Featured Keynote Speakers


posted Aug 17, 2017, 5:01 PM by UCC Women   [ updated Nov 3, 2019, 6:06 PM ]


Leslie Adelson Lewin has been a part of the program team at Seeds of Peace for 18 years, never missing a summer at the Seeds of Peace Camp on Pleasant Lake in Maine. Following two summers as a counselor, she began full-time work for Seeds of Peace, preparing the Camp program and orchestrating all logistics and programming, a role which eventually led to her becoming Camp Director.​
Prior to becoming Executive Director, Leslie served for three years as the director of the Seeds of Peace Camp. In that role, she recruited, hired, and supervised a team of over one hundred people, worked with participating governments to oversee selection of Seeds, and served on the executive management team to direct organizational priorities, including program management and strategic planning. 

Leslie is a Term Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is involved in Womensphere and is a board member at the Country Roads Foundation. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and received a master’s degree in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management & Policy from New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service. She is one of the youngest leaders profiled in the book “How Great Women Lead,” joining US diplomats Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and Susan Rice and 17 other women.

Rev. Renee Rouse

posted Aug 17, 2017, 5:00 PM by UCC Women   [ updated Sep 17, 2020, 6:00 PM ]

Her first service in Warner was Easter Sunday 2016. Shortly before the service began, a few members of the congregation approached their new minister to tell her there was a deaf man included in their church.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Rouse said. “We can’t just let them sit there. . . . So I started doing some homework.”

So began an initiative at the church in Warner, something Rouse calls “extravagant hospitality” where the focus is “loving people based on their need.”

It started with Rouse slowing down her speech during sermons and prayer. She stands near the deaf congregants – there’s six now – so they can focus on her lips. A projection screen hangs in the corner of the hall, to the right of the organ, where hymnal lyrics appear as members rise to sing. Pictures illustrate the sermon.

About a year has passed since Rouse joined the church and pushed for a more inclusive congregation. Over those months, more deaf congregants have come through the doors and return each Sunday.

“It’s been a huge change,” O’Neill said. “Before, (the church) knew nothing about working with the deaf. . . . Renee gives a lot more attention, and people are motivated. I’d like to have more, and we are starting to grow. That’s a good thing.”

Earlier this month, Annie Goff, Daniel Martin and David Binett – three of the church’s deaf members – stood before the congregation to read John 21:1-19 about the miraculous catch of fish and the restoration of Peter by Jesus. Each took a turn reading a third of the passage, signing the words to the church as Cotton, the interpreter, recited the words through a microphone.

Rouse implored the congregation to “listen with your eyes and ears” instead of reading along.

Goff went first, combining the signs she motioned with her hands with the expressions on her face and body movements illustrated how the men pulled their ponderous catch up and into the boat. Martin and Binett followed, finishing the passage and returning to their pews as the congregation applauded by waving their hands in the air.

“That took a lot of courage,” one member told Rouse later in the service.

Rouse closed that Sunday’s service by telling the story of her first Easter with the church. In August, 11 new members were baptized, including three who are deaf.

“When people look back, what will they be saying?” she asked. “Extravagant hospitality. You have to get outside your bathtub of comfort.”

After services, members typically gather downstairs for coffee and to learn a new sign taught by one of the deaf parishioners. One of the recent signs was for “thine is the glory.” The room filled with laughs as the congregants tried to make the sign, where “glory” is shown with the left hand held waist-high, while the right hand flutters up and away from it.

Rouse said there is no other church for the deaf in the state, and she hopes this church will continue to grow.

“This is a place they know they can come to,” she said. “We are moving forward.”

Rev. Traci Blackmon

posted Aug 17, 2017, 4:58 PM by UCC Women

A prominent community leader, a gifted preacher and a much-loved pastor and teacher has been appointed as the acting executive of UCC Justice and Witness Ministries. 

The Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ The King UCC, in Florissant, Mo., called by the United Church of Christ General Minister and President and the UCC Board chair and vice-chair, and appointed to the position by an enthusiastic and unanimous vote of the Board of Directors, looks forward to beginning her work with the national offices.

"I am extremely excited, a little overwhelmed, and honored by this new opportunity for ministry," said Blackmon. "I have chosen to accept the challenge of Acting Executive Minister of Justice and Witness at this time because I believe the United Church of Christ is uniquely positioned to reimagine the welcoming table of Christ in ways that create space for all voices to be heard."

"Traci is a game changer. If we are talking about our promise to live out bold public witness, this woman lives that out to a level of which we can all be proud," said the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president. This is a woman who can make a difference."

UCC Board member the Rev. Dwayne Royster believes Blackmon is an excellent choice.

"We need not somebody who talks from theory, but someone who puts their body on the line for others," Royster said. "Traci has become a voice for new civil rights in America. I can’t think of a better person to lead Justice and Witness Ministries."

Blackmon speaks at a November 2014 rally. Photo by Brad Choat, KMOX in St. Louis.

Rev. Blackmon, the 18th installed and first woman pastor in the 156-year history of Christ The King United Church of Christ, became nationally recognized as a prominent voice for social change when Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, just miles from her church.  She immediately got involved in organizing the Black Lives Matter movement, effectively assisting and collaborating with the people in the community working for justice. Blackmon says it’s very important to figure out the desire, direction and priorities around social issues, and listen to all the voices involved so to not leave anybody behind. She hopes to bring that reasoning and direction to the UCC’s mission.

"This is what I learned in Ferguson," Blackmon said. "That the church is not a static organization that is transported from place to place, but rather that church emerges to meet the present needs of the people. The conversation must begin with a determination to listen and a willingness to be changed. I welcome the opportunity to reimagine this table with the church, to create a table where we see ourselves simultaneously as both guest and host, a table where ownership is not bestowed but shared. A table where all are welcome to bring all of themselves and contribute to the feast that is served."

"Traci is a leader of the highest order," Dorhauer said. "She is a visionary who sees things before anyone else does. She is an organizer who empowers others to build movements she sees as both possible and essential for the work of justice. She is braver and more courageous than anyone I know. She is a woman of strong voice and presence who inspires others and engenders confidence. She is a preacher of extraordinary ability, and a woman of deep and abiding faith. Her ability to do all of that has made her not just the pastor of Christ The King UCC, but a leader known around the world as a difference maker."

Traci Blackmon was ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and served for several years in ministry before stepping in as pastor of Christ The King. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Birmingham-Southern College (1985) and a Master of Divinity degree (2009), with a coursework emphasis in Womanist Liberation Theology, from Eden Theological Seminary.

At Eden, Blackmon studied under UCC General Minister and President Dorhauer, and is looking forward to teaming up with him in service to the national church.

"I met John while I was still in seminary," Blackmon said. "In addition to serving as Acting Conference Minister in our region, John taught a White Privilege class and I was one of his students. Our class was small, intense, and at times, uncomfortable, as stretching often can be. Yet, John stayed with it. And he pressed us. And he challenged us. He walked with us. And he was changed with us. These 'on the ground qualities' are some of the reasons I am excited about John's leadership at this particular time in the life of the church. To have the honor of serving the church with him, and all of the leadership team, excites me."

Before seminary, Rev. Blackmon served as pastor of Simpson Chapel AME Church in Columbia, Missouri. She is the founder of the Sista SOS Summit, an intergenerational symposium designed to assist women toward spiritual and sexual wholeness, and is co-founder of "When Women Gather...," a monthly ecumenical gathering committed to the spiritual growth and development of women. Blackmon has also ministered in a healthcare setting, as a licensed Registered Nurse with over 25 years experience.

Blackmon will be commuting in her new role which she assumes Jan. 1, spending two weeks a month in Cleveland and two weeks in Missouri. "It gives us a chance to play with the idea of deploying staff regionally at times," said Dorhauer. As all three national officers pointed out, with all the traveling they do, they too are only in the office in Cleveland two weeks of every month.

"That she feels called to lead the United Church of Christ into its new future, and to maintain in this time its historic commitments to the work of building God's shalom, is something about which we should all be excited," Dorhauer said. "The world will sit up and take notice."

Rev. Sarah Buteux

posted Aug 17, 2017, 4:31 PM by UCC Women   [ updated Feb 6, 2018, 8:53 AM ]

The Reverend Sarah Buteux, Associate Pastor

Minister of Christian Education and Outreach

Founding Pastor of Common Ground 

YouTube Video

The Rev. Sarah Buteux, brings many and varied gifts along with 13+ years of ministry experience to her work at First Churches.

Although Sarah was raised evangelical, ordained by the Swedenborgian Church in 2001, and received Privilege of Call from the U.C.C. in 2014, she identifies most fully as Emergent. She is a graduate of Smith College and Harvard Divinity School.

Sarah has ministered in the valley for the last nine years to a growing and thriving U.C.C. congregation in Hadley Massachusetts. As much as she loved her work in Hadley, Sarah left in order to follow the call God laid on her heart to explore alternative ways of creating a fully inclusive Christian community. That call led her to found Common Ground, a farm to table dinner church. In July of 2014 the congregation of First Churches invited Sarah to come on staff as their associate pastor and not only offered Common Ground a home, but formally adopted it as a new ministry of First Churches.

Sarah is charismatic and compassionate, intelligent and kind. She is a theological and social progressive with an evangelical heart whose greatest joy is welcoming people into the kingdom of God and then empowering them to extend that same extravagant welcome to others.

Sarah is well known and respected in the Pioneer Valley as an inspiring preacher and singer, a creative and adaptable leader, a voice people trust and a pastor they can count on. She is the mother of George (age 7) and Genevieve (age 4) which keeps her grounded and connected to the lives and challenges of other families. Sarah is happily married to Andrew Dole, a professor of Religion at Amherst College.

Rev. Deborah J. Blood

posted Aug 17, 2017, 4:01 PM by UCC Women   [ updated Oct 1, 2017, 8:03 AM ]

            Rev. Deborah Blood is the Conference Minister for the Maine Conference, UCC. She was ordained to Christian ministry in 2005 and served the First Congregational Church in Bloomfield, CT, an increasingly multi-racial, multi-ethnic congregation, for 10 years. She has also served as Chair of the Wider Church Ministries/Co-chair of Global Ministries Boards of the UCC and has much experience across National and Conference settings, including significant involvement with the Racial Justice Ministries of the CT Conference, and with their Korean and Colombian Partnerships.

            As Conference Minister in Maine since 2015, Deborah is focused on liberating the Conference and churches from structures, practices and habits that prevent engagement with the strong movement of the Holy Spirit toward the next version of the Church.  The Spirit is leading us, and we need to follow, with confidence, courage and trust in God’s loving intentions for the Church. The Maine Conference is Moving Forward Together knowing that we are not alone and that we need one another as we discern our future together with God. Our essential work in these times is listening for the voice of God and opening to the new people God is calling into leadership. This means looking to the margins of the Church and of society, and leaving behind our prejudices – welcoming ALL to the Table and following whomever God’s calls to lead us.

In a prior life, Deborah was a practicing attorney for 15 years, focused on litigation, mediation and family law. She has a passion for music, and loves to sing, having been a music teacher in a brief early career. After many years of vacationing in Maine, Deborah has joyfully settled in as a permanent resident, relishing every chance to travel and experience the strong Spirit and beautiful variety of Maine’s UCC Congregations. She is delighted to welcome the New England Women’s Celebration X to Portland, Maine!!!

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