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The Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson poised to break barriers for United Church of Christ

Rev Karen Georgia Thompson
United Church Of Christ
United Church of Christ
The Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson must be approved by the UCC's General Synod in June to take over as leader of the church.

The Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson is poised to lead the Cleveland-based United Church of Christ. If approved by the church's General Synod this summer, she would become the first woman and third Black person to lead the denomination.

Thompson, if approved, will lead the more than 4,000 UCC congregations and its more than 100 staff members in Cleveland.

“As a person of color and as a woman, I’ve learned to navigate the world from a more collaborative space, building consensus. Privilege is not something that I’ve been able to hold and own as a leader,” Thompson said.

There was a series of “firsts” that lead to Thompson being nominated to lead the church. She was the first woman of color to serve a congregation in the church’s Florida Conference. And she was the first woman of African descent to hold her current role – elected officer for Wider Church Ministries.

Thompson said her leadership could open the opportunity for more women to serve and take on leadership roles in the church.

“I think the struggle through the normative space is sometimes ignored in the moment,” Thompson said. “Being able to be in the spaces to say our women and girls, these barriers that are presented in front of us, are just that, they’re obstacles to be surmounted.”

Thompson said the church has been in decline and attributes that to a lack of inclusivity, something she hopes to change.

“There are a lot of people whose lives have been disrupted and people have been hurt by the church,” Thompson said. “Being able to find ways for people to be welcome and engaged in the church is something that’s important for me.”

Thompson was born in Kingston, Jamaica and worked in Miami before moving to Cleveland in 2009 to work for UCC headquarters. She’s held several positions since then, and is now an elected officer for Wider Church Ministries, a global and multicultural initiative of the UCC, and a co-executive of Global Ministries, a mission of the UCC.

Thompson has been on the executive committee of the World Council of Churches since September.

The UCC nominated two other women for general minister in the past, but neither were approved by the General Synod. Thompson needs 60-percent of General Synod votes to be affirmed. The delegation will vote at the end of June.

Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.