The ringing of church bells will resonate more widely within the UCC on May 5 when two new-church plants are officially received as member churches by the denomination.
Bridges of Grace –– the UCC's first new-church start in West Virginia in several years –– will join Faith Family Community Church in Tampa, Fla., in extending extravagant welcome to its communities.
"I have to say it's almost surreal," said the Rev. Kay Albright, Bridges of Grace pastor. "In March, we celebrated one year in worship. It's happened so fast –– in a good way. When God speaks, you've got to keep listening."
Located in Charleston, Bridges of Grace has standing in the Central Southeast Association of the Ohio Conference, with funding from the Conference and the UCC's Local Church Ministries. The congregation is open and affirming in practice, and was birthed by First Congregational UCC in Huntington, W.Va.
"It's amazing and empowering," said Albright of the church's milestone moment. "The thing I'm realizing with our folks is that for many of them, not being alone is a really new and exciting feeling.There is a realization that we are part of something bigger than ourselves."
In Tampa, the Rev. Kathy Rooke is ready to lead an ONA-spirited congregation that is open and affirming in practice at Faith Family, which is being received at Vero Beach Community UCC during the Florida Conference's Annual Meeting.
"To talk about extravagant welcome and hospitality –– that so resonates with us," said Rooke, noting the church's emphasis on stewardship. "When our people do a call for an offering, we hear things like, 'I stopped by with food after our Sunday dinner and gave it to the homeless people at the bus stop.' Or 'I took food from our food pantry and gave it to homeless people in our neighborhood.'"
"Those are the kinds of calls for offering we do," said Rooke. "We never call for money in our church. We always call for people to share the gifts they've been given. These are the things we see as working well into becoming a UCC congregation."
Faith Family members initially met at St. Mark UCC in Valrico, Fla., said Kent Siladi, Florida Conference minister. "When St. Mark realized that they no longer were viable as a congregation, Faith Family explored the possibility of joining the UCC," said Siladi. "Regional Conference Minister Jean Simpson worked closely with the church . . . and First United in Tampa became a mentoring congregation to Faith Family."