Welcome to Amistad Chapel!
Written by Hans Holznagel
The May 19 dedication service at Amistad Chapel was marked by song, symbol, drumming, dance and prayer.
© Scott Shaw
Water marks our Story: sea, river, pool, well. Streams of living water. Justice and righteousness rolling down. Baptism, name, hope.
With the completion of the new Amistad Chapel, these images are suddenly central to all who enter the United Church of Christ building in downtown Cleveland.
The chapel, open to all for worship and personal devotions—and featuring a font at its entryway—was dedicated in a bright, emotional service May 19. Its name recalls a thoroughly "UCC" story of faith and courage at sea. Its architecture, suggesting living water, unifies a campus that has emerged at 700 Prospect Avenue, just as our church's national agencies undergo their largest reorganization in the UCC's 43-year history.
The dedication service, in music, language and the very faces present, symbolized the UCC's commitment in the name of Jesus Christ to be of many races and cultures.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony just prior to the service, the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC president, prayed that the portrait of Amistad leader Sengbe Pieh would "gaze upon us, disturbing comfortable accomodations, inspiring courageous action." A painting of Pieh hangs in the new chapel.
A processional then began the dedication service. Bernice Powell Jackson, executive minister-elect of Justice and Witness Ministries, offered a libation prayer in memory of the African captives who revolted aboard the ship Amistad in 1839. The chapel honors them and other UCC forebears: Congregationalists, who came to the captives' aid; and the American Missionary Association, whose interracial movement of Christian social justice, education and discipleship was formed in the wake of the Amistad incident and lives on in the UCC today.
The Rev. F. Allison Phillips, head of the American Missionary Association Division of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, prayed for "a safe space, where all people can come together to experience faith, friendship and freedom."
The surrounding campus, which can now be called the Church House of the UCC, is equipped for meetings, hospitality and, increasingly, learning and worship. The hope is that the entire UCC will call it home. The chapel is a gift to the whole church from the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, one of nine current agencies and offices that will conclude work in a few short days, giving way to four new Covenanted Ministries. The generosity of past donors meant the Board could build the $1.5-million chapel with a portion of investment proceeds from unrestricted reserves. No offering-plate dollars were used. For those of us based here, the chapel is a new, daily reminder of why we are here. Thanks to the vision and artistry of a group of UCC architects, curves, ovals, circles—even water itself—flow through the campus and lead back to the chapel's font.
In a time of structural change, this new physical structure offers an aid to focus, faith and unity.
Hans Holznagel, a member of St. Paul's Community UCC, Cleveland, has worked in the UCC's national setting for 15 years.