UCC grant recipient: Moving from tiny house to big advocacy
In 2016, a grant of $10,000 — made possible by the United Church of Christ Neighbors in Need Special Mission Offering — went to support a special “tiny house” at Peace Congregational Church, UCC, in Clemson, S.C. The project, meant to shelter LGBTQ+ people in need, hit twists and turns on its journey. In June 2022, it finally arrived, literally and figuratively, at its destination — with a wider-than-expected impact. Jody Usher, moderator of Peace Church in 2016 and a shepherd of the project since, tells the story.
We gave away the tiny house this year!
Peace Church originally imagined it as a mobile shelter for LGBTQ+ folks who needed short-term safe housing. As moderator, I served on the grant writing team and helped recruit young participants via PRISM, our church’s Clemson University student ministry. Tyler Rodgers, then a senior architectural student, dreamed and drew up the tiny house. With the South Carolina Botanical Garden, we found space to build it and use power. Our early estimate was to build in less than a year.
Then came delays and changes. Students graduated. Our pastor moved on. An interested builder stepped forward, whose partner offered to move the tiny house to his property some 20 miles away. Then, more delays. Because of changes in the families and partnerships of those involved, the tiny house needed a new construction site. The COVID-19 pandemic arrived. How could it already be the summer of 2021?
Through connections at a local food co-op, another landowner learned of our need and offered a site. We drew up an agreement that proposed completion by December 2021.
Now: who would oversee the use of our LBGTQ+ tiny house? COVID shifts and leadership changes ruled out several groups that had once expressed interest. Then we heard from a longtime contact, Ivy Hill, founder of the nonprofit Gender Benders and now leader of SC United for Justice & Equality. Ivy connected us with the Transgender Awareness Alliance in Columbia, S.C. – which itself had a dream of creating a tiny-house village there for transgender individuals.
In early 2022, a Zoom call between Peace Church leaders and TAA founders M. Greg Green and Tamara Joseph generated ideas. Plans were made for final detail work on the structure and for safe land with the necessary utilities. The latter eventually came from the Columbia Housing Authority, alongside other affordable housing for transgender people. On June 5, the congregation voted to donate the tiny house, plus $2,000 in startup funds, to TAA.
Green and Joseph towed the tiny house trailer away from its construction site on June 26. On their way to Columbia, they stopped in Clemson for a special Peace Church worship service. Leaders and supporters of the project over the years joined online. Those in person blessed the building by blowing bubbles on it.
That sounds like the end of the story, but it was more of an open gate than a closed door. Giving away the tiny house led to more than any of us could have predicted.
Just before the tiny house send-off, several of us from Peace Church attended the Southeast Conference Annual Meeting. Its theme was “Reflecting on Our Past, Focusing on Our Future.” The Rev. Traci Blackmon, one of our national UCC officers, preached on Nehemiah 6:9: “All of them were trying to make us afraid by saying, ‘Their hands will become tired from laboring, so the work won’t be completed.’ Therefore, Lord, strengthen my hands.”
She challenged groups within the Conference to work together toward a goal we would set for ourselves, state by state.
Four people huddled for South Carolina and chose advocacy for transgender folks as our focus. Peace Church now saw through a wider lens. We knew that God needs us to speak up and be more widely visible for the trans community that is under attack in South Carolina. What that will look like continues to evolve. The Revs. Kim Wood and Heather Fosburgh of the Southeast Conference have prompted follow-up conversations. With the $5000 funding packets offered by Associate General Minister Blackmon to any collaborative project, we expect to combat transgender oppression across our state.
Reflecting on our past and focusing on our future, we will succeed — not because we are strong, but because of our persistence.
Oct. 2 is the suggested Sunday for local churches to receive the 2022 Neighbors in Need offering. Promotional materials and more information can be found here. Details on applying for Justice and Local Church Ministries grants are here.
Jody Usher is a past moderator of Peace UCC, Clemson, S.C.
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