Church News & Events

Warm Greetings from the FCC Council

November 13th, 2014

Warm greetings from your Council!

As Council prepares for the upcoming year, we are taking stock of where we are and where God is calling us to be.  In particular, we are reflecting on the Vision Plan our congregation adopted, and where we are in our journey towards its realization. We invite you to reflect with us. We have faced challenges, celebrated proud accomplishments, and sowed promising seeds already starting to grow.  We are excited about what we are working to build together and hope that you share that excitement.

The vision we embraced through a long, deliberative process was “to be a beacon of faith, compassion and justice for St. Louis, the wider faith community, and beyond.”  A vision is an inspiring hope, a commitment, and sometimes a challenge, to have a role in God’s future. We began 2014 by setting goals toward realizing what we believe to be God’s vision for us, and we have realized many of them.  We are proud to report a number of exciting accomplishments, as more fully described on the attached “2014 Highlights” document:

  • Installing the Rev. Heather Arcovitch as our Senior Minister
  • Taking concrete steps toward fulfilling our open staff positions
  • Widening the welcome with events and initiatives to engage existing members and attract new ones
  • Partnering with the Truancy Initiative
  • Beginning the difficult and rewarding work of
    the Sacred Conversation on Race
  • Revitalizing our stewardship efforts
  • Strengthening endowment management
  • Enhancing beauty in our sanctuary
  • Laying groundwork for the future capital campaign
  • Forging partnerships with other congregations and community agencies
  • Supporting and strengthening our lay Care Team and the provision of pastoral care
  • Improving communication with the congregation

As we reflect with pride on the year’s accomplishments, we also reflect faithfully on the year’s challenges.  Our careful visioning inside the church cannot predict events in the world around us, and St. Louis has experienced real strife in 2014. The unexpected unfolding of events in Ferguson, in particular, has touched and challenged us all, and at times we’ve struggled to discern how to respond faithfully. We have been reminded that what our shared vision means is different for each of us.

We are a congregation that knows how to have difficult conversations together; however, unlike our conversation to become Open and Affirming which unfolded at its own pace, community events have compelled us into sometimes uncomfortable conversations about race, justice, and our church’s role in it all with unexpected urgency.  This has been at times painful. However, we as a Council are grateful for and inspired by the timely pastoral witness of our Senior Minister as she has served in the community conversation for justice and healing on our behalf. Our pastoral search sought a spiritual leader who would challenge us to live into our vision and not take the “easy” path – we feel strongly that our faith requires no less.  As Heather has observed, faithful members of our congregation can disagree about how to respond to the tragedy that ensued from the encounter between Michael Brown and Officer Wilson.  Council members have thoughtfully discussed these differences, but believe that we are united in recognizing that there is real pain behind the outcry that transcends the moment.  Further, we believe that if we are truly committed to being a “beacon,” we must respond faithfully to the inequities that have been laid bare.  The road to justice and healing is rarely smooth, but we are on it, and that is where Christ, and our Vision Plan for serving as his church, calls us to be.

As we have worked to discern the path forward, we have taken on initiatives not imagined before the events of this summer in Ferguson.   We have supported and prayed for the work of our pastor and other members of the congregation in Ferguson, to listen to the voices crying out in hurt and anger and to try to foster peace (with the efforts of the clergy being credited by police officials and national media as critical to restoring order following the initial rage of protests).  We are providing space and supplies to the UCC’s Deaconess Parish Nursing to aid in their “street medic” program, whereby they expect to provide emergency medical care to anyone caught up in unrest.  We have also redoubled efforts already begun to ameliorate inequality and racism.   Our commitment to the UCC’s Sacred Conversation on Race, our partnership with the Truancy Initiative of the St. Louis City Public Schools, and our work with organizations like the Arch City Defenders all speak to these goals.

We will continue to engage in discussions among ourselves about race and economic disparity in America and recognize that we need to listen to all voices in the congregation. We hope all of you participate, so that we might grow stronger through our diversity of opinion.  Truman Marcellus Post and his flock launched our church many generations ago, but their legacy of justice and healing the racial wounds in St. Louis are among our founding ideals. In each succeeding generation, our congregation has visioned and revisioned the church in accord with our community’s needs as God calls us to do. Once again, God is bringing something new to life…. today, in this church, in you.

The challenges we face do not diminish the excitement we feel about this year’s accomplishments and about the seeds that we have sown.  To the contrary, we feel more motivated than ever to walk together, along with Heather as our Senior Minister, to live our vision.

Thank you for the role you have played in making this a great year in the life of First Congregational Church.  With all of the energy and enthusiasm in this congregation – and a renewed emphasis on stewardship – we are poised for even greater things in 2015!

Sincerely,

Jon Tiede, Moderator

On behalf of your church council:
Randy Wang, Darci Madden, Andrew Ruben
Ken Blumer, Ann Kittlaus, Susan Davis-McCarter, Linda Morice
Joe Rezny, Julia Walker

2014 Highlights

  • Installing the Rev. Heather Arcovitch as our Senior Minister. After a thoughtful national search process, we called Heather in 2013 and this spring formally installed her.  We put on quite a party, complete with bagpipes, and also celebrated 25 years of the music ministry of Ron Hall.
  • Taking concrete steps toward fulfilling our open staff positions. Search Committees for both the Associate and Christian Education (part-time) positions are working diligently to fill the open positions.  We understand that it can take time to identify the right candidates (it took us more than a year to find Rev. Ann Wilson and more than 18 months to find Heather). Our prospects for our new positions are exciting and, while we recognize the urgency, our priority is finding the right people.  We started slowly but are off to a great start and blessed to have Interim Minister for Faith Development Hannah Rice Hill, Youth Specialist Mia Ulmer, Heather, Ron Hall, and a host of volunteers pitching in to keep youth and mission ministries growing.
  • Widening the welcome. We welcomed some wonderful new members this fall and look forward to accepting newly committed youth members into the church November 23 on Confirmation Sunday. The Confirmation class has coalesced into a tight-knit group that is actively exploring their faith as they come into our membership. We deepened our relationships with one another at intergenerational events including the Square Dance and Auction, Church Family Day picnic, Halloween Spooktacular, pancake brunch (complete with flying pancakes!), the opening concert of our new music series, and our annual pet blessing.  We expanded our community relationships through the play-based learning program of our fine preschool, providing space for FOCUS St. Louis, Campus Kitchens, and weekly twelve-step meetings; and in our annual support of STL Pride.
  • Partnering with the Truancy Initiative. Recognizing the crisis in the St. Louis City public schools, we renewed our historic commitment to quality education for all. Seeing that Saint Louis Public School children are woefully behind in literacy, noting that truancy in early years is a factor, and learning that something as basic as a lack of school uniform can prevent school attendance, we partnered with the very effective but under-funded efforts of the Truancy Initiative. To support at-risk kindergartners, we purchased 79 uniforms and over 200 informational door hangers and early reader books for friendly relationship-building visits with families. We raised more than $2,000 for other needed supplies, provided support and training space for the community professionals engaged in this worthy effort and, most importantly, opened a dialog with the truancy unit to support ongoing needs and relationship-building with some of STL’s most vulnerable young citizens.
  • Beginning the difficult and rewarding work of The Sacred Conversation on Race. We couldn’t know how timely this commitment would be. Before the summer’s events in Ferguson were on the horizon, we held a six-week program with 20 participants as part of a denominational initiative to explore race’s intersection with many justice issues we face today. Wednesday Night Live has continued the conversation with a variety of relevant programs. ArchCity Defenders also spoke with us about legal injustices in local law. Our senior high youth participated in a powerful evening with academic and author Dr. Cornel West and local clergy and community leaders. We co-hosted (with the Missouri MidSouth and Illinois South Conferences) our denominational attorney, Don Clark, and the Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer for a well-attended panel on UCC Justice Ministries. We are supporting the UCC’s Deaconess Faith Community Nurses program to provide training for street medics and medical care to those injured in anticipated ongoing demonstrations. More opportunities are in the works as we seek to confront the sin of racism and live into our desire to live and be as one.
  • Revitalizing our stewardship efforts. For too long, we have viewed stewardship as a four-week push to obtain annual pledges for the church.  Stewardship is so much bigger – it is a spiritual practice about caring for, managing, and growing all of our shared resources (monetary, physical, and human) to faithfully live our vision.  We are now engaged in year-round stewardship conversation and longer-term budgeting (5-year vs. 1-year) to maximize our resource management. The 2015 budget will include more detailed narratives to make our planning richer and vision-fulfillment clearer.  That budget will be available for congregational review and discussion next month.
  • Strengthening endowment management. Under the Stewardship and Administration ministry team umbrella, a new endowment team has undertaken a comprehensive review of our investment management and is preparing a policy to effectively balance performance, minimize risk and ensure ethical investing principles.
  • Enhancing beauty in our sanctuary. Our historic windows have been revitalized with the generous support of the Klein family. We acquired an amazing Grotrian-Steinweg grand piano to enrich our music ministry and support our new concert series.  Research to improve sanctuary lighting, sound, and to beautify the chancel air vents is also underway.
  • Laying groundwork for the capital campaign. Building on the window project’s momentum, plans are underway to launch a capital campaign in 2016. This includes revisiting our existing renovation and laying the groundwork for an exciting meaningful campaign.
  • Forging partnerships with other congregations and community agencies. As we work to be a “beacon” to the wider community, we have joined with several local pastors, rabbis and congregations to “widen the welcome” through faithful community presence in the conversation about Ferguson and beyond. Our senior high youth group has welcomed youth from First Presbyterian and is in conversation with three additional congregations about collaborative ecumenical youth ministry. Conversations with Justine Peterson, a community asset-development organization, have begun again. Members are active in Interfaith Partnership, Grace Hill Settlement House, Every Child’s Hope, Gateway ONA, PROMO, Neighborhood Houses, the Eden Seminary Board, The St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition, Gateway Greening, Youth Learning Center and FOCUS St. Louis, among others. We provided space this year for a Jenna Lindbo concert and fundraiser for Shining Rivers Waldorf School and continue to be home to the Caledonian Pipe Band and New Line Theater rehearsals. Many of our members serve on committees of the St. Louis Association, the local regional UCC association, and Heather has been elected president of Association Council. Our congregation has been selected to host the St. Louis Association annual spring meeting for 2015. Please add your volunteer activities to our Stewardship tree in the sanctuary this week as we celebrate all the varied and faithful ways we give back generously of God’s gifts to us.
  • Care Team. Our care team of clergy and lay members has helped Heather in providing wonderful support for members who have needed care. Heather remains available and continues to make personal visits and counseling – with congregational teams supporting her, and each other, as a caring community.
  • Improving communication with the congregation. As a congregation we are one body. As your Council, we believe it is critical that all members be aware of important developments and have an opportunity to express your voice. To ensure communication this year we have included monthly Council meeting minutes and periodic special reports in the church newsletter and held Council conversations to share ideas and invite conversation. We hope you will join us in the next one on December 14 to review the preliminary budget for 2015 and the updated bylaws proposal. We want to invite your thoughts prior to the annual meeting on January 11.  If, at any time, you have concerns to share with the Council, please know you may either contact Heather and/or a member of the executive team or convey your concerns through one of your representatives who serve as “at large” members.

First Congregational Church

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