Written by Anthony Moujaes
Just how did Paradise Hills United Church of Christ in the San Diego, Calif. area triple in size since the Rev. David Alicea was called by the congregation two years ago? With their new pastor, the church reached out to the people in its community, and refreshed worship services. Paradise Hills, still reaping the benefits of those changes, has been given another opportunity for growth, in the form of a grant from the United Church of Christ Local Church Ministries.
Paradise Hills is one of the 14 UCC churches that were awarded more than a quarter-of-a-million dollars in grant money this spring, recognized as new, renewing and multiplying congregations.
"The fourteen congregations funded by Local Church Ministries this spring are exciting in that they represent the many dynamic possibilities for new ministry and outreach happening in the UCC," said the Rev. David Schoen, team leader for congregational vitality and discipleship. "What's even more exciting is that there are more to come [in the future]."
Schoen elaborated on some ways the congregations have expanded their reach, which include multiplying new ministries with new populations and Hispanic communities. Historic congregations are learning new ways to be a church, new congregations are reaching younger generations, existing congregations are building multi-ethnic communities and intercultural outreach, and new churches are being established by collaborating denominations.
When Alicea came to Paradise Hills as the new pastor in 2011, the church had 25 members. With a new approach to Sunday services, there are upwards of three times as many people in the pews today.
"It's all new. We brought in a band, we're doing contemporary worship and encouraging more participation from the members," Alicea said. "People aren't just sitting there and listening."
Alicea said there are usually as many as 70-75 people in the sanctuary on Sunday — which seats up to 150. Paradise Hills has been a community church for almost 60 years in the National City neighborhood of San Diego, and has grown into a multicultural church with a mix of African Americans, Filipinos, Latinos and Caucasians.
Alicea said the church is also reaching out to its neighbors. Paradise Hills has attracted members from a nearby U.S. Naval housing facility, serves meals to the community and hosts bible studies that span across cultural lines.
"I think what I've done is [to] make them feel I'm with them... I've told them I'm not going to go anywhere," Alicea said. "Everything we do is directed to our church."
Alicea admits the changes took time, and weren't immediately welcomed by the entire membership. "We still have people that need to embrace the [new] ideas," he said. But he is optimistic that if the church's trend continues to bring in new members, Paradise Hills will grow its community and fill all 150 seats.
Here is the complete list of churches awarded grants this spring:
- Hispanic Ministries of Plymouth Congregational Church UCC, Lawrence, Kan.
- Koinonia Community/First Congregational Church UCC, Battle Creek, Mich.
- Christ Church United UCC, Sachse, Texas
- Veritas UCC, Hagerstown, Maryland
- Community Church UCC, UCC, Washington D.C.
- Village Church UCC/UMC, Maumee, Ohio
- Berkeley Community Church UCC, Denver, Colo.
- Jubilee UCC, Lanham, Md.
- Bethel UCC, Cahokia, Ill.
- Manantial de Gracia UCC, New Britain, Conn.
- Mt. Zion UCC, Rockingham, N.C.
- St. Peter UCC, Granite City, Ill.
- UCC Paradise Hills, San Diego, Calif.
- West Parish of Barnstable UCC, W. Barnstable. Mass.
The latest round of grants, approved at the LCM board of directors meeting March 8, totals $280,000, leaving another $220,000 for distribution when fall recipients are announced in October. LCM, as part of its commitment to provide resources for growth to new and renewing churches, awards $500,000 annually, and has given grants to more than 100 churches in the last six years.