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Brian Burke

Brian Burke

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Council has called a special Congregational Meeting for Sunday, October 1, 2017 immediately following worship. The purpose is to request a one-time postponement of the constitutional requirement to present a proposed budget on the fourth Sunday of October. While great effort is proceeding on this document, Council wants to be sure we have a valid and clear budget presented for the first full-year budget of Community Congregational UCC.

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One of the blessings of the United Church of Christ is its presence when disasters strike. The needs during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey will be tremendous, and resources donated through the UCC, including Community Congregational UCC's appeal, will be needed to provide humanitarian and clean-up assistance to many.

A few years back, I was able to spend a few days on Long Island about two weeks after Hurricane Sandy struck. One of my clergy colleagues and good friends pastors a congregation near one of the very hard-hit areas, and FEMA used their social hall as a distribution point for "meals ready to eat", clothing, and other supplies. All of the box stores were sold out of basic needs, so he put out a call for a specific list of needed supplies. 

An Elyria clergy colleague, the Rev. Bob Gross, and I decided we would make a road trip and take a minivan filled with supplies to Long Island.  This was approximately two weeks after the hurricane devastated the New York City area. We put out a call for cash donations to our congregations, a few other congregations, and our Brothers and Sisters in the Order of Corpus Christi, thinking we would get a few hundred dollars to buy supplies. On the Saturday before we were leaving, we had gone to Sam's Club and Lowes and bought just under $3000 in toothpaste, toiletries, paper towels, socks, underwear, hazmat suits, mops, bleach, mold inhibitor, batteries, and similar items based on those contributions.  Below is about $1100 of the Sam's Club portion. 

01 Sams Club Sat

On Sunday, we received calls from congregations and individuals about further donations (including cash delivered to us), and so we stopped at a Lowe's in Dubois PA and added another $900 in cleaning supplies, arriving on Long Island at about 11 p.m. to unload. We thought we had taken a lot of stuff that would be very helpful. It was definitely helpful, but...

02 Lowes Sun

I spent the next two days in the social hall at Bethany United Church of Christ, East Rockaway NY.  The pictures that follow give you a sense of how much had been donated and the type of need that exists in an area serving just a few square miles of devastation:

04 Cleaning Supplies

06 Toiletries and Infant

05 Clothing

Many had responded. While clothing was in abundance, and there was a filled semi-trailer of FEMA clothing sitting in the parking lot that never was touched, it was the cleaning supplies, food and toiletries that were in highest demand. 90% of what we delivered at 11pm Sunday night was gone by 5pm Monday afternoon.

Donations continued to come in, even after our trip to Long Island, and we had four more deliveries from Lowe's sent to the church.  In total, the congregations and indivdiuals banded together to send almost $11,000 of desperately needed supplies to the East Rockaway area. Seeing the FEMA trailer loaded with garbage bags full of clothes that were never touched because of local donations has made me a firm believer that cash donations, to be put toward the greatest need, is the best way to help from a distance when there is no direct contact to be made. This is why we are supporting the UCC Disaster Ministries' appeal.

To give you an idea of the physical devastation from the storm surge just a few blocks south of the church, here are couple of pictures I took when my host gave me a brief tour of the area:

08 Down the Street

10 Through the house

Note in the picture above that you can see daylight through the window to the left of the door. Many homes were taken down to the studs because of mold and water damage. The inlet below is a short seven blocks from the church.

12 Drydock 2

13 Drydock Double Stack

I hope that my personal reminiscence about Hurricane Sandy gives you a vivid picture of the type of assistance that will be needed along the Texas Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. In asking you to donate generously to the UCC's disaster relief efforts through our congregation or to another appropriate relief agency, I leave you with the words of the Rev. Mark Lukens, pastor of Bethany UCC in East Rockaway, NY to let you know first-hand what your donations mean.

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Below you will find the news release about our merger with Lorain. Many people are putting in a lot of effort to insure the success of our transition from two congregations to one. Last week we had the first joint Council meeting, which was unofficial since the merger has not taken effect, as well as a workshop that began our journey toward a working vision statement. In the week this is written, we are holding a "Committee Extravaganza" in which the joint working committees will all meet on the same night to get to know each other and begin their mutual ministry conversations.

The Lorain congregation is experiencing a month filled with memories and legacies as they move toward the final worship service in their sanctuary on June 25. On July 2, the newly-merged congregation will have its first worship service in the Amherst sanctuary.

We are in the process of gathering suggestions for naming the merged congregation. Please submit any ideas on the bulletin inserts both congregations are using, or email by June 18 to office@amherstucc.org. Until we finalize a new name, which we anticipate will take place at a congregational meeting on July 23, we will use the commonality between our two congregations as our name: Congregational United Church of Christ. Until we have a new name, we will maintain Amherst's current staff emails, web addresses, Facebook page, and so forth - because we only want to change those things once!

Please be a part of the excitement this summer as the cocoon opens and a new butterfly spreads its wings!

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         Over 322 years of ministry will join together when Congregational United Church of Christ of Amherst and First Congregational United Church of Christ of Lorain merge on July 1.

          Both congregations voted overwhelmingly on May 7 to become one. While the ministry will be centered in the Amherst building at 379 S. Main, the merged congregation will continue the Lorain congregation’s passion for ministering to people of need.

          Over two years ago, First Congregational Lorain began a formal process to change its course and determine a new future.  This process ultimately identified Amherst Congregational as its preferred merger partner, leading to the May vote.    

          “Each congregation brings different gifts and strengths to the other,” said the Rev. Brian Burke, who will serve as the interim minister of the merged congregation. “The Amherst congregation is filled with youth and vitality while the Lorain congregation brings a passion for mission outside the church walls. With similar worship styles and core values, the merged congregation will thrive.”

          Amherst Congregational was founded in 1840 and still worships in its original 1843 church building. In 1872, First Congregational Lorain came into existence. The two historic congregations will choose a new name to reflect its vision and ministry, and will retain its affiliation with the United Church of Christ.

          “The transition teams of both congregations have looked at church mergers that succeeded, as well as others that experienced significant challenges or failed,” Burke reflected. “They are doing their best to incorporate the positive aspects of these experiences and avoid the pitfalls to insure the smoothest possible transition.”

          The final worship service of the Lorain congregation in its sanctuary will be on Sunday, June 25, with the merged congregation holding its first official worship service on July 2, 178 years to the day that the Amherst congregation was founded.

 

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It. is. on.

On May 7, the congregations of Congregational UCC of Amherst and First Congregational UCC of Lorain voted overwhelmingly to merge into one congregation. Amherst's vote was 100% in favor and Lorain's was 85.5% positive, both greatly surpassing the two-thirds threshold each congregation required for passage.

What this means from a legal standpoint is that the Lorain church's last day of existence is June 30; and on July 1 the two congregations will officially become one. The first official worship service of the merged congregation will be Sunday, July 2 ... which is 177 years to the day that the Congregational Society of North Amherst, Ohio was formed.

What this means from a practical standpoint is that we have a lot to do between now and June 30 to prepare for merging into one ... like choosing a new name!  Some preparations have already taken place - the endowment and hospitality teams have met jointly, and the core transition teams have been in constant conversation. There will be additional teams created to move as nimbly as possible and as thoughtfully as possible to blend the different aspects of our congregational lives. We don't see this as a challenge (other than in the time frame); we see this as an opportunity to strengthen our place as a part of the Body of Christ at work in northern Lorain County.

In the months ahead, keep the current members of the Lorain church in your prayers. Some will choose not to follow the congregation to Amherst and separate themselves from seeing long-term church friends on a weekly basis. Some will mourn loss of a building that has been the church home for generations of family members. Some will grieve some of the symbols and items in the building that will be left behind.  Some will have some other attachment, memory or emotion that will give them pause at the church's closing. To be sure, we will be grieving some things that will change in our midst - but always remember the greater emotional cost to the Lorain folk.

Beyond simply holding them in prayer, reach out in a welcoming way to greet those who are now a part of us. We will be working on a common pictorial directory to help everyone connect names and faces. We will create name tags for all who need them - and please wear them. Frankly, there are people in the current congregation who don't know each other - and name tags on Sunday would be helpful!

Both congregations are in for some change. Some changes will be more major than others. Some individuals will handle change easily while others will experience difficulty. Patience, love, kindness and understanding is always the Christian way of being. Have a few extra portions of each in reserve as we navigate the near future together!

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One of the powerful ministries offered by the United Church of Christ in Ohio is its Outdoor Ministries program, specifically its summer camp program. Many long-time members of the UCC, including some of our members, have had their faith strengthened by their experiences at church camp. You'll find that Pastor Brian is a great proponent of summer camps and encourage as many of you who are looking for such an experience to participate in one or more opportunities.

Young children can get a taste of camp and spend time with their grandparents at one of three Grandparent-Grandchild half-week camps – Pastor Brian is the director of one of these sessions.  Children and youth can experience a broad range of traditional camp activities at Circle of Friends camp.  Do our children want concentrated experiences with sports, swimming, choir, or a mix of music, mime, arts, drama and dance? There are specialized camps in those areas. Would the family like an opportunity to be together? Consider the Labor Day Family Camp? Women, how does a long weekend of floating on canoes in the Mohican area sound?  Floating With The Spirit is just for you.

There is a broad array of camping throughout the summer at our picturesque Pilgrim Hills site in the scenic area between Millersburg and Mt. Vernon. We hope you will encourage our youth to take part in this wonderful opportunity for faith formation in an outdoor setting. For more information, go to www.ohioucc.org/outdoor-ministries/ or see Pastor Brian.

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The Advent and Christmas seasons are very busy ones in the life of any church and any pastor - and especially busy for pastors who begin their ministry on the first Sunday of Advent. Now that we are through the busyness of the season, we will begin moving forward on the tasks that are a part of every Interim Ministers' portfolio as well as the specific tasks that Council has added.  I'll share more about those as appropriate. In the meantime, here's how we can jump-start our efforts.

As a Church Vitality Coach in the Western Reserve Association, I was asked to coach a congregation as a part of the Association's Vitality Lab program. Ten churches are participating in four day-long sessions led by the Rev. Michael Piazza, the UCC's preeminent consultant on everything to do with church vitality. As a coach, I get to audit these sessions ... and ACUCC will reap some benefits of what I learn.  The two sessions to date have been on "Transformational Worship" (enlivening worship for millenials without losing the current congregation) and Management and Money (for 21st century congregations in which meetings, cash and checkbooks are obsolete).

vital vintage church coverWhen we have arrived at the time to create new mission, vision and core values statements, one of the books I will recommend in preparation for this conversation is Mike's book entitled "Vital Vintage Church".  ACUCC is certainly a vintage church, if one considers almost 177 years young to be "vintage". My initial observation is that it is also a vital church, filled with vitality while looking for ways to renew (read that as "re-new", or make new again) the ways that vitality is expressed. Not every idea that a consultant has, or publishes in a book, is appropriate for every congregation. However, there is much we can learn and adapt from Mike's experiences in pastoring two growing, vital congregations.

This link is to a YouTube video of a recent presentation he made ... the slides are the same as I saw in October.  It's about an hour and forty-five minutes long, and I hold no illusions you will watch the entire video. But I strongly recommend you take the time to look at the first twenty or twenty-five minutes in which he brings forward his initial analysis of vintage churches. It is the basis from which he shares his experience in creating vitality.

His book is in the same style you see in the video. He writes in very accessible language and uses very little "churchspeak". The ideas in it will provide starting points for exciting conversations about renewing the vitality that is a part of ACUCC. As a matter of fact, I may structure a series of conversations around the individual chapters in the book:

  • Bringing Worship into the 20th Century
  • Structured for a Wiki World
  • Removing the "Lead" from Leadership (with "lead" referring to the weighty metal)
  • Finding our Voice
  • Making "Welcome" an Active Verb
  • From Survive to Thrive
  • Liberating Generosity
  • A Metanoia Church ("metanoia" is Greek for "repent, to change direction")
  • Evangelism Is NOT a Four-Letter Word

Let's join together on a journey toward renewed and increased vitality as the new year opens our eyes to new opportunities and possibilities.

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