‘Praising Plate,’ now in Indiana, is first chapel item to find a new home

The United Church of Christ chapel in downtown Cleveland may have closed, but its beauty and symbolism will live on.

Items that enhanced worship in the Amistad Chapel for 22 years are finding new homes.

One of them, the “Praising Plate,” has arrived in an Indiana sanctuary. St. Marks UCC in New Albany is already using it this Lent to invite gifts to the wider ministries of the denomination.

The Revs. Earl Miller (left) and John Sterrett pose with the Praising Plate at St. Marks UCC, New Albany, Ind., on March 27, 2022.

Gift to the future

Designed by the Rev. Earl Miller, a now-retired UCC executive, the plate typically graced the Amistad entryway, though it could be placed elsewhere as well. It rests atop a special walnut base, 33 inches tall. The words “praise God,” in many languages, appear on the 12 legs of the stand. It was hand-crafted by his late brother, Dean Miller, a longtime member and leader of St. John’s UCC, Dover, Ohio.

Earl Miller conceived of the Praising Plate just before retiring as “steward and executive director” of the UCC Stewardship Council — a forerunner of the philanthropy team in today’s Office of the General Minister and President.

The Praising Plate welcomes people — including its designer, the Rev. Earl Miller — to worship in the Amistad Chapel during the 2015 General Synod in Cleveland.

It was the Stewardship Council’s gift to the future. “During the closing worship of General Synod in 1999, the then-current national instrumentalities of our church presented gifts to the church for its new structure,” Miller said. “The gifts were symbols for the church to remember and celebrate the ministries that had enriched the church for so many years.”

What ‘praising’ means

Miller described it as “a teaching gift, modeling a way to give that invites givers forward. It is a theological gift, understanding giving as a way of praising God.” He said the worship style of a UCC partner church, the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, inspired its design. “They typically dance and sing their offering forward as they approach the plate, maybe again and again, praising God all the while.”

Then, in 2021, Miller heard the UCC had decided to sell the Cleveland building that housed the chapel. “I woke up one morning and said to myself, ‘What are they going to do with the Praising Plate?'” He and his wife, Pat — also a past national UCC staff member — live in Louisville, Ky. They belong to St. Marks, just across the Ohio River. He said he was “delighted and thrilled” when the Rev. John Sterrett, pastor of St. Marks, said yes to receiving the plate in New Albany.

“This will serve as a touchstone that keeps our congregation rooted to our denominational story,” Sterrett said, “not only with its local tie-in, since Earl and Pat Miller are members of the church, but because of the plate’s rich history in the Amistad Chapel.”

Special offerings

And St. Marks has wasted no time in making that connection.

“We are currently using it as the focal point of our Lenten season,” Sterrett said. “The theme is lifting up our offering. During the time of pandemic, we’d gotten away from passing the offering plates. Our online giving has since taken off and we’re not going back to a traditional time of offering and giving during the service. As a matter of fact, ‘offering’ had left our service completely.

Members of St. Marks UCC place One Great Hour of Sharing gifts in the Praising Plate on March 27. Photos courtesy of Earl Miller.

“The Praising Plate gave us the opportunity to bring it back into our weekly consciousness. We have a short liturgy each Sunday and show a UCC video about one of the five annual special offerings.” During Lent, the plate has occupied a prominent place in the church’s chancel. Sterrett stands beside it while leading the liturgy, which speaks of giving “freely and with a cheerful heart.”

“After Easter, I’ll find a way to re-incorporate the sacrament of offering into our weekly liturgy,” Sterrett said.

That works for Miller. “If we give but do not praise God, we do not really give,” he said. “And if we praise God, but do not give, we do not really praise God.”

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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