Separate journeys lead three newer UCC churches to destinations in various ways

Separate journeys lead three newer UCC churches to destinations in various ways

If the Rev. Cean James' creative self-expression is a harbinger of things to come for his congregation at Grace Christian Fellowship UCC in Philadelphia, members are bound to be in for an enriching, exciting experience.

"We are Holy Ghost-happy about this new relationship, and are excited to join all other UCC congregations in the work that they have been doing for centuries," said James, founder and pastor of the primarily African-American congregation. The UCC's Pennsylvania Southeast Conference officially received Grace Christian April 19.

"I think it speaks volumes for the visionary leadership of the UCC that while so many mainline denominations are declining, the UCC is seeking and planting new, vibrant ministries," he said.

Unaffiliated with any church until becoming UCC, Grace Christian took root as a Bible study in 2005. It quickly blossomed into a 100-member congregation. Within a year, Grace purchased a church building from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and on Thanksgiving Day 2006 held its first worship service in its new sanctuary.

Grace Christian now has a membership of more than 250.

James praised the Rev. Geneva Butz, associate Conference minister of the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference, for playing a significant role in making it happen. "More than anyone else, she is responsible for prayerfully, patiently and persistently seeing us through this process," said James. "And thank God for her."
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First Congregational Church in Evanston, Ill., did the bulk of its work in becoming a UCC church without the benefit of a senior pastor.

"We had kind of a slow start, but the energy now is incredible," said the Rev. Ann Rosewall, who became senior pastor on Palm Sunday 2011, three months after the church's entry into the UCC. "We have had three UCC pastors join the church in the past year, which I think is a very positive sign."

Overall, 19 new members have joined First Congregational since it became part of the UCC, said Rosewall. "Our membership now is about 220."

The church houses a regional day center for the Family Promise of the North Shore program, which works to relocate homeless families.

"We also are a warming center for the homeless during the winter, and we have a weekly sack-lunch program for homeless in the area," said Rosewall.

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In little Mitchell, S.D., Anew UCC, a progressive congregation practicing the tenets of an Open and Affirming (ONA) church, was received March 27.

"The Anew UCC has from the beginning sought to do church in a 'new way,'" said the Rev. Kristi McLaughlin, pastor.

"While in some ways, this new way is still in discernment, we understand ourselves to be a place and a voice of peace, justice, and inclusion in Mitchell, South Dakota," said McLaughlin. "Our hope is to continue seeking God's dream for our small corner of our world as well as the world beyond us."

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