Today is a very special day for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia. (UUCC) They are dedicating their new worship space, and celebrating the transformation of their entire building. There is a special service at ten am, and a concert at five pm. The seeds for this transformation began in the gathering of "desirements" in 2010. Six years, a lot of work, and a dedicated capital campaign have made this day possible.
This quote from Andrew Michael's HoCo Times article shows that members of the congregation were considering their options as early as 2007:
By 2007, Executive Director Maureen Harris said the congregation began questioning whether to expand or move to another location to accommodate the congregation's growth. With a desire to stay at the interfaith center, members knew something had to change when each service ran out of seats, and members frequently had to stand.
In a time when many churches were dealing with the challenges of declining membership and attendance, UUCC was growing. And they wanted to stay right where they were, in an area which has been derisively called "Inner City Columbia." That didn't faze the UU's, whose tradition has pretty much been that of blooming where they are planted.
When I visited in November, I noticed:
By all the measures of church life--two well-attended weekly services, active Sunday school and youth programs, charitable outreach, a variety of activities and events throughout the year--UUCC is lively and strong. I once joked with a priest that a church's membership would never grown any larger than the room used for coffee hour. The one at OBIC is large but the UU's easily fill it and could use more room. That's a pretty amazing thing.
Last Sunday, after the service, people in attendance were invited to write blessings, inspirational thoughts, and prayers on the unfinished wall behind the podium/stage area. I thought about my parents, life-long Unitarians. I had done a little research before coming to the service. Why did my family go to the Unitarian Society downtown, but my grandparents went to the First Unitarian Church in the wealthy suburbs? I never really understood this while I was growing up.
The Unitarian Society of Cleveland was organized to keep a Unitarian presence in the inner city when First Church moved to Shaker Heights in 1951.
There it was. My parents had decided to keep blooming where they were planted. My grandparents had not. The old neighborhood didn't feel like their neighborhood anymore, and they left. My parents joined with other likeminded members to create a new church.
If you go to the dedication service or the concert today, you will see the same wall, now beautifully finished. Underneath are the wishes, hopes, and prayers of a determined congregation. And also this: