Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor
On Sunday, September 23, we were very fortunate to have a chance to visit with Mr. Frank Bolden, the Chair of the Board of Directors of the United Church of Christ (national setting), and Rev. Roddy Dunkerson, Interim Central Atlantic Conference Minister. It was a great delight to have them with us! They were gracious and informative and insightful. And they said how grateful they were to be here and ex-pressed their appreciation for what we are doing, and for the lovely and lively spirit of this congregation.
I come away from the morning feeling like we did indeed reinvigorate the sense of covenant that holds the United Church of Christ together and allows us all together to be an effective force for good in the world. There is so much to be done, and we are surely not alone in the work.
During the 10:45am service, Janet and Michael and Vera and Ed shared some Celebrations of what we have been up to. Those will be reprinted below. Of course the list is not exhaustive, nor is it predictive of the things that are still to come. But I offer it here as a chance to celebrate our life together, even as we look intently toward a bold and beautiful future.
St. Paul’s Celebrations Shared During the Service on September 23, 2018
On September 9, we celebrated the ten-year Anniversary of becoming Open and Affirming, and we continue to be the only Open and Affirming Christian congregation in Carroll County. We host a thriving PFLAG chapter, and, with them, co-sponsor “First Fridays”— a casual hang-out for LGBTQ young people. Through our relationship with PFLAG, we host an annual LGBTQ Valentine’s Dance and the annual community Transgender Day of Remembrance service. This year our Fellowship Hall came alive with PFLAG’s first-ever Carroll County Drag Show and we are looking forward to the next one.
In all things, we strive to live up to the extravagant claim that, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!” We invite people to connect with us at many and varied points of contact, and encourage all to join us in doing whatever good we can to make a difference in the world. We encourage people to “get what you need and give what you can.”
Over the past ten years, through the St. Paul’s Foundation, we have given grants in excess of $400,000 to local, regional and global beneficiaries including, for example, providing a source of fresh water for hundreds of people in Ethio-pia and empowering women in Kenya, funding initiatives by the Baltimore regional Gay-Lesbian-Straight Education Network, giving money for literacy programs in Carroll County, and, one year, making it possible for 14 local families to secure stable housing through a Rapid Rehousing program here in Westminster.
This year, we have formed a partnership with the “Garden of Hope” program in the poor rural areas surrounding Antigua, Guatemala. We have funded a full-time teacher and are leading efforts by the Catoctin Association to possibly send a work group to build a community center on their meager campus.
We have a long-standing relationship with Lancaster Theological Seminary. Over the past couple of decades, we have had three distinguished Seminary board members. Our pastor serves as a Professor of Practice in the Doctor of Ministry program. We have two current students who are excelling in the Master of Divinity program. We support the Seminary financially through annual benefit concerts and generous gifts and a scholarship offered by St. Paul’s members. And we have three people trained to provide supervision for field education students.
Over the past several years we have seriously streamlined our organizational structure so that, now, we have only one group that meets on a regularly-scheduled basis – formerly the Consistory that was recently renamed the Church Council. Everything else is done through Task Forces and ad hoc groups. We strive to be a nimble church focused more on mission than maintenance. We have even moved beyond the requirement for Robert’s Rules!
We have developed the 30/30 Challenge which strongly encourages every person who is in any way associated with St. Paul’s (members, friends, visitors) to do at least 30 hours of community service and at least 30 hours of in-church work per year. And we have created a catalog of opportunities that people can use to meet their goals.
For over 30 years, St. Paul’s has served a community meal for approximately 100 guests every Thursday at noon and on special occasions when needed. Through collaborative partnerships, A Meal and More provides fresh produce during growing seasons and supplements meals with nutritious items to which we would not have access otherwise. There are a number of people who have been involved with serving this meal from the very beginning.
Recently, we developed the St. Paul’s Culinary Training Program which is designed to prepare out-of-work people for jobs in the restaurant industry by helping them get ServSafe certified – an entry-level requirement for many food service jobs. We provide mentors to help candidates, pay for the certification exam, and connect graduates with local restaurants that have agreed to work with us on this program.
We are fully engaged in addressing homelessness. We regularly support the local Women and Children’s Shelter, the Cold Weather Shelter, the Westminster Rescue Mission, and the Family Shelter where we replaced all of the mattresses in a collaborative project with the Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists. We have funded and produced the Homeless Life Story Collection Project video which was shown to over 1000 people throughout the county to increase community awareness of and involvement with homeless people. We are also the lead organizers and hosts of the annu-al community Homeless Memorial and Blues Christmas Service on the Winter Solstice.
We are now planning our fourth annual Racial Justice Event to provide information and educational experiences for the community in the spirit of an ongoing conversation on race, as well as to raise funds to support Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality and the local NAACP chapter. We have had multiple expert presenters from this congregation at various social justice events, and we are represented in nearly every community racial justice and social justice organization and board. We have also recently added a Minister of Social Justice to our staff.
We are actively engaged in education for all ages, currently rebuilding our children’s program and sending youth to regional and national youth events. Our adult programs are dynamic and daring; Seekers is an action-packed topical conversation-oriented group, and Eureka! is venturing out from its lectionary bible-study roots to explore meaningful and cutting-edge studies. And we have recently added the First Sunday Forum intended to delve deeply into vital and timely topics like climate change and immigration.
We have a long tradition of great music that now rests primarily with our Sanctuary choir, and two bell choirs, one for adults and one for youth. We are blessed to have a wonderfully talented music director and three gifted in-house musicians to support all aspects of the music program. In addition, ensembles pop up from time to time and various solo artists offer their talents as well. And we are now nearing completion of the first phase of renovation of our 1941 Moller organ.
We have been blessed with a wonderful building and we are committed to using it for the greater good. The building is currently home to: 13 AA and Al-Anon meetings every week, a Birthing Circle, a Reiki group, Junior Women, Healthcare for All, Civitan, the Caring Carroll Board, and many community events. We serve “The Best Spaghetti Dinner in Town” as a monthly fund-raiser through much of each year, with an ever-increasing group of “regulars” and a vibrant spirit.
Our Connections Team is actively working to create opportunities for us to have fun together, play together, and get to know each other better through a wide range of engaging activities and events.
As our next major focus, we are dedicating this church year to becoming a WISE Congregation through the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network. We are just now beginning our WISE study and becoming involved with the network of other WISE Congregations that are welcoming, inclusive, supportive, and engaged with mental illness, substance abuse, and brain disorders. At the same time we are expanding our relationships in the local mental health and substance abuse communities and preparing to offer the first Carroll County peer-to-peer support group sanctioned by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Our goal is to complete a thorough period of study and reflection, and to officially become a WISE Congregation in May of 2019, and then perhaps to help other regional churches engage in the process also.