What's a congregation that is known for its generosity to do during Mission:1? For the members of First Congregational UCC of South Portland, Maine, it means delving into food justice advocacy issues and acting for change.
With the 11 day focus of Mission:1, the church's Mission and Outreach Team envisioned a way for the entire congregation to "Think and Act" during this period on issues of food and economic justice. Their "Mission:1 Calendar" has accompanied members through the campaign, asking them to consider one issue each day and make a tangible effort to engage that issue.
The "Think and Act" statements for today, Nov. 10, 2011, are:
THINK: The United Church of Christ dreams of
impossible things and challenges us to focus on world hunger and food-related
injustice worldwide for 11 days. The goals are for all in the UCC to share in
donating 1 million items of healthy food through local congregations, to give
at least $111,111 in online donations to the Neighbors in Need offering, and to
send 11,111 letters to Congress in support of more effective U.S. foreign aid.
ACT: Tell a friend, a co-worker or a stranger about how crazy your church is to believe that we can end hunger in 11 days. Tell a particular story of something you’ve seen happen in your church in the past 10 days.
"The church identifies as a serving community – it's who they are," says the Rev. Elsa A. Peters, associate pastor at First Congregational UCC. "But meeting the individuals in need has been more of a challenge."
For 11 years the church has had an active role in serving the emergency financial needs of the community. Its Community Crisis Ministries started with a large financial gift and was tasked with giving the money away in a certain period of time.
"The pot of money has been replenished over and over," says Peters. "And it continues to go out into the community to serve those in need."
Taking on the challenge of face-to-face ministry, the church engaged in its first mission trip this summer. A group from the church went to Cherryfield, Maine, in July to meet the needs of vulnerable populations along Maine's seacoast communities.
Continuing to bridge the gap between knowledge and action is one of the goals of the Mission and Outreach Team at First Congreagational UCC. The team hosted fellowship time after church services Oct. 30 as a way to introduce Mission:1 and issues of local and international food justice.
Children were invited to play the "Food Pantry Game" where game pieces representing good, and not so good, food choices were to be placed in the pantry. Healthy and helpful items such as rice, ketchup and soup were sorted against the less favorable pudding cup.
Following the game, children and their families were invited to bring one of the identified good foods to church the following Sunday. The donations will be used to restock the churches food pantry that is open during all church hours and staffed by volunteers.
And the replenishment couldn't have come at a better time, says Peters. "We've had empty shelves, repeatedly, during this economic downturn. Even though many of us are hunkering down, it is good to remember there are others who are needier than we are."
To date the church has collected more than 200 healthy food items, doubling its Mission:1 goal of 111 items. Members have met their commitment to write 111 advocacy letters during a potluck party Nov. 3.
As part of its Mission:1 focus, the church hosted the "No More Food Pantries and Soup Kitchens? Food Security in Maine?" event Nov. 9. Led by Donna Yellen, and connected with the church's interest in the Maine HungerInitiative, attendees were asked to consider the social and political consequences of ending statewide food insecurity.
Peters is hopeful for the awareness and engagement that Mission:1 has inspired.
"What does social justice look like when so many of the wonderful members of our church have done it in an old paradigm – one that may no longer be relevant," she says of the church's longstanding commitments to civil rights and other justice issues. "The tools are different… Mission:1 has been one of the things that has helped us articulate the underlying need."
More information on Mission:1 is available at <ucc.org/mission1>.