November 13, 2011; Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette | Recent demographic changes throughout the country have left many churches in the challenging economic position of having decreased congregations and increased operating costs as a result of aging facilities. Although merging with similar congregations or closing outright might be more typical church responses, a recent story in theWorcester Telegram & Gazette highlights the solution achieved by a United Church of Christ congregation in Worcester, which voted to deed its building and entire $4.8 million endowment to the Worcester Area Mission Society in support of that organization’s social justice work.
The Worcester Telegram & Gazette story emphasizes that the “marriage” between United Congregational and the Worcester Area Mission Society is viewed by all involved as both a continuation and an expansion of the work that the two organizations, both of which were founded in the nineteenth century, did separately. As an example of United Congregational’s social justice history, in the 1960s the church established a separate nonprofit corporation with the sole aim of rehabilitating housing for low-income residents of Worcester. Now with a slightly longer name, the Worcester Area Mission Society, UCC will maintain this focus on housing and homeless prevention, and will also provide youth and family outreach and educational programs.
As part of the agreement between the two organizations, United Congregational which has “about 60 active members,” will continue to meet and worship in the church as guests of WAMS. As a way to maintain its openness, the congregation will also continue its policy of paying cab fare for residents who would otherwise be unable to attend regular worship services. Reflecting on United Congregational’s decision to simultaneously preserve itself and provide a boost to another organization, Rev. Bachelder, president of WAMS, called it “a Resurrection congregation,” adding that the congregation’s choice revealed that it had “discovered the mismatch between old patterns of church life and the new sociological realities.”—Anne Eigeman