As national UCC offices downsize, furniture — and much more — gets new homes

A racial-justice office in an Ohio church is now home to some of the furniture from the national headquarters of the United Church of Christ.

A desk, bookshelves, file cabinet, tables and chairs now fill the new office of the Portage County Branch of the NAACP. It’s in a former classroom at Kent UCC, 45 minutes southeast of Cleveland.

It’s just one example of items making their way from the UCC’s longtime downtown home to Ohio churches and nonprofits.

After 30 years at 700 Prospect Avenue, the national ministries are preparing to move this spring to smaller, rented quarters on East 9th Street. In November and December, they gave away surplus furniture, books, office supplies and more.

The new homes for the furniture range from a church camp (an exercise bike with a built-in desk) to a church book nook (a bookcase).

‘One justice office to another’

Seen with some of the furniture from the UCC national offices are President Geraldine Hayes-Nelson of the Portage County (Ohio) NAACP Branch, Senior Pastor Amy Gopp of Kent UCC, and Frank Hairston, the branch’s publicity officer.

The NAACP office in the Kent church is a story unto itself.

“We received a grant from Living Water Association to help us with the cost of housing the NAACP office,” said Kent UCC member Jen Case. “But it was quickly used up with new carpet, locks, electrical work, a new phone line and fresh paint. We needed furniture! Someone from our social justice committee, Pam Quellhorst, heard that there was office furniture available from the main office, and it definitely felt like God’s provision in God’s timing.”

The impact was all the greater, Case said, because it’s the first time the local NAACP has had an office of its own. As a local newspaper headline put it, the chapter is “no longer homeless.”

When Chapter President Geraldine Hayes-Nelson arrived to show movers where to put the furniture, “she broke down in tears,” Case said. “She carries much of the burden when it comes to hearing the stories and following up with Black folks that are experiencing racism in our county. She also provides a lot of the leadership for local youth and children’s programs, including a brand-new chapter at Windham High School.

“She was running the whole thing from home with her own cell phone number on her business card. She needed a home office, and it was long in coming due to the pandemic, but we were finally able to provide her with the space she needed and deserved.”

And there was one more serendipity. “As we were setting up the furniture, we pulled out a beautiful poster — containing a poem about refugees — from the file cabinet,” Case said. “Again, it seemed like confirmation from God, a gift from one justice office to another. We are so grateful to the UCC office and to God for allowing us to provide an actual, physical space for this historic civil rights organization.”

‘Brings those ties closer’

In Vermilion, Ohio, books now have a nook at UCC, Congregational.

Other recipients expressed gratitude, too:

  • If Templed Hills Camp in Central Ohio doesn’t leap to mind as a place for an exercise bike, Jill Frey has an explanation. “I live there 24/7 in June and July,” said Frey, the Heartland Conference‘s executive director of outdoor ministries. The rest of the year she works from home, where she has her own bike machine. “Last summer when I was out there, I did lots of walking, of course,” Frey said. “I’m not as young as I used to be, and I have arthritis in my knee. When I got home, my knee was in very bad shape. As soon as I got back to the bike at home, it limbered up right away.” She hopes the combination desk-and-bike from Cleveland, to be set up in her camp office, will keep her limber — when she’s not out walking 12- to 17,000 steps daily.
  • In Vermilion, at UCC, Congregational, a bookcase and framed poster now occupy a reading nook “outside our ‘Godly PlaySpace,'” said the congregation’s administrative assistant, Judy Brizzolara. The nook is near a room devoted to faith-formation activities, and “the bookcase fits perfectly,” she said. Brizzolara has an inspirational poster from Cleveland in her office as well. “Our congregants feel strong ties to the wider church,” she said. “Having items from the national offices brings those ties closer.”
  • New Minister of Health and Wholeness Catherine Lawrence arrived at Lakewood Congregational UCC in suburban Cleveland in November. She said her office now includes furniture from 700 Prospect, including “a very lovely file cabinet” and bookcases. There’ll also be a shelving unit. The church could get only half of it in December and will return downtown soon to get the rest.

Besides churches like those, nonprofit and government organizations are also putting items to good use. For example, Preterm, a Cleveland reproductive health agency, took enough furniture to fill an office. Furnishings from the office of UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer and the adjacent second-floor conference room are headed for the mayor’s office in the Village of Woodmere, just east of the city.

‘Enriching our learning’

More than furniture found new homes. Schools, a theater, a shelter and other agencies received a potpourri of items described here — from fabric to bottled water.

Hundreds of books on many subjects found new homes, too.

And books. Hundreds of them were arrayed for the taking in December on tables at Cleveland’s Pilgrim Congregational UCC.

Senior Pastor James Semelroth Darnell of David’s UCC in Canal Winchester drove up from the Columbus area and went home with “a couple dozen books.”

“We were able to expand our church library with a variety of resources on leadership, church history, stewardship, spirituality, and LGBTQ ministries,” he said. “In addition, I was able to add some wonderful volumes to my own personal library. We value the national setting sharing these books with us and enriching our learning.”

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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