"This church that looks like a mission acts like a mission," says the Rev. Ginny Curinga of Sierra Arden UCC in Sacramento, Calif. W. Evan Golder photo.
How many of you feel you are using your church space well?
How many of you have all the money you need to maintain your building?
How many of you get support to maintain your building from those who use your building?
With those questions, Robert Jaeger of Partners for Sacred Places opened a workshop, "Our Buildings are Called, Too," in Berkeley, Calif., at UCC-related Pacific School of Religion's annual Earl Lectures and Pastoral Conference in January.
"Partners," located in Philadelphia, describes itself as "the only national organization providing practical assistance on property care and stewardship, focusing on community-serving, historic, religious properties."
"Sacred places have public value," says Jaeger, "to everyone around them."
Jaeger cited a 1997 study of six cities showing that 75 percent of all services supported by urban congregations take place in the churches' own facilities, even though 80 percent of those who benefit from such programs are not members of the church.
Yet, according to Jaeger, mayors, city councils and community leaders often do not think of churches as community centers.
He encouraged participants to work with the community, "to listen, learn and partner with others" to assess their church's best uses. "Ask, 'What can we do for you?'" he said. Then conduct a feasibility study, seek professional input, imagine the future and revise your plans when necessary.
Co-leading the workshop was Jacqueline Truluck Warren, author of the 60-page booklet, "Open the Doors, See All the People: A Guide to Serving Families in Sacred Places."
She documented five categories of possible programs based in local churches: child care, enrichment, health care, family support and advocacy (influencing priorities in our society). "Open the Doors" gives examples of these programs, as well as planning and organizing tips for assessing needs, recruiting partners and getting started.
A quick survey of workshop participants yielded many different services offered by local churches. Among them:
The Rev. Kathryn Schreiber said that the United Church of Hayward (Calif.) is used as a multicultural child care center with children from six continents, which has gotten the congregation involved in immigrant issues.
The Rev. Jeffrey Spencer said that Tolt Congregational UCC in Carnation, Wash., has an outside reader board that is used for community announcements.
The Rev. Heather Hennesy said that First Christian Church of Redding, Calif., is used by the community as a celebratory space to recognize birthdays and anniversaries.
The Rev. Ginny Curinga said that Sierra Arden UCC in Sacramento, Calif., is used for worship by three other congregations (Filipino; Korean; and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) and, among other services, serves as a polling place.
"This church that looks like a mission acts like a mission," she says.
The Rev. W. Evan Golder is editor emeritus of United Church News.
For a free copy of the 60-page booklet, "Open the Doors, See All the People: A Guide to Serving Families in Sacred Places," phone Partners for Sacred Places in Philadelphia at 215-567- 3234; e-mail email@example.com; or visit sacredplaces.org.