Strengthen the Church offering supports congregations across the UCC in many ways

There are many ways to strengthen the church.

Pentecost Sunday, May 23, is the suggested date for the Strengthen the Church Offering.

In the last year, investments in technology allowed many United Church of Christ congregations to enhance their online worship services.

Other funds enabled new and renewing churches to grow their communities, one in a gentrifying neighborhood, others on a college campus and a town square.

COVID-19 grants empowered 50 churches to better serve their neighbors and their congregants gathering virtually during the pandemic.

All of these ministries were supported through gifts to Strengthen the Church.

A life saved

Rehoboth Fellowship of Atlanta, UCC

“The (COVID) grant literally helped to save the life of one of our members,” said the Rev. Troy Sanders.

“During the pandemic it afforded us the opportunity to provide an online weekly therapy support group with licensed professionals to help our members cope with isolation, fear and other issues triggered by COVID-19 and other social/economic determinants of health.”

Because of those virtual check-ins, the Bishop-elect of Rehoboth Fellowship of Atlanta UCC said the team discovered that someone was suicidal and needed medical attention. The church support network connected that person to the help that saved a life.

Gifts to the Strengthen the Church offering, traditionally received on Pentecost Sunday, support leadership development, new churches, youth ministry, and innovation in existing congregations.

In 2020, $150,000 in STC funds provided COVID-19 relief.

Faith UCC in Washington, D.C., used its grant to buy computer equipment to enhance its virtual ministry. Adding new cameras, editing software and Zoom accounts also gave the church the ability to launch Tech Thursday sessions, so members could learn how to use the technology.

Morrell Park food drive, Baltimore

Food — and a marriage

New Covenant Community UCC in Baltimore used its grant to help pay worship staff and offer services online. It also kept a food distribution program going in the neighborhood.

“Without our help, the food program would have ended in early November,” said Pastor Brian Murray. “Families would have had a worse struggle feeding themselves through the rest of the year.”

Murray also noted that a couple living in two different cities grew their relationship in part through New Covenant’s shared weekly worship and Bible Study. Now the couple is getting married.

Supporting Indigenous students

Plymouth Church in Lawrence, Kansas, partnered with Haskell Indian Nations University to address student needs during the pandemic. Partially funded by a Strengthen the Church grant, the congregation supported the travel, rent and food needs of more than 50 Indigenous students in their community.

Thank-you card from Haskell University students

One Navajo student was helped getting home for the funerals of five family members, with an emergency flight and a place to quarantine. Others got rent assistance when the campus closed so they could finish up internships needed to graduate. Gift cards were distributed to cover student emergencies.

As Rev. Sara Taliaferro worked closely with university counselor Manny King to help specific students on the Haskell campus, she also built community.

“You have truly touched these student’s lives,” King wrote. “It is truly a blessing; thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Ten new and renewing church recipients

In addition to pandemic relief, Strengthen the Church gifts provided $200,000 in grants to 10 churches in 2021, part of a group of 14 that also received New and Renewing Church funding in 2020 through the Faith Education, Innovation and Formation team of Justice and Local Church Ministries. The 10 are:

Ministry issues; youth programs

The offering also helps programs at the national setting.

“In 2020, this allowed us to shift from in-person to digital training of Committees on Ministry and Conference staff, and supported our best-attended AM21 gathering,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Dilley, team leader of JLCM’s Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization team.

Authorizing Ministry for the 21st Century brings together Conference staff, seminary presidents, deans/directors of regional theological educational programs, with leaders of affiliated ministries and Committee on Ministry chairs for a several-day intensive.

“The group explores issues of ministry in both theologically reflective and practical ways,” Dilley said. “This biennial event was held digitally in 2020, allowing for our best-attended meeting!”

Funds from Strengthen the Church will also help support the two programs for Youth and Youth Adults at General Synod in July.

Tools for making the ask

Many congregations will take the offering on May 23. Resources, a sermon from General Minister and President John Dorhauer, and a call to the offering from Associate General Minister Traci Blackmon are available for download.

“The Strengthen the Church offering reflects the shared commitment of people across the United Church of Christ to cooperatively build up each other,” said the Rev. Andrew Warner, UCC generosity officer. “As parents, my husband and I worked to ensure our children grew up in a strong congregation. We gave and volunteered to our local church. Our children benefited from a congregation that loved them. Now my children are grown and live in other cities. As a family we give to Strengthen the Church because we want there to be strong churches where ever we go.”

This video is one of the tools available to promote the offering.

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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