The full list of congregations and ministries that received LCM funding in Spring 2014:
Iglesia Unida de Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Community Church of D.C., Washington, D.C.
Journey UCC, Coralville, Iowa
Bluegrass UCC, Lexington, Ky.
Worcester Fellowship, Worcester, Mass.
Harmony Creek, Kettering, Ohio
Grace Christian Fellowship, Philadelphia
Chadash Community UCC, Boulder, Colo.
Abundant Peace UCC, Las Vegas
Emmanuel UCC, Simpsonville, S.C.
Open Table, Mobile, Ala.
Land of the Sky, Asheville, N.C.
Rebel and Divine, Phoenix
Hillsdale Community UCC, Portland, Ore.
Blooming Grove UCC, Blooming Grove, N.Y.
St. Paul's UCC, New Orleans
For the last six years, Worcester Fellowship has built a ministry by going out and listening to people on the margins of society, allowing them to share their stories, reaching out and reassuring them that they are all loved by God. The Worcester, Mass., ministry joined the United Church of Christ in October 2013, and with the help of a $20,000 grant from the UCC Local Church Ministries, the fellowship is ready to extend its outreach by comforting the homeless and those at-risk.
"Where a lot of people feel like, 'God will take care of me once I'm sober,' we're saying 'God loves you the way you are,'" said the Rev. Elizabeth Magill, pastor at Worcester Fellowship. "The biggest thing the grant is going to do is to expand our reach for who we can do pastoral care."
This February, LCM received and reviewed 21 applications for New and Renewing Churches Endowment funding, and 16 ministries were chosen to receive $20,000 each during an 18-month period, for a total of $320,000. LCM has given grants to more than 100 churches in the last seven years.
Worcester Fellowship meets outdoors in the Worcester Common, a public park, rain or shine on Sunday afternoons. Each gathering starts by handing out lunch, which is usually provided by other area churches to feed the hungry, followed by a worship service where parishioners share stories and affirm their dignity. In the summer they meet under a tree to avoid the heat, and in the winter they meet in a plowed area to avoid the snow.
"We hear their stories and reassure them that they are loved by God, that they are not deserving of what they think is a punishment," Magill said.
The ministry has three audiences: the deaf population, a Spanish-speaking population and parishioners who've been jailed. Next week, Worcester Fellowship leaders will decide the best way to use the LCM grant. It could be used for a sign language interpreter to aid the deaf, or a Spanish-speaking person to reach Hispanics, or someone who specializes in prison ministry to visit parishioners who are jailed and cannot attend the weekly outdoor worship.
"All three of those are related in that our primary ministry is listening to people. In working with chronic homeless, one of the biggest challenges is people not taking advantage of services available – people don't think they deserve a better life because they feel guilty about their addiction or situation."
Worcester Fellowship is one of the eight first-time recipients of UCC funds. New, Renewing and Multiplying church grants are a continuous commitment of the denomination to provide resources for growth to new and renewing churches.
"This group of new, renewing and multiplying churches includes emergent missional congregations and ministries that exist on the engaging edges of today's culture and communities," said the Rev. Dave Schoen, LCM's team leader for congregational assessment, support and advancement. "They are ministries that we did not see or even imagine five years ago."
LCM disburses $600,000 annually from the New and Renewing Churches Endowment, with spring disbursements accounting for $290,000 so far this year. The remaining $30,000 of the $320,000 in spring disbursements comes from UCC Wider Church Ministries ($20,000 to support St. Paul's UCC in New Orleans) and $10,000 from a previous LCM endowment (established several years ago to raise money for church leadership grants.