It’s fair to say that reaching out to assist others in the community is part of Naples United Church of Christ’s DNA. When the United Church of Christ announced a national literacy initiative, Naples UCC was one of the first churches to jump on board, recognizing literacy as a way to continue lifting up its neighbors, by helping in any way congregants can.
Naples UCC is one of more than 200 participants expressing interest in the all-church One Read. One Read, with a suggested start date of Sept. 8, 2014, National Literacy Day, is the inaugural event of Reading Changes Lives, a UCC initiative to raise awareness about how illiteracy directly impacts a range of social justice issues.
"We have people who help with literacy here already, in one of the wealthiest places in the world and one of the poorest places minutes away," said the Rev. Susan Pratt, associate pastor at Naples UCC. "We have a congregation of people that have been professionals, and they spend more time doing community and outreach, and they are generous with the money and time."
Darlene Collins, literacy coordinator for the UCC, believes that the book for One Read, "Hotdogs & Hamburgers: Unlocking Life's Potential by Inspiring Literacy at Any Age," illustrates the impact of illiteracy and shows how one person can make a difference in the life of another.
"The One Read is the first time that the entire denomination is reading the same book as one community," Collins said. "Hot Dogs and Hamburgers is the perfect story to demonstrate how the issue of literacy impacts the world around each of us. Low literacy is a community issue. It affects not only the individual but the community in which that person lives. The gift of literacy is life-long."
The UCC in September is featuring Chicago attorney and author Rob Shindler's book in the all-church initiative, inviting members, congregations, conference and all ministries to join for a denomination-wide reading of "Hotdogs & Hamburgers."
One Read hopes to engage people of faith by providing a common ground surrounding the literacy crisis in the U.S. It is a time for the church to come together, through reading and discussion, for stimulating conversations and to facilitate learning within and beyond local congregations.
This type of justice and outreach is part of the fabric of First Congregational UCC in Brainerd, Minn. Participating in literacy justice is one example of that outreach, said the Rev. Linda Crowe, interim pastor at the congregation.
The small congregation has a handful of members who volunteer at a local literacy program for inmates, and taking part in One Read is a way to honor their work.
"We have at least four people who are part of the jail literacy program at the county jail," Crowe said. "One of the volunteers read the blurb in Keeping You Posted on the book, and asked, ‘Can we do this?’ And I said, Lowell, let’s go for it."
"Hotdogs & Hamburgers: Unlocking Life's Potential by Inspiring Literacy at Any Age," is currently available for $10 single copy or $37.50 for a five-book package from UCC Resources. An eBook is available directly through Amazon, and an audio version of the book will also be made available.
"I am excited that as a faith community, we see literacy as a justice issue," Collins said. "Reading is a right of every individual and when we realize that it is our mandate as Christians to help those in need, there is no reason not to want to get hands-on. Rob Shindler discovered that anyone can help and that the lives we touch through tutoring, volunteering and simply treating others with dignity is a great gift and a blessing.
The Rev. Ron Patterson, senior pastor at Naples UCC, said there are other ways his church can be involved in literacy after the conclusion of One Read. "The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations and our willingness to challenge one another to respond," he said. "Members of our board of outreach have identified a number of mission partners we support who work on improving literacy locally. Many of them offer volunteer opportunities."
"I hope that those that participate in the One Read are willing to learn, reflect and ultimately become inspired to help," Collins said.