United Church of Christ
As scores of Northern Californians are being allowed go home to put their lives back together – to see if their houses are still standing, and to recover belongings torched by deadly wildfires, a
Sonoma United Church of Christ congregation, many of them returning evacuees, went out into a neighborhood of immigrants Tuesday morning as the hands and feet of Jesus.
"The long road to recovery begins one day at a time," said the Rev. Curran Reichert, pastor of First Congregational Church of Sonoma UCC (FCCS). "Our church, in partnership with Congregation Shir Shalom and our other churches in town will do all we can to reach out to those who may have lost property, wages, and the basic ability to function day to day. Our goal at FCCS will be to help one family at a time get back on track with the basics—rent, food, water, electricity, school or work supplies and health care."
On Oct. 17, church volunteers hoped to greet people as they came back to the area to offer cleanup assistance and to provide gift cards to help restock refrigerators. Finding it too early for returnees, they'll be focusing on community gatherings to meet people where they are.
"Leaders from the Latino community have arranged for a community dinner and lunch program each day this week at the local hall located in Springs neighborhood," Reichert said. "In partnership with the school board members, an equity and justice task force will join in those meals to help discern where the greatest needs are bubbling up."
Reichert, pastoring a church in the heart of one of the areas hard-hit by more than a dozen major wildfires still tearing across California, has spent the last week displaced — staying with her parents, monitoring the progress of the fire teams, and offering love and care to her congregation in daily written missives. The messages, which kept her spiritual family up to date on daily events, offered helpful information — and hope. Though the fires have scorched over 217,000 acres, and destroyed more than 5,700 structures, her home is safe, the church is safe, and other Northern California Bay Area congregations are offering much needed support.
"We didn't lose anybody. Two families lost houses," she said. "Everybody just so exhausted. You wake up at 4:30 to see if you missed anything while you were sleeping."
On Sunday morning, about two dozen people from her congregation of 200 gathered at FCCS for worship.
"Everybody who showed up sat a circle, had donuts, talked about what they knew, and shared where things stood with them," Reichert said. "One of the families that lost everything showed up at church on Sunday, it was an amazing moment — so good to see them, so good to lay eyes on them."
She is also thankful for first responders, and for several other UCC churches, some which took offerings for FCCS on Oct. 17, so that members can reach out to offer help in their community. In Sonoma County, damages are expected to top more than $3 billion.
"Sonoma FCC was very much in our prayers (Sunday) at Danville Congregational Church," said Kristina Kelchner, church moderator. "We hope this will provide some small measure of help and hope to FCC members and friends who are suffering."
'This' is almost $1,500 that Danville Congregational Church will be sending over this week. Kensington Community Church UCC, Congregational Church of San Mateo, College Heights Church UCC and First Congregational Church of Alameda UCC also delivered cash and a collection of gift cards. In addition, Alameda pastor, the Rev. Laura Rose, dispatched an RV that Reichert plans to park outside her church so people who may not have a home will at least have a place to sleep.
"Sonoma has an enormous undocumented population, that's where we'll be concentrating our efforts," she said. "Those brothers and sisters are facing such terrible obstacles and they are the people who will also rebuild our community."
Reichert is planning to make the donated cash and gift cards available to immigrants and those with low incomes. She's partnering with two elementary schools, a homeless shelter and other faith groups, using the relationships already in place to find and immediately help the people who need it most.
She said the Northern California Nevada Conference already provided financial assistance to a family who lost their employment options in the fire. Conference Minister the Rev. Diane Weibel said that it's pretty certain that support will continue in many forms.
"What I can say, without a doubt, is this is a disaster that has affected every church in our Conference," Weible said. "Even places not directly in the line of the fires are experiencing the smoke and reminded of their siblings in communities most affected. People are asking how to help and what they can do and all of us are keeping everyone in prayer."
"We are deeply grateful for the support of Rev. Diane Weible and NCNC, UCC who has been with us every step of the way," said Reichert. "Together we will once again rejoice, though it may not feel that way right now."
In late October, Jackson Community Church’s women’s group will assemble care packages for high school and college students and young adults living away from home, studying or newly-launched from school and starting careers or volunteer initiatives.
If someone in your family matches this description, we’d appreciate a mailing address so we can send a package to our young people, and let them know we’re thinking of them. This includes internationally-based young people (though we may send mostly affection and a card). You can email names & mailing addresses to the church.
Meanwhile, for anyone who wants to contribute small items to be sent via care package to our young people, our wish list is lightweight and light-hearted. Here are some suggestions, but you can provide your own items if you’re inspired. Please provide about 15-20 of whatever items you want to contribute. Also, please make sure whatever you donate is quite small and light for shipping purposes. Some ideas:
UCC's Response to Las Vegas Mass Shooting
Three United Church of Christ ministers were part of a unity vigil Monday night in Las Vegas, a gathering of people of all faiths coming together in solidarity to mourn the 59 lives lost to gun violence.
Charlotte Morgan, a UCC member in discernment and pastor of Indigo Valley Church, a three-year-old new church start, helped organize the candlelight prayer service at the Guardian Angel Cathedral the evening of Oct. 2. A vigil made necessary after a gunman opened fire on a concert crowd during the weekend, wounding more than 500 people.
"We are a city, despite the bright lights and neon, with hundreds of churches. We are a people of deep and profound faith," Morgan said. "We all gathered right off the Strip because it was necessary—to feel the energy of the city as we expressed our heartfelt grief and our faith. It was important to be in the midst of the energy that makes this the city what we are."
Eight faith leaders took turns hitting a gong 59 times to remember those who died. Tears streamed down the faces of the people in the pews as they prayed.
"I was at first taken back by all of the outstretched hands of those who attended, wanting to touch the hands of clergy," Morgan said. "Attendees were physically reaching out for care, for connection. It was an amazing physical presence that people wanted to have."
"We put this worship service together in 45 minutes," Morgan said. "We wanted to have interreligious engagement—so eight of us came together. Everyone stepped aside from faith, race, creed, job, position to make this vigil happen."
The event, led by Bishop Joseph Pepe of the Las Vegas diocese and Fr. Bob Stoeckig of the cathedral, brought together clergy from many Christian denominations—UCC, Catholic and Episcopalian, as well as Jewish rabbis, Unitarian Universalists and Muslim groups. Morgan, the Rev. Jamie Sprague-Ballou, of Mary Magdalene Friends UCC, and the Rev. Kathryn Obenour, a member of Indigo Valley Church and former pastor at Las Vegas United Church of Christ, represented the denomination.
As members of the Clark County Ministerial Association, Morgan said the interfaith leaders came together after the shooting Sunday night to create a clergy emergency response team. The vigil was part of that response. They were able to do that, she said, because of strong relationships previously forged before the massacre called them to action.
"I am so proud of the clergy in our community who came together to create this same-day clergy response team," Morgan said. "There was a writer who once said 'Dig a ditch before you need water.' We did that. We needed to form caring everyday relationships with each other. Ministers and rabbis get together... to study the Torah, or to have coffee. Those relationships made a difference today."
"Before the service, I met with several clergy at the front of the church," Morgan continued. "We discussed that the vigil is one step. We must continue over days, weeks and months to help our community. We set plans in place that our next step is to contact the area hospitals and begin to reach out to the healthcare workers in the hospitals. This meeting became important and prophetic. After the vigil, I spoke with one of our senators and he had horror in his eyes. He had visited a local (emergency room). As he told me, 'There was not an inch of the E.R. floor without blood.' We just stood and held one another. There were no words."
for PUERTO RICO's RECOVERY
While help in the domestic United States has been possible in both financial and tangible forms, the response in Puerto Rico must be financial in order to help them recover. This is the conclusion of the NHCUCC; it is the same decision that our own Mission Team reached last week. Consequently, we will send $500 allocated to hurricane relief for Puerto Rico.
If you want to help, you may make a financial donation to Jackson Community Church with subject line “Puerto Rico” to benefit the UCC’s Emergency Relief Fund. Or donate directly online.
United Church of Christ's Disaster Ministry reinforces this reality for the need for financial giving, in response to
events like the earthquakes in Mexico and the hurrican in Puerto Rico:
UCC Disaster Ministries
Perspective on In-Kind vs. Monetary Donations
Dear Friends -- I can't stress enough the importance of monetary donations. I continue to receive phone calls and e-mails from our churches, with good intentions, wanting to send things to disaster locations. There are several major issues with this type of giving ... I am also sharing a note below, related to this topic, from a friend and colleague Peter Gudiatis who is the president and CEO of National Disaster Interfaiths Network.
From Peter Gudiatis: After today's meetings with the PR governor's office. Puerto Rico is already so overwhelmed with shipping containers (150) and plane loads of donated goods that they have no place to safely store or sort it - and, limited means to move it The word is that Puerto Rico will ban the importing of non-pre-requested and approved donated goods tomorrow - cash only from now on.
Executive, UCC Disaster Ministries
ASSEMBLED: HURRICANE CLEANUP KITS
Through many contributions in combination with Mission funds, our church also provided "cleanup kits" — which were recommended and requested by multiple denominations — by filling 14 buckets with the items below. They have been conveyed directly to hurricane-devastated areas by CWS (Church World Services), which is an ecumenical ministry supported jointly by several church denominations, including many Mt Washington Valley congregations.
RECENT LOCAL RESPONSE:
Vigil in response to Racism
Four Corners, Conway Village
(Intersection of Route 16 and Pleasant St./Rte. 153 and Washington St./ West Side Rd.)
Members from several faith communities and organizations held a peaceful public vigil in response to events in Charlottesville, VA, standing for hope, peace, love and justice and in resistance to racism, white supremacy, and violence. It was organized by the World Fellowship Center and supported by local Clergy of the Eastern Slopes (includes Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Eastern Slope (UUFES/Tamworth), Madison Church, Ctr Conway United Methodist, Nativity Lutheran, Christ Episcopal Church, plus UCC congregations: Conway Village, North Conway, Bartlett & Jackson). People from Jackson Community Church were in attendance, among many others. Local government representatives were also present.