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National, global leader speaks for Fig Tree's 40th Gala

The Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson

The Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson, the first woman of African descent elected as general minister and president/CEO of the United Church of Christ (UCC), and a member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Executive and Central Committees, is the featured speaker for The Fig Tree's 40th Anniversary Gala from 5 to 8 p.m., Sunday, April 28, at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John, 127 E. 12th Ave. in Spokane.

She will address the anniversary theme, "Sharing Stories: Empowering People."

Karen Georgia was elected to a four-year term by the UCC General Synod in July 2023 and installed in October 2023.

She previously served the national UCC for 14 years, two as minister for racial justice, eight as minister for ecumenical and interfaith relations and four as the associate general minister for Wider Church Ministries and co-executive for Global Ministries.

Her passion for justice and equity led her into global work with the UCC to reduce marginalization experienced by people of African descent and other communities globally.

Before joining the national staff, Karen Georgia was pastor of a 15-member new church in the Florida UCC Conference and then on the Florida Conference staff as minister for disaster response and recovery. She had previously worked 10 years in leadership positions with nonprofits.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, she immigrated to New York as a teenager and earned a bachelor's degree from Brooklyn College, followed by a master's in public administration from North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C., and a master of divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York. She also studied public policy at Duke University.

Karen Georgia earned a doctorate in ministry at Seattle University and was later awarded an honorary doctorate from Heidelberg University in Ohio.

Being a Black woman, an African descendant, Jamaican immigrant, poet and public theologian are her identities.

The United Church of Christ, a church in the united and uniting church family, was created in 1957, merging the Evangelical and Reformed Church, and the Congregational Christian Church. Those churches had roots in German Lutheranism, German and Swiss Reformed and Anabaptist traditions and from Congregationalists who were Puritans and Separatists in England and New England.

The 2023 General Synod recognized a fifth stream of the UCC roots in the Afro-Christian Convention.

The UCC is a diverse communion, including congregations of many racial and ethnic origins: African American, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islander and more.

From its diversity and commitment to being a united and uniting church, the UCC engages the ecclesial and liturgical perspectives its members bring. It is committed to becoming more intentionally multi-racial and multicultural, open and affirming to the gifts of gay and lesbian persons for membership and ordained ministry, accessible to all people, and dedicated to pursuing ecumenical relationships, and peace and justice in the church and the world, according to

Writing for The Fig Tree, Gen Heywood, pastor of Veradale UCC, interviewed Karen Georgia during the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in September 2022.

Karen Georgia told Gen she envisioned "global ministry moving us beyond the walls we create. Our mission is both local and global because those levels are connected.

"Issues at home—homelessness, racism, discrimination, women's and children's issues—have global components. They are not unique to us," she said. "Our ability to name things in concert with what is happening overseas empowers us to do a better job of connecting the dots. Recognizing that what is happening here is happening in the wider world moves us to become global advocates.

"If we are going to talk about a just world for all, we need to mean a just world for all," said Karen Georgia, who believes faith communities as global advocates can make people aware that poverty and racism are human rights violations.

Karen Georgia, who has two sons—Everette and Patrick—and three grandchildren—Giovan, Elijah and Sara—said the most difficult part of her work is not the long days and hard work but being a Black woman and having her skin color and gender trigger questions about her expertise.

What keeps her committed to her ministry is the certainty that God is bigger, she told Gen.

"The faith component allows me to get up every morning and step back into the places of trauma," Karen Georgia said. "Living is traumatic. No one cares how educated I am or that I am a wonderful person, they just see the color of my skin and it triggers the thought that this person doesn't know anything. 

"The church has work to do—the work of confessing and owning where we have gotten things wrong," she said.

A writer and poet, she has her works in books, journals and online. Her poetry book, Drums in Our Veins (2020), focuses on the injustices facing people of African descent, and the fight for racial justice around the globe.

According to a report on Karen Georgia when she was nominated to be general minister and president in March, her leadership has created opportunities for dialogue in the church and safe space for engaging varied expressions of religious multiplicity. On that theme, her doctoral dissertation looked at ways African Caribbean people continue to practice African-derived religious and spiritual expressions along with Christianity and other religions.

Highlighting the importance of spiritual diversity in the UCC, Karen Georgia said, "I see the UCC as a place that will continue to welcome those who come. As a community, we are theologically diverse. We hold the tensions of beliefs, theologies, race and gender identification. Can we make room for adding depth to our understanding of who we are as a spiritual people?

"I envision the UCC widening the welcome to the table and church," she told

Karen Georgia said the UCC ethos of welcoming creates space for people to explore their spirituality on the fringe of what many consider mainstream or mainline Christianity.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, April 2024