Missouri youth, Manual on Church volunteers first groups to visit new Church House
The break room is a popular spot in a lot of workplaces. Same goes at the United Church of Christ. But other offices don’t have the UCC’s “Just World for All” mural.
The vibrant artwork, created for the space by internationally known artist and advocate Cbabi Bayoc, proved to be a perfect backdrop for pictures of the first guests and the first gathering at the new Church House.
Wrote and played together
Justice and Local Church Ministries hosted the Manual on Church working group Aug. 8-11 at 1300 East 9th Street, Cleveland. It was the first working committee from across the UCC to meet in the denomination’s new national offices.
The Rev. Chris Davies, leader of the Faith Education, Innovation and Formation team, said their time was split between the building conference rooms on the first floor and the flexible working spaces in the national office.
“This group worked throughout the pandemic on this critical document for the United Church of Christ as volunteers,” Davies said. “We lifted the work that has been done so far and gratitude for all in it, including the Rev. Sepu Tanuvasa, who passed away in January, and carried it further together.
“We wrote sections, played together and set up next steps to bring us closer to our audacious goal of having something ready to present at AM21 in December.”
Progress on manual
“AM21″ is short for “Authorizing Ministry for the 21st Century,” a biennial gathering of certain UCC national and Conference staff members, set for Dec. 5-9 in Atlanta. Davies said the working group even designed a board game for congregational use related to the “Marks of Vital and Faithful Congregations” that are part of the Manual on Church draft.
“We are eager to keep the work going, and with only four meetings between now and AM21, there is much to do,” she said. “Continued prayers are requested for our work.”
She expects there will be opportunities for other groups — Conference Ministers and staff, the Council for Racial and Ethnic Ministries, historically underrepresented groups of the UCC, and the Rural Ministries Coalition – “to offer early feedback on the completed drafted portions in November.”
First youth tour
The week before the Manual on Church working group came to Cleveland, the Church House welcomed the first youth group to tour the new facility.
Twenty-three people from St. Lucas UCC, Sappington, Mo., came by for a visit Aug. 4. The St. Louis-area youth group had chosen the Cleveland area for its annual mission trip and spent the week of Aug. 1 in Cuyahoga and Lorain counties working with Next Step Ministries.
“Our high school youth plan their mission trips,” said youth director Amy Bush. “We’ve stayed local because of COVID for two years, but in October, when things were looking better, they researched and proposed coming to Ohio. Next Step Ministries was the place that interested them the most.”
A working trip
The 16 young people and seven adults were divided up into four work crews for a week of hands-on ministry.
They painted space at a local United Methodist Church so a food pantry could be arranged more like a community market; welcomed folks to that market to select foods and personal care items; helped pour a concrete sidewalk and fix steps for a woman, then hauled off a summer’s worth of construction debris; built a roof for another person’s porch; hosted a community meal; and entertained children so their mothers could have quiet time.
And, Bush said since they were in Cleveland, “this is the home of the national office. We have to go.”
The contingent included the Rev. Carole Barner, serving as St. Lucas UCC’s intentional interim minister of congregational life. It just so happened that she is a long-time friend of General Minister and President John Dorhauer. And she was celebrating her birthday on the day he and Bush arranged the visit — a stop everyone knew about but her.
“When I got the text they were on their way, I went down and met them at the corner of 9th and St. Clair,” Dorhauer said. As they were halfway across the street, Carole, who still did not know what they were doing, looked up and saw me. She shouted, ran through the intersection, and gave me a big hug while the youth gathered around her and shouted ‘happy birthday!'”
“Our visit to the national UCC offices was a wonderful birthday gift for me, but I am even more grateful that our youth and trip sponsors got to be there, to learn more about the UCC and to be hosted by none other than our general minister and president, my friend and colleague, John Dorhauer,” Barner said. “I had mentioned to Amy how cool it would be if we could take the group there since we were so close. Yes, I am a church nerd!
“John did a wonderful job of teaching as we toured, pointing out the piece of the communion table from the Amistad Chapel that now is in the center of the conference room table, talking about the commissioned art work, showing us the remarkable mission central and its technological capabilities, and telling the story of the handshake on June 25, 1957 (that created the United Church of Christ) that happened in the building across the road from his office.
“He answered polity questions asked by one sponsor who isn’t actually a UCC member — and it was great for both kids and adults to hear it from a new voice, especially John’s.”
“Everyone knew the plan but Carole,” Bush said. “Our kids really weren’t so sure they wanted to do that … tour an office building … but afterward, they said it was very cool to see the mural, the offices, and learn more about the UCC.”
And then the group went for ice cream. They also took a picture at the Cleveland sign at Edgewater Park, caught a couple hours at the beach on Lake Erie, played spoons, and spent time in worship and prayer together.
Barner said the week’s experience is one the group won’t soon forget.
“The youth shared powerful stories of witness in worship on August 13 and 14, thanking the congregation of St. Lucas UCC for their support and naming how they had experienced the face of Jesus and the love of God through the people they had met and served all week,” she said. They already have begun planning for their next mission trip.”
Both groups were asked to follow COVID protocols during their time at the new Cleveland offices. Human Resources Director Alisa Lewis said it won’t be long before the Church House can open its doors to other groups. “We have a team working on a welcome plan and we hope to be in a position to accept visitors for tours very soon.”
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