Congregants at Land of the Sky UCC in Asheville, N.C.
Land of the Sky UCC in Asheville, N.C., and Sycamore UCC in El Cerrito, Calif., now have the opportunity to expand their educational ministries, and widen the welcome in their communities thanks to the financial assistance of the United Church of Christ Local Church Ministries.
The churches are two of 15 congregations awarded grant money this fall in a second round of funding for new and renewing churches as LCM continues its mission to give congregations across the country resources to grow in ministry and worship.
"What I find exciting about this group of funded congregations is the number of congregations that are growing in the UCC today,” said the Rev. David Schoen, minister and team leader of the Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team. "The other thing exciting about these 15 congregations is the diversity of the congregations. They're African American, Hispanic, Asian congregations, some with a long history. And a number of them are expressing their extravagant welcome."
Land of the Sky UCC and Sycamore UCC represent the diversity among the 15 congregations. Land of the Sky is a church new to the UCC, while century-old Sycamore is a historically Japanese congregation that is becoming more multicultural.
The Rev. Sara Wilcox, co-pastor at Land of the Sky, said she is grateful for the grant, which will be used to help the congregation become more sustainable and continue to grow in work and attendance.
"It allows us to grow our ministries as we grow in people and grow giving in our community," Wilcox said. "It will allow us to expand our children's ministries and some of the educational opportunities we're moving toward."
Land of the Sky UCC was founded in 2009, and very recently was accepted into the UCC. Wilcox said the church has worked to "build a community partly because it's about giving back to the United Church of Christ and building a ministry here long-term."
Sycamore UCC is working to "redefine church because we have a large community around us that is not part of the worship," the Rev. Sharon Lee MacArthur said. There are about 125 families that use Sycamore's educational or after-school programs, but don’t join the congregation in worship services. "We're hoping to move forward to connecting with them [using this grant]. Helping families discover the spiritual part of life is part of the Christian experience."
Using the grant money, Sycamore UCC plans to reach into those "fringe" communities, and enhance its worship.
Part of the covenant between Local Church Ministries and these funded congregations involves training and coaching for pastors and lay leaders through the Center for Progressive Renewal. Based in Atlanta, the Center’s mission is to renew progressive Christianity by training leaders, supporting new liberal/progressive congregations, and helping strengthen existing progressive churches.
The list of the churches awarded grants this fall includes:
Cathedral of Hope (Mid-Cities) United Church of Christ, Dallas, Texas
(a)Spire/First Congregational Church United Church of Christ, Pasadena, Calif.
Grace Christian Fellowship United Church of Christ, Philadelphia
Iglesia Hispana de la Comunidad United Church of Christ, Lowell, Mass.
Land of the Sky Church United Church of Christ, Asheville, N.C.
New Vision Congregational United Church of Christ, Yulee, Fla.
Open Table: A Community of Faith United Church of Christ, Mobile, Ala.
Praxis United Church of Christ, Atlanta
TOX Ministries/Comunidad, Phoenix
Fairfax Community Church United Church of Christ, Fairfax Calif.
North Stamford Congregational Church United Church of Christ, Stamford, Conn.
St. John United Church of Christ, Fairview, Ill.
Sycamore Congregational Church United Church of Christ, El Cerrito, Calif.
United Church of Christ Casper, Casper, Wyo.
United Church of Christ Paradise Hills, San Diego
The latest round of grants, approved at the LCM board of directors meeting Oct. 17, totals $220,000. There are 33 total new and renewing churches that are currently receiving support from the UCC. LCM awards $500,000 annually, and has given grants to more than 100 churches in the last six years.