Written by Gregg Brekke
| Rev. Kay Ann Albright
The Rev. Kay Ann Albright, pastor of a new UCC church start in what she terms "the buckle of the Bible belt" in Huntington, W.Va., has her plate full with church planting activities.
Then there's the branding thing.
"Down here, 'UCC' means 'Union Carbide Corporation,' " says Albright, who, with the help of members of First Church UCC in Huntington, 50-plus miles away, has embraced since last September the challenge of growing Bridges of Grace UCC – and branding the UCC name.
"We have a message and people need to hear it," says Albright. "I want to shout it from the mountaintops."
Bridges of Grace is one of a dozen new, renewing and multiplying UCC churches nationwide that was recently awarded more than $200,000 in grants by UCC Local Church Ministries. The Bridges of Grace grant award was $20,000.
Bridges of Grace holds services on the first and third Sundays of the month at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in Charleston. A member of the Charleston Area Religious Leaders Association (CARLA) suggested the ecumenical arrangement, says Albright.
"I told St. Paul's, 'I don't know how much I can pay you, if anything.' They said, 'Don't worry about it. We have the space. You don't.' They handed me the keys and the (security) code and said, 'Here, use our space.' "
In a gesture of appreciation, Bridges of Grace – whose Sunday services begin at 3 p.m. so as not to conflict with St. Paul's weekly worship – has been forwarding its worship offerings to St. Paul's, says Albright.
Attending monthly CARLA meetings has been a source of warmth and welcome, says Albright. "Every time, somebody in the group says, 'I'm glad that you're here.' There's no competition about it. It's just 'We're glad that you're here.' "
The location of the worship space is an excellent match for Bridges, says Albright. "It's in a perfect area, on the east side of town, which tends to be where more of the liberal folks are in an area that is growing. Most of the people we're appealing to are people who have either been kicked out (of church) or didn't like the message they were getting; it didn't jive with what they believed."
Albright - and the six to eight First Church members who trek from Huntington to Bridges services twice a month to greet, usher, set up and tear down – also attend First Church's Sunday services in Huntington.
"The real glorious thing is that I've got people there," says Albright, who along with her partner plan to move from Huntington to Charleston by September. "It's like that church-in-a-box kind of thing. I am so thankful that I'm never standing there alone. That's the part of the church multiplication process I love. Everybody should do it. You're never alone. It's beautiful."
The Rev. David Schoen, UCC evangelism ministry team leader, made the announcement of the grant awards at the Mission and Planning Council meeting April 20.
"We give out about $500,000 plus each year, and we'll do that again next year," says Schoen, noting that grants are awarded during spring and fall.
"Pastor Kay and people from her congregation have gone to the New Church Leadership Institute for new-church leadership development, and they have been working at this for quite a while," says Schoen.
Seven other churches received $20,000 grants over 18 months. Listed with Conference affiliation and designations Open and Affirming (ONA) and Accessible to All (A2A), they are:
Fairfax (Calif.) Community UCC (Southwest Conf.; renewing Pacific-Islander, ONA, A2A)
The Federated Church, Chagrin Falls, Ohio (Ohio Conf.; worship outreach ministry "360Alive," Euro-American, ONA, A2A)
Land of the Sky UCC, Asheville, N.C. (Southern Conf.; new Euro-American, ONA, A2A)
New Vision UCC, Yulee, Fla. (Florida Conf.; new multiracial, multicultural, ONA, A2A)
Open Table: A Community of Faith UCC, Mobile, Ala. (Southeast Conf.; new multiracial, multicultural, ONA, A2A)
Parker (Colo.) United UCC (Rocky Mountain Conf.; new Euro-American, ONA)
Praxis UCC, Decatur, Ga. (Southeast Conf.; new multiracial, multicultural, ONA, A2A)
In addition, Union Church UCC in Valparaiso, Ind., (renewing, multiracial, multicultural, ONA) was awarded $12,000 over 12 months; New Song Community UCC in Columbus, Ohio, (new multiracial, multicultural, A2A) was granted $6,000; and Tucson (Ariz.) Marshallese Ministry at the Church of the Painted Hills UCC (new Pacific-Islander, ONA, A2A) was awarded $5,625 over two quarters.