One of the great challenges of doing social justice work in the present age is that the pace of our information economy undermines the spiritual discipline of memory. In the 24-hour news cycle that increasingly defines our experience, today’s news effectively displaces and erases yesterday’s news, and renders us both rootless and directionless. As the great labor historian and folk singer Utah Phillips said, “the long memory is the most radical idea in this country. It is the loss of that long memory which deprives our people of that connective flow of thoughts and events that clarifies our vision, not of where we’re going, but where we want to go.”

In the conservation and transmission of that long memory, no tool is more important than the story. Our stories, told well in community, offer our experience in all its complexity in a form that invites not debate or disputation, but identification and solidarity. Hearing your story, I look in it for that which resonates with my experience—and my understanding of your need and what would meet it is deepened, calling forth my compassionate response. This is why UCM focuses on “listening people into speech,” evoking their stories and sharing them in contexts that make a difference.

UCM’s story is rooted in the modern ecumenical movement within Protestant Christianity. The modern ecumenical movement was founded on a call for Christian leaders throughout the world to work for peace and justice. This call was a new expression of a millennia-old yearning for a return to unity within the Christian Church—unity that perhaps never existed, and certainly had not existed since the 4th century of the Christian era. The most important—and potentially fruitful—locus of that unity was in our shared ethic of service and restoration. So the movement sought to continue, expand, and integrate efforts of unifying the church globally around the idea of helping all those in need, whether that need be physical, emotional, or spiritual. The movement promoted an understanding amongst the churches that, despite difference, they could join together to be an element of great change in the world, an agent of hope and peace amongst the chaos and destruction that humans seem to create.

This is where UCM comes from, and why we look the way we do. This is the history that underlies our programming and our ministry. This is why there’s a Thursday Supper and a Saturday Lunch, this is why there’s an Appalachian Ohio alternative spring break service/learning trip. And ultimately, as our understanding and identity have expanded beyond the traditional bounds of Christianity, this is why we’ve devoted ourselves to building interfaith relationships of understanding and trust—to addressing our common need to be welcomed, accepted, honored, and attended to within the communities in which we live. This is the story we continue to tell, to invite others into, and to pass on as our heritage of transforming love.

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