United Church Of Christ Nominates First Out-Gay Pastor to Top Denominational Post

Jan. 18, 2011

The United Church of Christ has nominated its first out-gay candidate to serve the 1.1-million-member denomination as one of its top elected national officers.

The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, 44, was selected by a search committee to serve as a member of the UCC’s five-person Collegium of Officers and to head Local Church Ministries, one of the church’s four national bodies. Guess’ selection must be affirmed by a board of directors in April, before his name is put forward for election by 1,000 delegates attending the UCC’s biennial General Synod, July 1-5, in Tampa, Fla.
Guess, who presently directs the UCC’s publishing, identity and communication ministry, has been a member of the denomination’s national staff for more than a decade and has been active in LGBT activism throughout his ministry.  As the UCC's lead communicator, he has been an active member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

In 1993, while a pastor in Henderson, Ky., a city of 27,000 near Evansville, Ind., Guess helped co-found the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, the state’s LGBT advocacy organization which he co-chaired for five years. In 1996, Guess’ congregation formed Matthew 25 AIDS Services, a comprehensive federally-funded HIV/AIDS clinic that continues to serve clients throughout southern Indiana and western Kentucky.

In 1999, Guess successfully led a grassroots campaign to add sexual orientation to the city of Henderson’s non-discrimination policy, a measure adopted then repealed by the city’s commissioners just three years later.

“While at Zion UCC in Henderson, Ky., he led the congregation through a period of significant growth and courageous prophetic witness,” wrote Carol Williams-Swoope, chair of the 12-member national search committee. “Ben offers visionary, creative and collaborative-styled leadership during a time of sweeping change for every setting of our church, especially our local congregations.”

Guess is a graduate of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism, Vanderbilt University Divinity School and the Chicago Theological Seminary.

While Guess would be the first out-gay person to lead the liberal denomination, the UCC, with 5,300 churches nationwide and the largest Protestant church in New England, is well known for its support of gay rights. The church was the first to ordain an openly gay pastor in 1972 and the first to affirm same-gender marriage equality in 2005.


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