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UCC celebrates the ‘faith and action’ of Mary Schaller Blaufuss

MarySB2019.JPGThe United Church of Christ is saying farewell to a valued member of the national staff who has done much to create relationships and programs around volunteerism, leadership and sustainable development, refugee ministry and disaster response. The Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss, team leader of UCC’s Humanitarian and Development Ministries, has resigned her position to accept a new role at Eden Theological Seminary.

“Mary has been with the national setting for the past 14-and-a-half years,” said the Rev. Jim Moos, UCC associate general minister, Global Engagement and Operations. “For the past six years she has been team leader. During that time, she has transformed an already effective ministry, making it more efficient, nimble, and responsive to the real needs of the church. And not only has Mary implemented best practices, she has kept the work theologically grounded.”

Blaufuss has served on the national staff since January 2005, the last six years as team leader of Humanitarian and Development Ministries, formerly the Global Sharing of Resources team. During her tenure, the Wider Church Ministries team created a replicable model for young adult leadership development with the Young Adult Service Communities and Summer Communities of Service networks. Those national programs just marked 10 years of existence at the UCC.

“I have been incredibly blessed to work with Mary,” said Phyllis Richards, program associate for Humanitarian and Development Ministries. “When she first came to the national setting as Executive for Volunteer Ministries, most of our volunteers were at retirement age. She created a greater space for young adults across the United States to be involved in the church.

Richards said she’s been told numerous times that the Young Adult Service Communities program has been an investment in the next generation of faith leaders. Many of those experiences have changed career paths, inspired calls to ministry, and impacted lives. The connections they have made have been invaluable.

When she came to the Church House as Executive for Volunteer Ministries, Schaller Blaufuss wanted to help her team find a way to respond to disasters using long-term volunteers while finding space for groups to serve. Then Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast as a Category 5 storm, making landfall in Florida and Louisiana in August 2005. Out of the crisis came new ways for churches to serve in disaster recovery.

As Schaller Blaufuss said, “We have operationalized UCC Disaster Ministries in the United States.” During her tenure, the ministry strengthened ties with the national VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) movement and built networks of long-term recovery groups, while providing a UCC faith presence in grassroots organizing.

MSBGReece.PNG“Mary is one of the hardest working people I know, and I count her as a mentor and friend,” said Zach Wolgemuth, executive, UCC Disaster Ministries. “She has taught me a great deal about what it means to be a true servant leader — always conducting herself with the utmost integrity.”

Under Blaufuss’ leadership her Wider Church Ministries team refocused efforts on the plight of migrants and asylum seekers through UCC Refugee Ministries, which now has a national identity grounded in UCC theology.

“As a theologian I discovered my particular role was translating theological language and secular development language so we could be a stronger presence as a church,” Schaller Blaufuss said. “I get to do everything that I love, and I get to train the next generation to come after me.”

“Working with Mary has been an overflowing gift of learning about Christian leadership and discipleship,” said Amanda Sheldon, program associate for Disaster and Refugee Ministries. “Mary treats her staff with dignity, affirms their gifts, leads by examples of ecumenism and interorganizational cooperation and keeps us grounded in the Gospel that undergirds our work. She is a true example of what the church can be.”

Schaller Blaufuss also used her gifts to bolster the sustainable development ministries of the UCC through One Great Hour of Sharing. Globally, she has focused on building intentional partnerships with churches and ecumenical organizations like the ACT Alliance, interacting in ways to join other faith communities to influence how the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are implemented.

MSBBorderwall.PNGShe has been thoroughly involved in the reorganization of ACT Alliance and of Church World Service.

“Mary’s commitment to the ACT Alliance and her leadership within the ecumenical movement is very much appreciated,” said Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, General Secretary of the ACT Alliance. “We are especially grateful for the work she did to bring the UCC into its own membership in the ACT Alliance last year. We will look forward to getting to know her replacement and {hope to} develop as good a working relationships with that person as we have had with Mary.”

To Schaller Blaufuss, it’s about building a support network for the people the UCC is working to help. She said, “Collectively, we find the best ways to be part of humanitarian and development work around the world, by paying more attention to local voices than we ever did before.”

In a note from Africa, Caroline Njogu, a humanitarian officer in Kenya for ACT Secretariat-Nairobi, writes, “We may not have met before, but I am one of the persons in Africa who works on the appeal system and have been able to be a conduit to pass funds over to partners and ACT members to implement the work that they do. I sincerely appreciate your work, and for allowing God to use you mightily. I would like to share from 2 Timothy 2: ‘You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.’ Be strong, dear Rev. Mary, in the work of the Lord and in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. May God richly reward you now and in the life after for your diligent work for the beneficiaries of ACT Alliance.”

During a service of thanksgiving for Schaller Blaufuss on Wednesday, July 10, the national staff recognized the end of her authorized ministry as team leader of Humanitarian and Development Ministries. Moos shared her staff’s accomplishments in meeting the “myriad of challenges ministering to disaster survivors, asylum seekers, refugees, the marginalized and the oppressed. Her team has done transformational work, and she kept her ministry theologically grounded. This ministry has touched more lives than the grains of sand on the seashore, and one of those lives has been my own. She’s been a great colleague.”

In August, Schaller Blaufuss will begin her new role as Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. “I am excited to begin this new chapter in ministry toward the same goals of the fullness of life for all in God’s mission,” she said. Mary and her husband, Kurt, are alumni of Eden Seminary.

”Mary has proven to be a visionary who continuously works for the betterment of our ministry and that of the entire UCC,” Richards said. “She will truly be missed.”

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