"When I came to Wausau, we started looking for purposeful ministries to fill the gap in our community," said St. Paul's pastor, the Rev. Phil Schneider. "Providing these kinds of travel opportunities is one way."
These travel opportunities, which include four or five adult excursions every year, and this year, three youth tours and NYE, are always highlighted by an annual summer trip.
"Most of our trips are grounded in UCC history, or are biblically based," said Schneider. "So it was easy to explain why [in years past] we were going to Germany or to England, since the UCC has roots in both places."
In 2011, the annual trip was to Branson, Mo., to see "Noah, the Musical" at the Sound and Sight Theater. This year the St. Paul's group of 43 souls is heading to New York City, with stops in Cleveland and Niagara Falls, N.Y. The experience began Friday, June 22, and is jam-packed with tours of the UCC Church House; a ride on the Maid of the Mist; a tour of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island; and guided tours of the United Nations and Manhattan. There also are two Broadway plays on the schedule.
"I love to spend a week with the person who sits behind me on a church family vacation," said Barbara Newton, a life-long St. Paul's member. "Getting a chance to see the Amistad Chapel (at the UCC) again for the first time since the late 1990's. I wanted everyone to see the communion table and learn about the Sierra Leone connection to the wood and Jesus example of living in community across all our lines of difference, as one. Niagara Falls and the Lion King have me jazzed, too!"
With that much excitement and activity it's easy to see why the 2012 tour sold out pretty quickly, and why Pastor Phil is already looking ahead. "We are always going," he said. "In addition to NYE next month, this fall we have plans to take a group to Door County (Wis.) and to the Fireside Theater in Madison. There are already a few signed up for next summer, when we're heading to Washington D.C., and there's a lot of interest in the Hawaii trip in 2014."
"I'm a little on the theatrical side, so we do shows and concerts in our church, too," said Schneider. "We've done 'The Wonder of Christmas,' 'The Passion Play,' and we'll do a freedom show for the Fourth of July. We advertise widely. Our sanctuary holds 600-700 people and we sell out quite often."
St. Paul's, which claims 1,000 members, has grown in the three years since Schneider was called as pastor. "Our programs and mission outreach are connecting to seekers and ecumenical friends in the community around St. Paul's," said Schneider. "This expands our presence and 'reach'!"
Don and Donna Pagenkopf agree. The couple, part of the New York bound tour, are lifelong members. Don was baptized at St. Paul's 76 years ago, and Donna's family joined when she was three. "This is a 'doing' church, and we are 'goers'!", the couple says. "We love to be on the move and active. St. Paul's mission and outreach and community life have an energy and spirit that draws people in."