An Interview with PBUCC Trustee Art Cribbs

You entered ministry after a successful career in journalism. Can you share a little about that journey, and how you bring together your communications skills and your pastoral ministry?

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Ministry and media have been part of my life since I was 13 years old. Over the summer between 8th and 9th grades, three events occurred that shaped my journey. First, my closest friend went on vacation with his family to Chicago and did not make it back home. He was hit by a truck and killed. A few weeks later I preached my first sermon in my father’s Baptist church. Then, shortly after school began I wrote my first article for our junior high school newspaper. My dual path of ministry and journalism was set.

A couple of years later I attended Brotherhood USA, a summer camp for student leaders sponsored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. There I was exposed to racial, social, and economic justice issues in deep conversations and workshops with high school kids from throughout Southern California. That was in 1965, the year my neighborhood in South Los Angeles erupted during the so-called Watts Riots or Rebellion. Also during that period I was totally committed to becoming a naval officer and received a congressional appointment to U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Unfortunately, I failed the plebe-year entrance physical examination. That was a real shock because I had been a year-round athlete and competed in the 1966 Junior Olympics.

My school counselor, Miss Bryant, who had helped to guide me through the months of process to attend the academy and understood the impact of my disappointment, introduced me to Mr. Kelly Brady, a Quaker. He suggested I spend my summer working with the American Friends Service Committee on what was termed “a civil rights project” in the West San Gabriel Valley of Southern California. I was the youngest member on a team of 10 college students and two supervisors. One of the supervisors was the Rev. Roy Smith, a college chaplain at the University of Colorado Boulder and ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. That is how I learned about the UCC and became active in the Southern California Nevada Conference through Western Knoll Congregational Church in Los Angeles. Our pastor was the Rev. William “Bill” Moremen and one of the members who influenced my life was Mr. Dan Romero, before he went to seminary. Many years later, the Rev. Dan Romero would become my supervisor on the staff of the former United Church Board for World Ministries (UCBWM).

While at Western Knoll, I participated in the church’s theater program, where I met Ms. Thayer “Candy” Lee, who directed the Black Sunrise theatrical group. She suggested I apply for a job in the newsroom at KHJ TV (Channel 9). At the time I had no interest in television news. I had written articles for newspapers and a magazine and I held a grudge against TV news because of their depiction of people in my community during 1965 as “savages in a jungle.” Ms. Lee persuaded me to interview with the news director. I got a job as a news writer and desk assistant. My media career was launched. A few months later I joined a very long line of aspiring broadcasters in Los Angeles who were vying to capture one of five positions in a training program offered by Golden West Broadcasting Company owned by Gene Autry, the “Singing Cowboy.” I was very fortune to have been selected to work in Reno, Nevada, as a newscaster.

As my career progressed and I moved to Seattle, Washington, I joined Prospect Congregational Church and worked on the staff of the Washington-North Idaho Conference where Jim Halfaker served as Conference Minister. It was there my dual experience in media and ministry came together. Eventually, I focused much more on broadcasting and tried to abandon the ministry. A few years later, a very dear friend, the Rev. Wil Hertzfeld, the first Black Lutheran bishop, sat me down and urged me to consider seminary. About that time I was invited to speak at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, co-founded by Howard Thurman. A conspiracy hatched by the Rev. Dr. Shelby Rooks, executive director of the former United Church Board for Homeland Ministries (UCBHM), and the Rev. Dr. Kenneth B. Smith, former president of The Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS), paved my way. While at CTS, I had a daily radio talk show, worked as a chaplain at the University of Chicago Medical Centers, and served as an associate minister at the Church of the Good Shepherd Congregational UCC. From my father’s church that started in my bedroom, to Chicago, my path into ministry was set.

How does your professional background and experience inform your work as a Trustee?

As a local church pastor, I have a sense of needs and concerns among the men and women who dedicate their lives to ministry and the United Church of Christ. It is rather fascinating how proximity affects perception. As a news reporter, I felt close to the people whose lives had been affected by events that we covered. When I became a hospital chaplain, I realized my very brief period in the lives of persons who had become the subjects of news stories did not really bring me closer to them at all. Then, as a pastor, I learned the qualitative difference between being with someone through a crisis in a hospital and staying with a person and family before, during, and long into the aftermath of any life-changing trauma.

As a Trustee, I am learning the critical role of managing assets and providing health coverage that meets the needs of clergy, their families and retired church employees. Fortunately, the Pension Boards is blessed to have a stellar team of dedicated personnel who work closely and personally with our members. During my tenure as a Trustee, I have observed the flexibility of our team to meet the changing conditions and challenges to ensure our members receive the highest level of service with confidence. Even through economic fluctuations, our very well- managed accounts have survived and our members continued to receive their earnings without disruption. As a Trustee who also depends on the Pension Boards for medical insurance for my family and retirement funds when the time comes, I have observed a well-run organization that is guided by highly competent, faithful people who consistently put service first when attending to our members.

You are one of six clergy members serving on the PBUCC Board. What do you see as the challenges for authorized ministry in the 21st century, and how is the Pension Boards addressing this issue?

We live in an era when greed has become more prominent. As a result, a premium price is placed on the most essential commodities of life, including housing, health, food, and transportation. It is very difficult for many families to survive under economic duress. We have experienced the erosion of public assistance and the abandonment of public housing and affordable health care. Too many people have had to dig into their savings accounts and funds set aside for retirement just to eke out a living every day. At the same time, the cost of education has skyrocketed almost out of reach and places young people and students deeply into debt before they begin their careers. The Pension Boards strive to address these issues in a variety of ways. Cost-saving pharmaceutical plans are in place to meet the needs of members; programs prepare ministers and next generation leaders of the church; opportunities have been created to instruct how to save, and accounts to prepare for the future have been established. These activities are relevant and helpful for 21st century professionals who serve the church.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you again for this opportunity to reflect on my journey and share a few ideas about the remarkable mission of the Pension Boards of the United Church of Christ.