New Hope United Church of Christ in Owensboro, Ky., is the newest congregation of the Indiana- Kentucky Conference, after a formal vote to receive the church was held at the spring meeting of the Evansville/ Tri-State Association on May 5.
With a constituency of 90, New Hope has 49 members and averages more than 60 on Sunday mornings, says the Rev. Michael Erwin, founding pastor. The church's identity is firmly rooted in the UCC's vision of being a multiracial, multicultural, open and affirming, accessible to all church, he says. About 25 percent of the congregation is people of color.
"We are a congregation that is committed to justice, compassion, and the nitty-gritty aspects of hospitality," he says.
New Hope was formed in July 2001 by 32 persons who felt betrayed after a Presbyterian church in Owensboro denied membership to 12 persons who had been active with the congregation. Two adults were simultaneously denied baptism.
Erwin, who was pastor of that Presbyterian church, says the dispute stemmed from differences in opinion about the congregation's vision and direction. The church had earlier declared itself to be a "More Light" Presbyterian congregation (similar to the UCC's Open and Affirming program), but since has rescinded that policy.
"After having been told Ôno' so many times over the years, it is such a big relief to hear such a resounding Ôyes' from the United Church of Christ," Erwin says. "The leadership of the Association and the Conference was pivotal in New Hope becoming part of the UCC. They did their homework, and I am really grateful to them."
Erwin, who speaks fluent Spanish, is actively involved in ministry with Owensboro's growing Hispanic community. He is working with community leaders and city officials to establish a government commission that would help strengthen the Hispanic community's voice in civic affairs.
"We are looking forward to further partnership with sisters and brothers in the UCC, and we hope to be a blessing to them through our ministries," says Sarijane Moorman, New Hope's moderator.
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess is editor-designate of United Church News.
Other new churches
On Saturday, May 3, three churches were voted into the UCC: Northwest Community UCC, Las Vegas, by the Eastern Association of the Southern California, Nevada Conference; Samoan Congregational Christian Church UCC of Independence, by the Western Association, Missouri Mid-south Conference; and the Laotian Evangelical UCC, Providence, by the Rhode Island Conference.
On April 24, Greater New Higher Heights Christian Church UCC (African American) was voted into the St. Louis Association, Missouri Mid-South Conference.