Minnesota officials give UCC partial credit for tourism jump

Minnesota officials give UCC partial credit for tourism jump

Lee Foley

 General Synod 24, held July 11-15 in Minneapolis, is being credited by Minneapolis tourism officials as a contributing factor in boosting occupancy in the city's 22 hotels to 76.2 percent, the highest July rate in three years. That news comes from a recent article in the Brainerd (Minnesota) Daily Dispatch. The brought together more than 3,000 delegates, staff, guests and family members to Minneapolis. For those in Minnesota who make their living off of business travelers and the tourist industry, the UCC's stay in town was good news. However, the story reports the overall Minnesota summer tourism season that just ended was "spotty" at best, due to a sluggish economy. Beside the influx of UCC visitors, the article also credits major conventions by the Shriners and Episcopalians as helping spike the Minneapolis hotel occupancy rate.

 The election in Minneapolis of the Rev. Gene Robinson as the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop recently drew a group of about 40 protesters at the Episcopal Diocese offices in Hartford, Conn. However, The Hartford Courant reports the protesters were outnumbered by counter-demonstrators, marching in support of Robinson's election. Among those supporting Robinson was the Rev. Davida Foy Crabtree, UCC Connecticut Conference Minister. She told the Courant, "I found I could not have this happening and not be here. I'm very concerned about the divisiveness, for the denomination and also for Hartford. This is not the way we should talk with one another." The lengthy article points out that the UCC was the fi rst denomination to ordain an openly-gay minister, back in the 1970s and has affi rmed same-gender unions since the mid-1980s.

 From Sojourners Magazine comes coverage of the UCC's action to hold WorldCom accountable for the fraud costing investors upwards of $10 billion. "Arguing that 'character counts,'" the article reads, "the United Church of Christ is pressuring all 50 state public utility commissioners to investigate WorldCom and revoke its local licenses if they fi nd it has violated the public interest." Additionally, the story quotes the Rev. Robert Chase, executive director of the UCC's Offi ce of Communication, Inc., who testifi ed before the Federal Communications Commission. "In the face of the largest corporate misconduct in American history, the UCC is urging you to adopt rules of stewardship for information-age companies that use the public airwaves under public-interest authorizations, and manage the nation's digital infrastructure," Chase said. O.C., Inc. argues that new-age communications companies, like phone companies and web providers, which hold public license, must be held accountable to the public in the same manner as broadcast companies have been held accountable and responsible to the public for the past 30 years. In the 1960s, O.C., Inc. intervened in a similar way with television stations and helped to establish the principle that airwaves are publicly owned.

 I've got a wonderful story about a man from Virginia who, after a fairly startling dream 20 years ago, returned to church and has become an ordained UCC minister. It's the story of Dan Wickert and comes from The Virginian-Pilot. At the time of the dream, he was a federal fi refi ghter who had not attended church since childhood. The dream, which is way too long to go into here, convinced Wickert to return to church. Once there, he thought, "If I'm going to do this, I don't want to be a pew-sitter." He taught Sunday school and started a church library, and he took a part-time job as a church janitor, according to the paper. Wickert started college, while still working as a fi refi ghter and janitor. It took him 10 years to get his four-year degree in counseling. The story quotes his daughter, now grown and a music teacher in Richmond, saying that his family time was limited but the family was never left wanting for time with dad. He made time for his wife and kids through all the schooling and all the jobs. After getting his degree, he enrolled at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. For the fi rst two years, he commuted four hours each way, all the time continuing to work as a fi refi ghter and church janitor. He averaged "a little better than a B," he tells the paper, and graduated from the seminary in May. On Aug. 24, at the age of 56, Wickert was ordained a UCC minister. He's got a new job too, as pastor at Burton's Grove Christian UCC in Wakefi eld, Va.

 Another UCC pastor is the focus of a recent newspaper profi le. Her name is the Rev. Joy Baumgartner, pastor of United Church of Marco Island in Florida. The Marco Island Eagle ran the feature in early September. It's the story of a personnel manager for a large insurance company in Chicago turned preacher. It's a very frank profi le of an obviously strong woman. "The senior pastor of United Church of Marco Island has survived marriage to an abusive man, two years of radiation to stave off cancer, a nasty divorce, losing her fi ancZ to a car crash, raising two children alone, and being a woman in a man's world on a conservative island," the article reads. The story makes it clear that Baumgartner has not always seen eye-to-eye with the local establishment and has gone to war with it on any number of occasions on any number of issues. Yet members of her church quoted in the article are universal in their praise of their preacher, the Rev. Joy Baumgartner.

 The membership at St. John's UCC in Baldwin City, Kan., celebrated the anniversary of its 135th founding on Aug. 17. The event was covered by the Baldwin City Signal. The church has played an important part in the area's history. Says church historian Ruth Stoebener, "We have had services there every Sunday for 135 years. We think it's quite an accomplishment. It's nothing to sneeze at." There have certainly been changes since the church was founded by German immigrants on Aug. 2, 1868. Services were conducted in German until World War I. As did many German-American institutions of the time, St. John's began doing business in English. The original church structure was built in 1878 for $588. It was replaced in 1954 with the existing building. Since its founding, 30 pastors have served the congregation. As it marks its 135th birthday, St. John's has a vibrant membership of 70.

 Now here's an interesting twist to the common practice of partnering to train out-of-work folks and fi nd them jobs. The Daily Times of Maryville, Tenn., reports the local effort uses the Bible as its training manual, and it all got started thanks to a UCC pastor and a guy who was building the church a parking lot. Here's how the Times tells the story. "The local initiative is based on a program developed in 1996 in Raleigh, N.C., when a white businessman, Chris Magnum of the highway construction fi rm C.C. Magnum, Inc. and a black inner-city pastor, the Rev. Donald McCoy of Pleasant Hill UCC [in Tennessee] met during construction of the church's parking lot. Over lunch one day, Magnum told McCoy that many of his larger trucks were parked due to a lack of drivers. Mc- Coy [replied] that several members of his congregation were also 'parked' due to a lack of jobs." One thing led to another and now the partnership that started between McCoy and Magnum has grown from its start in Raleigh to several cities in the southeast. The construction companies provide the technical training and the churches instill a work ethic and principals through Bible study.

HAS YOUR CHURCH been featured in a newspaper or magazine? If so, send a clipping of the article to Clippings, United Church News, 700 Prospect Ave., Cleveland OH 44115-1100. Mention the name of the publication and the city where it's located. Lee Foley is Director of Administration for the UCC's Proclamation, Identity and Communication Ministry.

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