As UCC churches nationwide prepare for the homestretch of Mission:1, Conference collaborations are taking on a variety of forms. In the heartland, the effort involves reaching across the mighty Mississippi. In the far northeast, it means strengthening from within.
"It is a neat collaborative effort, to cross the Mississippi River over to the Illinois South Conference," said the Rev. Keith Karau, rallying the UCC Missouri Mid-South and Illinois South Conferences together around the Mission:1 campaign to fight worldwide hunger.
"The Illinois South churches are churches that have a life connection with St. Louis," said Karau, who retired last May after 17 years as senior past of St. Paul's UCC, a member of the Missouri Mid-South Conference, in Oakville, Mo. "Many of them are like eastern suburbs of the city."
Karau said that despite the "natural connection" between the two Conferences, collaboration has been limited until this year. "It's nice to break down those artificial barriers that we create," he said.
Momentum began to build this past spring with a televised "All the People" campaign drawing participants and support from the Missouri Mid-South and Illinois Conferences, said Karau.
"Missouri Mid-South had some leftover funds from our Strengthen the Church campaign, and we were excited about doing something else together," said Karau, noting the Rev. Mary Albert, pastor of Epiphany UCC in St. Louis, as a key partner in the collaboration.
From Nov. 1-11, 2011 (11-1-11—11-11-11), the UCC goal is to collect more than 1 million food and household items for local food banks, as well as $111,111 in online donations for hunger-related ministries and $111,111 in online donations for East Africa famine relief. The UCC will also ask its 5,300 congregations to advocate for hunger-related causes worldwide via 11,111 letters to Congress.
Immersing himself in Mission:1 is an ideal transition for Karau, who is awaiting his next call.
"Mission is what I believe in," said Karau. "We're getting people together and asking how can we push Mission:1, how can we be at the same time invitational to the community while upholding UCC branding among ourselves – so people know who we are, who we stand for, what we are or what we should be.
Visibility shouldn't be an issue in promoting Mission:1 in St. Louis - by the end of this week, more than 30 Mission:1 billboards will dot the metropolitan area.
"We're starting a Facebook campaign to get members to point out the billboards to their friends and encourage them to support local food banks and donate at ucc.org/mission1," said Karau.
"We're also encouraging people to write letters on paper plates. They fit in legal-size envelopes and go through the mail very nicely. Letters can emphasize that millions of people don't have anything to put on their plates. This is something to encourage our legislators to make sure that budget cuts don't include cutting hunger-justice programs."
The collaborating churches plan to use online newsletters, email lists and local media to keep Mission:1 in motion. In addition, they are: producing a DVD about the importance of making Mission:1 invitational; providing local churches with youth-oriented Mission:1 program ideas; making presentations at Association and Conference meetings and retreats to promote Mission:1 to the community at-large; and integrating the Stillspeaking Friend-Raising Sunday into Mission:1, encouraging churches to link mission work with evangelism.
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Meanwhile, the Maine Conference is banding together to sponsor three Mission:1 projects.
"It's so important for the Conference to help coordinate the effort in Maine where there are so many tiny, struggling churches and so much need in the area of hunger," said the Rev. David Gaewski, the UCC's Maine Conference Minister.
The Maine projects are:
- Good Shepherd Food Bank. A collection of non-perishable food items will be collected 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Nov. 5 at Falmouth Congregational Church, in conjunction with the Fall Learning Event that day. www.gsfb.org
- Washington Country Food and Fuel Alliance. Non-perishable food items will be collected from noon to 3 p.m. Nov. 6 at Brewer UCC Congregational Church. www.foodandfuel.org/FoodandFuel/Home
- The Maine Conference Middle School Ministries program will be the H.O.M.E Coop in Orland, Maine, with an offering of non-perishable food items during their mission activity at H.O.M.E. For further information, email the Rev. Susie Craig at email@example.com or log on to www.homecoop.net/
For more details about Mission:1 please visit <ucc.org/mission1>.