As I write this in early May, the folks of Portland, Maine, are preparing to welcome the schooner Amistad, the re-creation of the ship made famous by the captive uprising and subsequent successful legal fight to have them returned to their African homes. A preview of the week-long visit showed up in Portland's Press Herald. It tells of the excitement by school teacher Susan Krauss as she gets ready to take her class on a tour of the ship. Her students are just now learning of slavery and the Civil War and she tells the paper, "This is a great opportunity I don't want to miss." The story goes on to say more than 2,500 school students are expected to visit the Amistad during its time in Portland. The city and the UCC's Maine Conference are sponsoring the visit. The UCC paid for a substantial cost of building the ship, which moves from port to port, providing a living educational experience for thousands each year. This summer the Amistad will visit several cities on the Great Lakes.
From the Miami Herald we have a nice story about an Amistad Sunday celebration at Miami's Church of the Open Door UCC by members of United Black Christians. "Amistad Sunday has become a time to stop as a congregation, reflect on the past and fight for new racial justice," Patricia Ford, the immediate past president of UBC tells the paper. Six alumni of UCC-related colleges were honored for their lifetime work during the celebration. The Rev. Luther Holland Jr., senior pastor at Congregational of Park Manor UCC in Chicago, gave the sermon. According to the story, he told those in attendance to differentiate between "then and now" in black history.
The Roller Coaster Reverend has opened his season, according to an article in the Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. Fifty-five-year-old the Rev. Cliff Herring, pastor at St. John's UCC in Allen Township, Pa., got his nickname after riding a local roller coast, "Thunderhawk," more than 100 times on a single day a few years ago. In early May, as he has every year except twice since 1984, Herring was in the first row of the first car on "Thunderhawk's" first run of the season. He says he's ridden on more than 350 different roller coasters and has married more than 100 couples on the rides. He tells the paper he's "hooked" on roller coasters. I would think so. He says he's been hooked since his first ride when he was 8 years old.
You'll rarely see a book review in United Church News and this certainly isn't one. But, I've got a story here from The Post-Standard in Syracuse, N.Y., about a retired UCC preacher who's assembled a lifetime of personal thoughts, Bible quotations, newspaper clippings, quotes from famous and not-so-famous people, advice on how to spot drug abuse and lists of phobias, among other things, into a single volume called "Gleanings: The Ultimate Scrapbook." It's the work of the Rev. Graham Hodges, who is clearly a packrat of some note. There is no table of contents, according to the story about Hodges and his book. Items are slapped down on the pages in any fashion, just as in a scrapbook. He tells the paper, "Organizing the book would be like corralling flock of sea gulls." This is the 87-year-old's 19th published book, seven of which came after he turned 80.
First Congregational UCC in Huntington, W.V., served as the final stop for some 100 folks who took part in a walk to support those with HIV/AIDS and raise money for their medication. It's the first year the church has been involved in the event, which was covered by The Herald Dispatch, serving the Huntington area. About $7,500 was raised by those walking. At the church, the Rev. Tim Dixon told them, "The idea is to bring attention to everyone who has been affected by AIDS. This is just a moment of reflection on those who have succumbed to the disease. It's our responsibility to minister to everyone without judgment, with no barriers. That is the goal. No barriers. Everyone is equal."
Each year, as Mother's Day approaches, the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News invites its readers to send in information about their mothers. It got a letter from 38- year-old Tina Rogal, writing about her mother, Clara Rezash, who's married to the Rev. Lawrence Rezash, pastor emeritus at St. John's UCC in Dayton. She said her mother became a friend and supporter of gay and lesbian teens during a time when those teens didn't have many adults who understood. Here's a part of the letter, as reported in the Daily News. "My mother has counseled countless teenagers, telling them they are beautiful, wonderful and unique. My mother has helped hundreds of children who have been rejected by their families after coming out. The bottom line is, that at age 71 and after 20 years, my mother has been preaching and teaching the message of love and acceptance, not only to her own three loving children and two adoring grandchildren but to others across the Miami Valley. My mother has made an enormous difference in our hometown. She truly is the greatest mother I know—a real hero."
The Capital Times of Madison, Wis., just ran a story about the Madison-area Urban Ministry and its advocacy on behalf of homeless persons and its Prisoner Re-entry Program. MUM has been in business the last 30 years and has now become a force in the community, according to the story, which quotes the Rev. Charles Wolfe, pastor of Plymouth UCC in Madison, "There's no question MUM remains relevant and influential, however waning the influence of religion may be. Before the mayoral election, the candidates were willing to sit down and meet with us. They thought it was worth their time." Wolfe went on to tell the paper, "The kinds of social justice issues they are dealing with are issues that cut across and go beyond religious lines. When MUM speaks there are people who listen who are not necessarily aligned with the religious community."
The Reporter of Lansdale, Pa., recently did a profile of a homeless man living in that area, just north of Philadelphia. The man, 52-year-old Bob Stout, has been homeless since about 1995, according to the story. He's living on the streets now that the weather has turned warmer, sleeping in a wooded area, spending his days at the local library and eating at a soup kitchen. But during the cold weather months, just past, he spent his nights at St. John's UCC in Lansdale. St. John's is part of a program called Code Blue, a country network of shelters that goes into operation when the temperatures fall below a level safe for people to stay outside. Church administrator Jane Keim told The Reporter, "We get lots of donations from individuals, like toiletries and other items the guys would need."
When he's not writing this column or taking care of business as Director of Administration for the UCC's Proclamation, Identity and Communication Ministry, Lee Foley can be found on the golf course, delighted that warm weather finally has returned to Cleveland. If your church has been mentioned in a newspaper or magazine, send him a clipping c/o Clippings, United Church News, 700 Prospect Ave., Cleveland, OH 44115-1100. Be sure to mention the name of the publication and the city where it is located.