Fig Tree Logo

Ecumenical leader values Fig Tree linking local, national and global

Karen Georgia Thompson also spoke at Pacific Northwest UCC.


As a storyteller, poet, church and ecumenical leader, Karen Georgia Thompson, general minister and president/CEO of the United Church of Christ connects with The Fig Tree as it writes stories that reinforce her work as a national and global leader.

"Stories make community and help us understand each other," she said, speaking at The Fig Tree's 40th anniversary Gala on April 28. "In encounters, we do not remember the details, facts or data, but remember the stories because they humanize us.

"Even though I live in Cleveland, I have known about The Fig Tree and Mary Stamp," said Karen Georgia, wondering if the founders knew that fig trees are steeped in ancient meaning and symbolize wisdom, success and abundance.

"The founders dared to dream of this fig tree, which is a blessing and continues to flourish," she said. "May wisdom and success continue to be present as The Fig Tree continues to provide an ecumenical and interfaith space to support the ministries of many in this area and around the world."

In 2009, Karen Georgia joined the staff of the United Church of Christ national ministries in Cleveland, moving from sunny Miami to the snowy, cold shores of Lake Erie. Two years later, she was called into ecumenical and interfaith relations. In that role, she became acquainted with Mary and with The Fig Tree, which regularly arrived at her office.

"I had no idea how or why it came, but I would read it through and find nuggets of information," she said. "It helped me understand how the work I was doing as ecumenical officer was being amplified in the pews and in the world."

As ecumenical officer, her role was to connect to other faith communities—denominations, church councils, world communions and interfaith partners.

"My work was on the national level and through Fig Tree articles, I had a glimpse into what was happening in Spokane. I realized our work in the national settings was making sense in a local community," Karen Georgia said. "I am grateful for that glimpse."

Thirteen years later, The Fig Tree still comes to that office. Someone else is there, but she discovered she can read it online, so she stays connected to how the Inland Northwest "is living and creating the beloved community the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed about."

Karen Georgia shared more about fig trees.

"Some believe the large roots of the fig tree represent the past. Its trunk represents the present, and its branches represent the future," she said. "Forty years is a long time and is to be applauded as we look at the history of The Fig Tree captured in an article on the website.

"I was pleased to see that the World Council of Churches (WCC) wrote a wonderful article about The Fig Tree, too. The WCC is in Geneva, so we are talking about global," she added.

From serving on the WCC's Central Committee and Executive Committee, she sees that The Fig Tree amplifies and connects people to that global body.

"Our work ecumenically is only alive and well in the ways it happens in local communities," she said.

Karen Georgia shared one of her poems, "painting pictures" to give insights on words and stories. Here is an excerpt:

"Let them fly these words that cannot die, adrift across time and space.

"Let fly these words, a gift of beauty to share.

"Let them go painting pictures on their way."

Karen Georgia believes both written and spoken words have power and "the stories we tell create something as they go out. When I talk about stories, I am talking about the truth we tell rather than the fiction we create or the exaggerated tales we spread as gossip that damages.

"Stories connect us and move us closer together, offering us the opportunity to hear and learn from each other differently," she said.

As the UCC ecumenical and interfaith relations minister from 2011 to 2019, there were stories of being present for historic moments and being part of creating something new that would spark later in a local community.

Karen Georgia experiences that community is more than local.

"We are part of a global community and contribute to the experiences of others in the world," she said.

In 2013, she organized the UCC delegation to the 10th Assembly of the WCC in Busan, South Korea. From Oct. 20 to Nov. 8, 25 from the UCC around the U.S. participated in meetings, worship and plenaries with 4,000 others.

"There I met Mary. We had traded emails ahead of the meeting," she said. "We met for dinner twice and shared as we learned in the broader community. I still have relationships forged at Busan.

"I appreciate seeing Fig Tree staff in these global ecumenical spaces. Gen Heywood, pastor of Veradale UCC, was in Karlsruhe, Germany, to cover the 11th Assembly for The Fig Tree," Karen Georgia said.

"Connecting the local to the global is important because often our 24-hour news cycle does not afford us the opportunity to make meaning of the ways in which we are connected. The spaces we create for healing from and sharing with each other are important," she said, noting that technology has changed communication with voicemail, email, Zoom and messages connecting people, along with the old-fashioned way of meeting in person.

Some days she laments the distance that comes with technology. Advances can move people further away from connecting in meaningful ways.

"We leave voice messages, text to set a time to talk and manage voyeuristic living through multiple social media platforms, scratching at the surface of knowing each other and creating relationships for our lives," she added.

"In so doing, we have lost some of the connections needed for creating a better world," she said, returning to the power of story to paint pictures with words. "When we tell a story, we hope for safety. We hope to be heard. We hope the story will be received and affirmed."

Karen Georgia pointed out that the power of a story and the empowerment that comes is for both the storyteller and the listener.

"Where do we tell our stories as the faith community? Who do we tell? What do we say? How does the story make meaning in our need to be present to challenge injustice as advocates, allies and activists?" she asked.

"Our ability to stand against injustice as people of faith is supported by stories," she said. "Movements for justice in this country and globally are captured in stories of coalitions built, relationships forged and communities transcending differences to ensure that all are treated with respect and are able to live lives with full human dignity."

UCC archives are full of stories about the civil rights movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, the women's movement, the poor people's campaign, the March on Washington and more.

"In these stories, we hear ways people came together to make a difference—stories of communities of faith answering the call to love faithfully," Karen Georgia said. "In such moments, the hope for a world to come is made manifest. One of the most powerful places for stories is in places we experience as different. If we share our deepest learnings when we sit with others and listen to stories others share about their life experiences, we learn and we are transformed.

"We give safety and learn when we are nonjudgmental in the presence of a story and allow ourselves to be in the moment, listening to make meaning of what we hear," she said.

"Stories drive a point home in personal, engaging ways. Stories bring far-away places to our front doors and allow us to ask questions to dig deeper. Listening to the raw truth of people's experiences in the U.S. and around the world through stories has given me the gift of being more prepared to be a stronger advocate and activist for change," she added.

Karen Georgia said she gained insights from hearing stories of comfort women in Japan, hearing how climate change is eroding shores and salinating soil in Bangladesh, and learning of Nigerian families torn apart by religious violence.

"What stories are we willing to tell to bring the change we want to see?" she asked.

"Our relationships require mutuality in sharing and hearing stories. We have to create space to create community," she said, closing with her poem, "beautiful gift."

"The gift is love," she said. "What we don't have is time and so in every moment that happens that is given to us, we have the power of our words. We have the power of engagement, and we have the power to create and share stories that make a difference, empower our lives and also have the power to change the world."

For information, visit or

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June 2024