UCC grows mission-oriented churches 'outside the box'

UCC grows mission-oriented churches 'outside the box'

August 31, 2003
Written by Staff Reports

Lee Foley

 From The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer comes a story about how mainline Protestant denominations, including the UCC, are thinking outside the box to reverse decades of declining membership. In addition to the UCC, the story points to efforts by the Episcopal, United Methodist and Presbyterian churches. The Rev. David Schoen, minister and team leader of the UCC's Evangelism Ministry, is quoted saying, "New churches can start with just a blank slate and be totally mission-oriented." The story goes on, "In the last decade, the United Church of Christ has helped start five churches in Cleveland, Lakewood and Euclid [Cleveland suburbs], reaching out to gay, black, Hispanic and innercity communities." UCC minister the Rev. Joan Salmon Campbell tells the paper, "There is no set way, one way, to do ministry in these times. What matters is not the size but the spiritual grown of the congregation."

 My friend Ron Buford recently wrote a powerful opinion piece appearing in The Atlanta Journal Constitution. In his capacity as principal spokesperson for the UCC, Ron took exception to an earlier editorial where the paper argued it is time to let a reorganized WorldCom move on from its past. Many readers know that the UCC's Office of Communication, Inc. has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to hold MCI (formerly WorldCom) accountable for the corporate fraud committed under its former management. I'm always hesitant to quote editorials and opinion pieces here. That just gets into, "he said-she said." As far as I'm concerned, one person's opinion is as valid as another's. But the important thing about Buford's response is the prominence it received. It points to the respect and clout that the UCC's OC, Inc. commands from those involved in the regulation of the communications industry and by those that report on that industry. This tiny and little-known branch of the church is a giant in those circles. If you'd like to learn more about OC, Inc., contact United Church of Christ Resources at 800/537-3394 to order a copy of the documentary video, "OC, Inc.: The Untold Story."

 Last fall, the 94 members at Fort Pierre Congregational UCC in South Dakota, had to decide between a new church building or renovating their existing one, built in 1908 and 1909. There's a great story in the Capital Journal, which serves their area, detailing the restoration they took on. "The feeling of the congregation is that we want to show the community that there still is life in the Fort Pierre Congregational United Church of Christ," the Rev. Jerry Oberg tells the paper. The article makes it clear this is a step of faith. Over the past years the membership had set aside $30,000. Now they've got to raise that much again to pay for the renovation, which will include restoring the original brick facade and replacing the church bell in the steeple. So, it's not just a story about the refurbishment of an old building, but of the people who love the building and the community it serves.

 Wentz's UCC in Worcester, PA., is serving as home base for a summer camp for kids run by the Montgomery County Association for the Blind. The Mercury recently ran a story on the camp, where visually impaired kids spend the summer playing golf, archery, painting and playing the keyboard, among other activities. But mostly, according to Jim Hunt, who also is blind and runs the camp, "It's fun. It's something to do. It gives them confidence. They're growing up on a sighted world, they need to be able to interact with the sighted." The camp is free to the kids and relies on donations from individuals and corporations and on grants. Wentz's UCC was founded in 1762 and has a membership of about 700.

 Here's the story of another congregation, Swiss UCC in downtown New Glarus, Wis., serving as the site for a community event. This comes from the Monroe Times, which serves the New Glarus area. As part of the area's annual Wilhelm Tell Festival, the church will be the site for a yodeling contest. Now I grew up in Wisconsin and can vouch for the seriousness with which the folks of German and Swiss ancestry take their yodeling. It was always a treat to the ear when the sounds of the yodelers on the flatbed truck mixed with those from the following bagpipe band in my hometown Oktoberfest parade. Anyway, this is the first time the festival has sponsored the yodeling contest. The paper notes that in addition to skilled yodelers, it is also open to non-professional yodelers of any age. That in itself could make it a magical evening. Swiss UCC is another church founded long ago, in 1850, and has about 500 members.

 Three Hawaiian UCC churches are at the forefront of developing the first phase of a $2.5 million improvement to a wilderness camp on Oahu's Northeast coast. The Honolulu Advisor reports the three churches - United Church of Christ on Judd Street, Nuuanu Congregational UCC and Community UCC of Honolulu - are collaborating to help build the first of several new buildings planned for the 103-acre camp. It is used, according to the paper, for spiritual, intellectual and emotional retreats by church members and the public. The area was purchased by the Hawaiian Conference Foundation nearly 40 years ago. Not much has been done to the property since then. Under the planned improvements much of it will be left in a natural state, and a portion of it developed to provide some comforts, such as cabins and a dining facility, for those who use it.

HAS YOUR CHURCH been featured in a newspaper or magazine? If so, send a clipping of the article to Clippings, United Church News, 700 Prospect Ave., Cleveland OH 44115-1100. Mention the name of the publication and the city where it's located. Lee Foley is Director of Administration for the UCC's Proclamation, Identity and Communication Ministry.

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