Alex Frantz, 4-1/2, sorts groceries at a Minnesota food pantry. W. Evan Golder photo.
Minneapolis hosts UCC 'family reunion'
How many UCC Conference Ministers does it take to remove a light fixture from the wall?
Just one—if you are the Rev. Lyle Weible, retiring Penn Central Conference Minister. Weible did the deed—like the veteran electrician he is not—on Monday, July 14, while working with his wife, Sharon, and four friends at the House of Charity in downtown Minneapolis.
They were busily repainting the walls of the dining room at the residential home for men as part of the General Synod's annual day of service projects, a program started several years ago to give delegates and visitors an opportunity to put their good intentions into action.
According to the Rev. Kathleen C. Ackley, the UCC's executive for volunteer ministries, approximately 140 UCC volunteers worked on eight different projects across this sprawling Midwestern city. ÒWe're very pleased with the turnout, which is about five percent of those attending Synod,Ó she said.
House of Charity not only provides shelter for downtrodden men, it offers them an opportunity to get their lives back on track through a food service they operate. Weible and his fellow volunteers were helping to freshen up the main dining area. ÒIt gives a practical expression and fulfillment to actions we take at Synod,Ó Weible said of their efforts. ÒIt also gives us a look at the underbelly of a city that is so beautiful on the outside,Ó Sharon Weible added.
Not too far away at a high-rise family shelter called People Serving People, Ixca Casillas, a member of United Evangelical UCC in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, and friends from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Michigan were busily stuffing envelopes after earlier grunt work scrubbing floors.
Casillas called their contribution Òone way to show the love of God to others. If God is still speaking, we must let God speak to others through us.Ó Ralph Sims, from St. Stephen's UCC in Lansing, Mich., agreed and added, ÒThis is one of the most tangible ways we can show the love of God to people where we go.Ó
The youngest volunteer was 4-1/2-year-old Alex, who was there with his mother, the Rev. Charlotte Frantz, pastor of Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Duluth, Minn. He was busy as anybody at Community Emergency Services (CES), pushing boxes of food across the floor and carrying items to their proper boxes in a mass sorting operation.
CES provides a variety of services to those in need, but the food shelf is its main program and is the largest in the area. Located in an ancient United Methodist church building, the light was streaming through beautiful stained glass windows as these grimy volunteers sorted food and other items.
Little Alex's mother had been on a Synod work project before, having worked on the Mississippi River levee in St. Louis in 1993. She said she selected the CES project because she wanted one where she and her young son could work together. ÒWe told him we were going to play grocery store, and he is happy thinking we are fixing food for people who cannot afford to go to a regular grocery store,Ó she said.
The Rev. Mark Rideout, pastor of First Parish UCC in Somersworth, N.H., caught the volunteer fever two years ago during General Synod 23 in Kansas City, Mo. He chose the food shelf this time because Òit's what we do at home.Ó
Juanita Lindgtren, CES office manager, marveled at the work accomplished at her building. ÒThey surprised me in what they were able to do,Ó she said glowingly. ÒI had five pages of things I wanted done, and I couldn't believe that they finished off three full pages. They removed a lot of dirt making room for more food.Ó
Other services performed by Synod volunteers included reading to children, refurbishing houses, packing meal packets, cleaning, reprogramming computers and light construction work.
Irwin Smallwood, a member of Congregational UCC in Greensboro, N.C., is also a veteran volunteer. He has contributed his time and talents as a news writer in the press room for 13 different General Synods.