SPOTLIGHT: A Fire Sparks Covenant Among UCC Churches

1/12/2018
By Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane

Weymouth and Saugus UCC churches are real-life examples of how our vision statement is being lived out throughout the Conference​


When the people of Old South Union Church in Weymouth saw the news that their sister church in Saugus had a 2-alarm fire during the Advent season, they knew they had to do something.
 
"We are a church whose sanctuary was destroyed by fire almost 30 years ago," explained, the Rev. Jennie Barrett Siegal. "It's important to us to pay forward the support we received back then by contributing to recovery efforts at other churches that experience fires."
 
Siegal contacted the pastor of the First Congregational Church, UCC in Saugus, so she could send a check for $250, and offer prayers from her congregation to theirs. Siegal also asked what kind of need they were facing in the wake of the fire, as they had additional funds that could be contributed if the need was great.
 
A 2-alarm fire destroyed the outside wall at First Congregational Church, UCC in Saugus
The answer, however, was a bit unexpected. The Saugus pastor did not mention any material items that needed replacement.  Instead, she said that the greatest impact of the fire was upon their ministry to families in need. 
 
"The church has always given out Christmas grocery store gift cards to families of kids in the local elementary school, and we haven't been able to come through for them this year," Rev. Martha Leahy, pastor of the Saugus church, told Siegal. "Your gift will help to make that happen."
 
As a result of this conversation, the Weymouth church doubled their donation. The deacons were overwhelmed by this outpouring of compassion, as they were able to deliver the gift cards before Christmas and keep the church's pledge to the children.

"What a kind and thoughtful gesture this was," said Leahy. "This situation has been both frightening because we came close to losing the entire church, but also uplifting because of the care and concern that has been shown by other churches." 
 
Blessing Bags
Blessing Bags
The Saugus church received an outpouring of support from their faith community and neighbors. Many local churches offered their spaces for worship and activities. Because of those offerings, the UCC Sunday School children were able to meet and make the "Blessing Bags" they had planned to help minister to the homeless. The bags were assembled at the Methodist Church, and then delivered to the Grace Center Drop-In Center located at a Unitarian church in Gloucester. The amount of support offered by the other faith organizations was a testament to the strong ecumenical bonds First Congregational of Saugus built over past years.
 
"The nature of covenant is hidden, like those times you walk into a spider web that you did not see coming," said Associate Conference Minister the Rev. Wendy Vander Hart.  "Covenant is a web of connection that holds us together and surprises us when we least expect it. Hopefully, when those moments of recognition happen, we renew our commitment to relate to others in this way building trust that when we fall back someone is there to catch us."
 
In addition to being contacted by an Associate Conference Minister and members of the Conference Disaster Response Team, Leahy's Community of Practice and fellow UCC clergy friends from about a dozen different churches reached out and offered support and prayers.
 
"The strong sense of support we felt from other churches is, I believe, a result of the UCC's theology of covenant, the success of our conference's Clergy Community of Practice program, and the UCC's emphasis on nurturing solid ecumenical relationships" said Leahy.  "We covenant to support one other, in clergy groups, in church associations, and in ecumenical outreach, to bind us in a common purpose: 'to make God's love and justice real.'  As Rev. Wendy Vander Hart reminded me, the outreach our church experienced is the incarnation of covenant."
 
Luckily the Saugus church was able to clean the soot and make enough repairs to hold Christmas Eve services in their own building. But it was more than luck that brought these churches together. 

"These churches are real-life examples of how our vision statement is being lived out throughout the Conference," said Vander Hart. "Following Jesus and rooted in the Grace of God, our mission is to nurture local church vitality and the covenant among our churches.  The nature of our discipleship is for the UCC churches and pastors of Massachusetts to come together as a Conference -- a covenantal web of relationships that grow out of Jesus' call to discipleship. We are here so churches know there is someone to catch them if needed."
 
In this particular case, Old South Union Church in Weymouth -- and many others -- responded to the silent call from First Congregational Church, UCC in Saugus, on behalf of its community in need.  And note that despite its latest difficulties, First Congregational in Saugus continued to help the Gloucester community respond to its ministry of helping the homeless at the Grace Center.
 
What an awesome web we weave.
Rev. Wendy Vander Hart, Associate Conference Minister, took this photo when she joined First Congregational Church, UCC in Saugus, for their very first worship service after the fire
Rev. Wendy Vander Hart, Associate Conference Minister, took this photo when she joined
First Congregational Church, UCC in Saugus, for their very first worship service after the fire


You can contact Reverend Martha Leahy at the church office at (781) 233-3028 or email uccsaugus@verizon.net. The Reverend Jennifer Barrett Siegal can be reached at her church office at 781-335-2545 or email osuchurch@osuchurch.org.  Follow the churches on their Facebook pages:


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