. Somebody ought to be glad that somebody is still listening to the still speaking God. Somebody ought to be glad that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ supersedes the law of Leviticus and the limited understanding of the apostle Paul. Somebody ought to be glad about it. "' "Michael Eric Dyson, noted author and theologian, says that when we close the bible we do not close God’s mouth and we do not close God’s mind. God is still speaking. Thank God that the United Church of Christ is still listening. And the God who still speaks is also the God who still listens. I hear God still speaking, saying “Come, let’s reason together. Talk to me. I know you feel sometimes that your work is in vain,” says the Lord, “but talk to me. I know you get discouraged and I know you feel like giving up, giving in, giving out, but” God says, “talk to me. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Though they be red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” God says, “Talk to me. Come ye, disconsolate, where e’er ye languish, come to the mercy seat. Fervently yield. Here bring your wounded heart. Here, tell your anguish. Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal. God says, “Talk to me.” It’s amazing what a little honest, open, candid conversation can do. It’s amazing what can happen, when we stop talking about one another, and start talking to one another. It’s amazing." " [ [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=276&Itemid=56] ]

* Reflections on the 2006 ad by Ron Buford. " We introduced the phrase “God is still speaking,” as 21st century shorthand for John Robinson’s famous words in his farewell sermon to the Pilgrims as they set sail from Holland: “God hath yet more light and truth to break forth from God’s Holy Word.”Connecting with John Robinson’s hopeful phrase reminds us to take the Bible seriously, even though we may not take it literally. Today, Robinson’s words call us to question, explore, and make faith our own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God. It’s ironic that religion has so often clung to the past despite our faith in a God who made everything, who knows everything. Praying and other engagement with the living God of mystery and creation should open our hearts and minds to the future, to the work of God in our midst, to the not yet known.Religion has not always clung to the past. Even in the fourth century, Augustine wrote that when there appears to be a conflict between demonstrated knowledge and a literal reading of the Bible, scripture should be interpreted metaphorically. Further, Augustine held that humans were endowed with “seed principles” from which they could develop the forms conceived for them in the mind of God Medical advances continually change our expectations. Think of the progress made curing or treating somecancers, AIDS, depression, and so much more. Given these rapid advances, who wants to go to a doctor who has not been to a conference or opened a professional text or journal since medical school to develop new understanding? We have grown beyond accepting changes in medicine. We expect them. Why don’t we take the same open and inquiring approach to God? Our knowledge of a mysterious God is a barely explored infinite and inexhaustible frontier.Like the calls to freedom heard by our Pilgrim, African, German and other European forebears, a mysterious God still calls to open and listening souls whispering, “Explore.” And yes, new worlds will always appear, not only in science and technology, but in justice, and peace, and relationships with God and all creation. Our prayer for you as you work with these theological reflections is that more light and truth will break forth for you and me from God’s Holy Word in the world around us. May the illumination of the Holy Spirit advance our understanding of both the profane and the holy. Amen. [ [http://www.stillspeaking.com/resources/adreflection.pdf] ]

* According to Faithful and Welcoming, one of two main UCC renewal groups,: “God is Still Speaking” is built on a theological foundation that reverses the Wesleyan quadrilateral of authority for Christians. Christians have historically recognized the authority of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, in that order. All Christians recognize that God still speaks, but the concept of “Still Speaking” prioritizes the subjective (experience and reason) over the objective (tradition and Scripture). The controversial media campaign, including commercials rejected by the major networks for their advocacy, use powerful visual and dramatic symbols to equate sexual identity and practice with gender and race. This perspective on human sexuality has been affirmed by General Synods in “non-binding” resolutions summarized by the “Open and Affirming” movement. Only ten percent of UCC churches have officially adopted the ONA perspective, but the entire denomination is being marketed as ONA through the Still Speaking campaign.

* According to a 2005 Biblical Witness Fellowship (the other main renewal group) statement:

: "The following statement was released to the press as the UCC ad saw more air time on the evening news shows than on its paid time slots. The United Church of Christ has just released a controversial commercial featuring two muscle-bound bouncers turning people away at the entrance of a traditional church. It is the centerpiece of its “God is Still Speaking” identity campaign. According to CNN the commercial has been rejected by ABC, CBS, and NBC.”": : "In reaction, Biblical Witness Fellowship Executive Director, Rev. David Runnion- Bareford has released the following statement: “The rejection of the UCC Ad would indicate that God is certainly still speaking and the message is clear. The commercial has been rejected because it sends an arrogant and negative message that the UCC stands apart from the rest of the Christian church who are portrayed as rejecting people based on how they look.": : "“The ad directly conflicts with the UCC's founding identity statement ‘That They All May Be One' by which the denomination sought unity with all other Christians in the common cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Obviously this campaign exposes nothing other than the fact that the UCC is in the midst of an identity crisis. “In reality most transformational churches are far more welcoming of all regardless of race, sexual experience, or social status than the affirmational churches who pride themselves on being ‘inclusive.’ The invitation to be transformed by the saving power of the atonement of Jesus Christ is far more compelling than a superficial affirmation of one’s lost condition. “Meanwhile the campaign is misleading. The UCC is currently defending itself from formal charges of racism by associations of its African American congregations who the UCC has disregarded in forcing its radical sexual agenda. The denomination is also under strong accusation by mainstream evangelical members who are routinely rejected for ordination, licensure, and leadership if they fail the litmus test of endorsing sexual license as normative. In fact the UCC, far from striving for inclusion, is moving toward an ever narrowing separatism from the Christian mainstream. “The identity of the United Church of Christ is the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only in Him that we are united in life and mission. No campaign, only repentance and renewal will restore the United Church of Christ."

* Blogger UCC truths has said in a 2004 post: : "The primary reason for the new advertising campaign was to create an identity for the United Church of Christ. Unfortunately, the identification made in the ad doesn't really reflect the UCC, it only reflects what the national office wants the denomination to look like. Unlike most other denominations, local UCC churches are autonomous and are not bound bureaucratically or theologically to the national office. In this sense, the national office really only represents itself and not the denomination as a whole. In this context, the ad campaign only compounds the UCC identity problem. : Just a couple of months ago, the UC News story, "Who are you calling liberal?" demonstrated that the denomination is extremely moderate. But from a quick scan of newspaper articles about the ad controversy, you would think the UCC was a liberal denomination. Some examples: "Today, the church, which has about 1.4 million members, is considered among the most liberal of Christian denominations..." -"Miami Herald" "Now, the relatively little known United Church of Christ, with its proud history of inclusion and liberal identification..." -"Baltimore Sun" "The ad, which can be seen at www.stillspeaking.com, portrays the UCC, a liberal Protestant denomination..." "Pasadena Star-News" : The advertisement has not helped the identity problem. Contrary to the impression left by the ad, 14% of UCC churches actually designate themselves as "Open and Affirming" and only a third opted to participate in the national identity campaign."

Hospitality and evangelism training

Welcoming materials were available at several UCC websites. Additionally, congregations opting in received a DVD media kit called "Ron in a Box" (after Ron Buford, the campaign coordinator). Congregations opting in received a monthly "stillspeaking newsletter" from Ron to keep them updated on the latest developments. They were offered various merchandise such as stationary, pens, shirts, and buttons, as well as training matierials at the "stillspeaking store" [ [http://www.uccapps.com/StillspeakingStore/Category.asp?Cat=RonInABox ucc kingston college regent focal at uccapps.com ] ] to augment their branding and welcoming. A National Evangelsim Event (NEE) was held in August 2004 [ [http://www.ucc.org/evangelism/nee/] ] with workshops incorporating instruction on GISS themes. [ [http://www.ucc.org/evangelism/nee/workshops.htm] ]

National staff statistically improbable phrases such as "extravagant welcome", "radical hospitality", and "evangelical courage" to convey the kind of hospitality being described.


Campaign materials, including print and broadcast advertising as well as merchandise, featured the quote and a large "comma," with a visual theme in red and black. United Church of Christ congregations were asked to "opt in" to the campaign, signifying their support as well as their willingness to receive training on hospitality and evangelism.

First ad – December 2004 – Bouncer

The first television advertisement in the campaign, [http://www.stillspeaking.com/resources/ "Bouncers" advertisement] , showed bouncers allowing a white, well-dressed family comprising a different-gender couple and two children into a church building while rejecting a number of other people, including an African American female, a Latino male, two men holding hands, and a person using a wheelchair. The text displayed on the screen says "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." In the initial December 2004 run, the NBC and CBS television networks refused to air an advertisement by the UCC, deeming it too controversial. According to "Broadcasting & Cable" magazine, "The controversy, said NBC, stemmed from the ad's suggestion that 'other religions are not open to all people.'" [ [http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA486541.html?display=Breaking+News&referral=SUPP UCC Challenges Miami Licenses - 12/9/2004 10:33:00 AM - Broadcasting & Cable ] ]

The winter 2005 issue of "The Witness," a periodical written by the conservative organization the Biblical Witness Fellowship (a group for the renewal of the united church of christ), as part of the BWF's efforts to foster a more old-fashioned evangelical revival among UCC congregations published the following editorial, "Some controversy continues about the controversy itself. Some reports indicate that NBC and CBS notified the UCC about its decision not to run the “bouncer” ads several months before the campaign launch date, while approving a second “little girl” ad which UCC officials chose not to use until three weeks into the month. All the press releases about this controversy have come from the UCC to coordinate with the release of the Ad. NBC and CBS have not commented, leading some to speculate that the creation of the controversy was an intentional effort to draw attention to the campaign. It is ironic that the one major network to accept the Ad is FOX that is generally considered to be less liberal than the three other networks." [ [http://www.biblicalwitness.org/pdf/Witness%25202005%2520Winter.pdf page 1 and 7)] ]

Second ad – December 2004 – Steeple

A second commercial, known as the "Steeple" advertisement, ran for a brief time during the week before Christmas 2004. In it, a diverse collection of individuals are shown performing the children's rhyme "Here's the church, here's the steeple, open the doors, and see all the people" (including hand motions), with each new camera shot featuring a repeat of the refrain "all" the people". The commercial ended with the unifying line "The United Church of Christ: No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here." This commercial proved more 'popular' with people already attending United Church of Christ congregations--often people cited that the commercial was "nicer"--but did not as effectively tap into the hurt and pain around alienation and rejection felt by unchurched persons that the denomination's researchers and focus groups identified as key to advertising success.

Fundraising for third (December 2005) ad (Katrina relief and fundraising concerns hamper ad buy)

Soon after the controversial July 2005 General Synod resolutions were passed, Ron Buford, coordinator of the UCC's Stillspeaking Initiative, made a plug for rising three million dollars and promised the new ad would be just as provocative as the "bouncer" ad that made national headlines the previous December. "It is going to be edgy again and it will create a buzz", Buford said. "There will be a buzz everywhere about it". Buford, however, refused at this point to discuss the ad concept in detail. "Tell people I'm being tightlipped about it", he said with a coy smile. [ [http://www.ucc.org/ucnews/sep05/advent.htm] ] Throughout the summer and early fall, Buford continued to cross the country promoting fundraising efforts for the GISS campaign. As of Monday, October 3, it was reported that Buford had raised nearly $700,000 toward his goal of 1.5 million. [ [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=341&Itemid=54] ] He remained confident he could raise the rest of the money by November so that he could receive another matching 1.5 million dollars from the UCC national office. [ [http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=222 The Bay Area Reporter Online | Networks reject second UCC ad ] ]

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in late summer, the UCC challenged UCC congregations to raise one million dollars for their "Hope Shall Bloom" hurricane relief campaign [ [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=312&Itemid=54] ] , which was raised to three million dollars [ [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=318&Itemid=54] ] five days later when the enormity of the crisis was realized. At the same time that local congregations donated money to this cause, many of them also were responding negatively to various fundraising efforts by the denomination. [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=356&Itemid=56] ] . At an October 14 meeting of the Executive Council, President John Thomas speculated that "Marriage equality, anticipated high heating fuel bills, special giving to tsunami or Katrina relief, anxiety over insurance premiums—all these are part of the picture.". An October 14 press release from the UCC indicated that only $400,000 had been raised, and because of a lack of ability to raise funds, the UCC's 80-member Executive Council had approved a Lent ad buy but not an Advent one. "While not negating the December ad buy outright, the Council's references to a March 2006 run basically conceded that the Advent launch of the denomination's new commercial, now in production, was unlikely. As one member put it, 'We'd need a rich uncle to give us $1 million' before the end of October, the window of time necessary to purchase the air time." [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=359&Itemid=54] ] Despite that desired $1,000,000 contribution from the UCC's Local Church Ministries board a week later, [ [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=366&Itemid=54] ] the fundraising efforts fell short, and the difficult decision was made to postpone the ad buy until Lent. [ [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=372&Itemid=54] ]

Third ad – December 2005 (moved to March/April 2005) -- Ejector

Although the United Church of Christ intended to run their new television commercial during the December 2005 period, funding problems (lack of giving by congregations and the complexities of borrowing money from other UCC ministries) made financing goals unreachable. Because of a lack of funds, the UCC's 80-member Executive Council met Nov 2 to approve a Lent (March-April 2006) ad buy rather than an Advent (December 2005) one.

During Lent 2006, the UCC launched several sites prior to the release of the commercial, including [http://i.ucc.org/ i.ucc.org] , [http://www.uccvitality.org/index.php www.uccvitality.org] , [http://rejectionhurts.com rejectionhurts.com] , [http://accessibleairwaves.org accessibleairwaves.org] . Also, at Buford's request, the commercial was previewed by an estimated 800 people March 17-19 at the UCC’s New England Women’s Gathering. In January 2006, "Sojourners Magazine" published inverview of Buford describing the commercial. [ [http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj0601&article=060142d Extravagant Welcome, Sojourners Magazine/January 2006 ] ] This "Sojourners"' information was subsequently published on several forums and blogs, (namely, [http://forums.ucc.org/viewtopic.php?t=1249&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=45&sid=28082f980adb71e7f5bd698c2616012c ucc forums] [http://philosophyovercoffee.blogspot.com/2006/03/description-of-new-ucc-commercial.html philisophy over coffee] , [http://ucctruths.com/Archive/2006MarchArchive.html ucctruths] ). In reaction, the United Church news stated that "details of UCC's new TV ad [had] emerge [d] earlier than planned" and therefore issued a complete description of the ad a full week before its planned press conference. [ [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=493&Itemid=54] ]

In the new commercial, known as the "Ejector Seat" commercial, church pews "eject" people in a fashion similar to aircraft ejector seats; among the persons "ejected" from the church are an African American mother holding a crying infant, two men holding hands, an Arab-American man, and a person with a walker. The commercial again concluded with the line "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we", and cut to a scene of a diverse church gathering and a voice-over stating "The United Church of Christ: No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here."

TSI announces funding cuts April 2006

Examining the denomination's long-term financial needs, the United Church of Christ Executive Council announced at its April 2006 meeting that the Still Speaking Initiative could no longer be sustained as a separate program at its current funding levels, and that instead the denomination would integrate the campaign into the overall program of the national setting. [ [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=543&Itemid=1] ] On June 7, 2006, the United Church News announced that Ron Buford would be stepping down from his position as Coordinator and Team Leader of the Stillspeaking Initiative effective June 30 and would work as a consultant for six months. [ [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=576&Itemid=54] ]

Blog-based ad buy December 2006

On November 17, 2006, The UCC announced that they would be investing $50,000 in a blog-based ad buy [ [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=730&Itemid=1] ] According to UC News, "UCC ads will be placed on various internet sites and blogs, with the hope of reaching general audiences in addition to targeted groups, such as youth, young families with children, gays and lesbians, social justice advocates, and the Spanish-speaking community." [ [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=730&Itemid=54] ] Additionally, they announced the same day (via United Church News) that they would offer $32,400 in "grants" to augment the ad buys of churches in 26 cities who had submitted creative plans to use $2000. [ [http://news.ucc.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=729&Itemid=1] ] The results of this phase of the campaign have yet to be reported.


External links

* [http://Stillspeaking.com Stillspeaking.com]
* [http://i.ucc.org/ i.ucc.org] ,
* [http://www.uccvitality.org/index.php www.uccvitality.org] ,
* [http://accessibleairwaves.org accessibleairwaves.org] .
* [http://faithfulandwelcoming.org/content/show.asp?mne=2006%2Dgathering%2Dcomma Analysis by Faithful & Welcoming Churches]

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