Written by W. Evan Golder
Ohio church builds bridges to those in need
Cheryl Diehl has help from her son, Matthew, 9 (r.), and her nephew, Alex Huffman, 6, in cleaning the church's nursery furniture and toys. W. Evan Golder photo.
Three thousand forty three. That's how many innocent victims died in the terrorist attacks last September 11.
That number bothered Dwaine Hempell, an attorney and member of Christ UCC in Orrville, Ohio.
"We lost sight of individual lives that had been lost," Hempell says. "These were real people who were just living their lives. They were planning to buy a house or send their kids off to college or getting ready to retire.
"And I wondered how we could honor those lives.">
Then he read in United Church News how members of the UCC's partner church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), were being asked to use the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks as an opportunity to build local bridges and reach out to those in need.
"When you look at the magnitude of it," he says, "one day didn't seem like enough. That's when I thought of the ?3043 Campaign.'">
3043 acts of service
Inside the church on a 95 degree day in August, 16-year-old Jeff Weyrauch, baseball cap on backwards, works with a buddy preparing a wall display of service cards. W. Evan Golder photo.
Hempell's idea was to challenge the 700 members of Christ UCC to complete 3,043 acts of Christian service by September 11, in memory of each individual who died in last year's terrorist attacks.
To aid church members in doing this, the congregation's mission committee, which he chairs, prepared a series of "service memorial cards." Each card contained a brief biography of one of the victims and places for a church member to record, anonymously, 10 acts of Christian service. Each Sunday the cards are placed in the offering plates.
"Acts of service are really acts of hope and faith," says the pastor, the Rev. Randall Gehres, "not just a duty. They are a witness to the reign of God among us.">
"The other thing this does," says Gehres, "is help church members see that much of what they're already doing are acts of Christian service, which they do because of their faith. This campaign helps them in naming and claiming Christian behavior."
The idea spread quickly.
Following a service of blessing during the Sunday service on July 7 and accounts of the campaign in local newspapers, the service cards began to appear regularly among the Sunday offerings.
Church members did such things as delivering strawberries to a neighbor, sending a birthday note to an elderly shut-in, righting headstones at a cemetery, visiting a hospice patient, serving ice tea to a road crew, aiding canoeists on a dangerous stretch of river, helping with shopping and cooking for a weekly meal for the homeless, mulching the church labyrinth, sharing garden vegetables with a neighbor, helping a friend move, and volunteering at the bloodmobile.
Hempell tells the story of a 9-year-old girl who visited a nursery home with her parents and saw an elderly resident who never got any visitors. Later she gave her favorite teddy bear to the woman, who now sleeps with it every night.
"We hope to demonstrate that violence and hatred do not render us powerless," Gehres wrote to church members. "We accept the responsibility to change the world for the better, one person at a time.">
|9-11 worship resources available
"O God, Tender and Just" is the title of a three-part resource available to help congregations prepare for the first anniversary of the September 11 tragedy. It includes a 36-page biblical study based on Psalm 23, a liturgy for worship, and an anthology of sermons, prayers and other writings.
The biblical study was prepared by the Rev. Noelle Damico, a UCC minister working with the University of the Poor School of Theology, a community-based, educational project of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign.
The liturgy was prepared by Susan A. Blain, worship coordinator at The Riverside Church (UCC/ABC) in New York City.
One copy of each of these was mailed to each UCC church in August. The biblical study and the liturgy can be downloaded in PDF format ready for printing from the UCC website . Or they are available free except for shipping and handling from UCC Resources. Additional copies of the anthology also are available ($12 plus s/h) from UCC Resources (800/537-3394, M-F, 8:30-4:30 ET).