The United Church of Christ installed the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black as its new leader Saturday – nine months after he was elected to take the helm of the 1.1-million-member denomination.
Black, who served as minister of the UCC's New York Conference for nearly a decade, had been elected on the final day of the UCC's 27th General Synod last June to succeed the Rev. John H. Thomas, who served in the office for 10 years and was ineligible for an additional term.
On Saturday, Black was charged to lead the UCC "to be that transformed church – [one] that faces outward more than inward – that cares passionately and powerfully for those who have little voice."
The Rev. Davida Foy Crabtree, who issued the charge, commended UCC's seventh national leader and said he came at a time when the denomination needs his "vigorous" leadership.
"We are so thankful that you have laid down other burdens to pick up the burden of responsibility – and the joy of leadership – in this time," said Crabtree, Conference Minister for the UCC in Connecticut, according to the denomination's news service, UCC News.
Black, who is the second African-American man to serve as UCC president, takes over as head of the denomination as it seeks to reverse the large membership decline it's witnessed since becoming the first major Christian denomination in the United States to officially support same-sex marriage in 2005.
In 2000, the denomination spanned over 6,000 churches. In 2008, the year of its most recent annual report, the church body claimed to be comprised of about 5,320 churches.
Though a continued decline is expected, Black said last year after his election that the "big bleed is over."
"The churches that couldn't live with that (the 2005 synod vote) have made their way out of the denomination," he said, according to Michigan Live.
The president-elect also said he believes the trend can be reversed as churches welcome immigrants, single parents and people of color.
On Saturday, Black told the attendees of a celebration dinner that there is "an eagerness for the United Church of Christ to seize the moment."
"Not just to tell others about the UCC, which we should and must do, but to be a vanguard of reintroducing people to a still speaking God," he said, according to UCC News.
"To a God who will reach, refresh and inspire those who are just about ready to give up on religion all together," Black added.
Present at Black's inauguration service were reportedly more than 500 UCC and ecumenical delegates from around the nation and world.
The service, which was the culmination of a celebratory weekend, was held at The Federated Church (UCC) in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.