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  1. 1. Veilleux 1 And you shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than those.1 Introduction In 1913, philosopher Josiah Royce delivered a series of lectures at the Lowell Institute in Boston. “The church,” he said in one lecture “must mean the company of all mankind, in so far as mankind actually win the genuine and redeeming life in brotherhood, in loyalty, and in the beloved community.”2 Royce knew that Jesus expected everyone to love others as much as they loved themselves. Therefore, he believed the Christian church has a responsibility as the body of Christ to reach out to all people, welcome them into their community and care for them. In order to do this, churches must be able to react to the continuing cultural changes in the society and stay relevant to their members and the surrounding neighborhood. This relevance is achieved by changing the mission focus to meet the needs of members as they participate in the life of the church. It is also accomplished by working and residing in the larger community. Christ Church United of Lowell, Massachusetts is just such a church, demonstrating the United Church of Christ (UCC) denomination's social gospel theology 1 Mark 12:30-31. 2 Josiah Royce, “The Historical and the Essential,” in The Problem of Christianity: Lectures Delivered at the Lowell Institute of Boston, and at Manchester College, Oxford. Volume II: The Real World and the Christian Ideas (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1913), 367.
  2. 2. Veilleux 2 and its affirmation of all people and consequently thriving in spite of a rapidly changing population and its needs. Christ Church United (CCU), a member of the UCC, has a history of adjusting to the changing needs of the inhabitants of Lowell. These changes have led the congregants to address the city's many social problems through various social and political programs. Their mission, along with the National Synod of the UCC, is to seek to reconcile with all other Protestant denominations and include and affirm everyone so that the people of this world “may be one” even as Jesus and God are one (John 17:11b). While other denominations separate themselves by their differences, the UCC, along with the CCU, have constantly looked for commonalities among various churches so they can merge with other congregations and strengthen their ability to help others. This goes hand in hand with their prayer to unite all people, regardless of differences in age, race or sexual orientation, because of their love for Christ Jesus. This paper will discuss the responses of the members of Christ Church United to the social ills of Lowell and the drive to be welcoming and inclusive of all people. Next, I will examine how the general UCC accomplishes these goals in America and the rest of the world. Because CCU reacts to the unique problems of Lowell with support from the General Synod of the UCC, it redefines the meaning of justice for and welcoming of all people and continues to thrive. CCU is vibrant and growing because it is constantly evaluating its mission and working around differences between people and traditions to be able to focus on the needs of their community. In particular, I will focus on CCU's ongoing social and political responses to the needs of their local and national community from 1969 to the present in relation to the General UCC Synod and then discuss the CCU's special response to the growing Laotian population. Third, I will examine how the drive for a welcoming community first led to inclusive language in faith documents and hymns of the denomination, which the CCU adopted. Last, I will show how this drive for inclusivity led to the natural outcome of CCU becoming an “Open and Affirming”
  3. 3. Veilleux 3 church to allow all people to be reconciled with one another and God. These responses to the community around them has allowed them to “open [their] minds to the changing world and become a vibrant and living 21st century church,”3 that reaches out and helps the people otherwise ignored by most. As other churches struggle to have an impact on the people of America, CCU and the UCC continue to improve the lives of the people of it's congregation, the inhabitants of the city of Lowell, it's surrounding communities and the world. Out of Many, One: The United Church of Christ The denomination to which the CCU belongs, the United Church of Christ, has a long history of focusing on their local communities. In order to understand the UCC's continuing belief in the equality and value of all people, it is beneficial to review a brief history of the deep roots of this denomination. We will see that ecumenicalism is at the heart of the UCC throughout their history and their mission has always put cultural values of their local community and the world around them first, instead of relying on dogmatics and tradition. Ecumenicalism continues to this day and reflects a faith that engages with the needs of all the people of this world. The churches that formed the United Church of Christ in 1957 were all planted by local families and pastors in order to listen and respond to the needs of the people in the immediate community. The denomination was created with the merger of the Congregational/Christian denomination and the Evangelical/Reformed communion, but long before this merger, individual churches within these two faith traditions were brought together by commonalities of belief and culture. Unification of this nature required people within the churches to be able to look beyond differences in traditions and creeds to the common goal of reaching people with the Gospel of Christ and showing the world that these two denominations are an example of the church living as one body. In addition to the strength and support of being in one group with a larger number of people, these individuals had to overlook their pride and 3 Barbara F. Reed, “Christ Church United in Lowell: History” (historical talk presented by Barbara F. Reed, Historian of Christ Church United in Lowell, Lowell, MA, June 3, 2001), 10. (accessed March 28, 2012).
  4. 4. Veilleux 4 opinions to humble themselves before God in order to be free to exert their energies for helping the world outside their congregations. Rather than worrying about internal divisions over periphery issues of Christian Theology and traditions, they were then free to allow the church to better peoples' lives while they are living on earth. Because they always believed that the church was able to fulfill the mission of Christ by trying to improve the conditions of the people of the world, the churches that came together to form the UCC follow the social gospel. This theology teaches that God loves all people but holds a special blessing for those less fortunate. Since Christians represent Christ on earth, they are to minister and provide for the poor as a commandment from Jesus.4 Before this theology became popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Congregational Church of New England set their sights on evangelizing people as a way to improve people's lives. The Congregational Church's roots stem from the Puritans and Separatists, the latter known as the Pilgrims. Some people felt they needed a less strict theology for their church so in 1634 Thomas Hooker became the first minister of the Congregational Church in Hartford, Connecticut.5 The mission of these churches were very local at this time. For example, John Eliot, himself a Congregationalist, was a missionary in the seventeenth century to the Native Americans in Massachusetts. In honor of him, the Eliot Presbyterian church was built on the sight of his homestead and today, as a reflection of the people this church serves, about one-third of the members are Cambodian.6 Planting missions was such a strong focus of Congregational Churches that in 1810, Samuel J. Mills of Williamstown, Massachusetts started the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Ministers, which was the oldest mission board in the western hemisphere.7 4 Adherents of the Social Gospel quite often use Matt 5:3 as their proof-text to show that God has a special blessing for the poor: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 5 UcBHM (United Church Board of Homeland Missions), MY Confirmation: A Guide for Confirmation Instruction (Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1963), 132. 6 Barbara F. Reed. “Christ Church United in Lowell: History”, 3. Robert Forrant and Christoph Strobel, Ethnicity in Lowell: Lowell National Historical Park Ethnographic Overview and Assessment (Boston: Northeast Region Ethnography Program National Park Service, 2011), 152. 7 UcBHM, My Confirmation, 133.
  5. 5. Veilleux 5 While the Congregational Churches were being formed in New England, four other ministers scattered around the United States broke away from their denominations because of theological differences and started their own congregations. In 1792, James O'Kelly, along with thirty-one others, left their Methodist Church in Virginia and founded the Christian Church. Around this same time, Dr. Abner Jones broke from the Baptist Church in Vermont and also created a denomination called Christian. Lastly, Reverends Barton Stone and David Purviance left the Presbyterian Synod of Kentucky. Although these churches were physically far apart they were close together theologically so in 1808 these men met together to discuss the possibility of merging, forming the official Christian Church denomination in 1820. Eventually, the Christian Church merged with the Congregationalists and the denomination took the latter's name in 1931.8 At the same time that the Christian and Congregational churches were forming, the Reformed denomination came into being. In 1709, a large group of Germans moved to Pennsylvania and planted many individual local community churches. In 1725, one of these churches had a pastor named John Boehm and he created the first constitution for the Reformed Church denomination. Later in 1747, Michael Schlatter was sent by the Reformed Church in Holland to tie these Congregations together with regular meetings. They finally separated from the church in Holland to become a self-sufficient group in 1793. By 1863, they had established a church paper, seminaries and hospitals to help the communities around them.9 A fourth denomination, very similar to the Reformed Church and also from Germany, started to form in the St. Louis area. Hermann Garlichs became a lay leader of the Femme Osage Church and was later sent back to Germany to be ordained in 1833. This was the start of the Evangelical Church denomination and this group joined with Louis Nollau's churches to create the German Evangelical Society of the West in 1840. In 1877, they merged with the western churches to become the German 8 UcBHM, My Confirmation, 138, 140. 9 Ibid., 133-135.
  6. 6. Veilleux 6 Evangelical Synod of North America. Because of the similarities in their faith beliefs and the shared German language, the Reformed and Evangelical denominations joined forces in 1934 to become the Reformed and Evangelical Denomination.10 In keeping with the spirit of ecumenicalism, thirty-three Protestant denominations formed the Federal Council of Churches in 1908.11 So it was natural that in 1941, Dr. Douglas Horton, Minister and Secretary of the Christian Congregational Churches, conferred with Rev. Louis W. Goebel about the possibility of a merger between the CCC and Evangelical and Reformed denominations because they “believed ourselves one in spirit and purpose.”12 After WWII, many leaders of other Protestant churches felt there was no substantial difference in their beliefs and that they were spending an inordinate amount of money building churches.13 This belief continued with the CCC and E&R denominations and, under the leadership Dr. Ferdinand Q. Blanchard, the chairman of the Congregational Christian Commission on Interfaith Relations and Christian Unity, and George W. Richards, the Chairman of the E&R Committee of Closer Relations with Other Churches, the process of this union took place in 1957. At the same meeting, Rev. Fred Hoskins, Minister and Secretary of the General Council of CCC, said that despite their differences, they had “similar origins, loves, [and the same] emphases in practices and on understanding the mission of the church to our world.”14 Although Finke and Starke wrote that “the most vigorous, growing, and significant organizations will not join, and a merger of failing groups cannot fulfill the essential ecumenical hope,”15 Rev. Hoskins maintained at the Uniting General Synod that “this is not a union of fear, it is a union of hope.”16 This message of hope and unity is shown abundantly in the CCU congregation of Lowell, Massachusetts. 10 UcBHM, My Confirmation, 136, 141. 11 Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religions (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2005), 216. 12 “Address by Co-Moderator Rev. Louis W. Goebel,” Minutes Uniting General Synod of the United Church of Christ. The Music hall, Cleveland Ohio, June 25-27, 1957. Volume 1957, 76. 13 Finke and Stark, Churching, 225. 14 Minutes of the Uniting General Synod, 61. 15 Finke and Starke, Churching, 234. 16 Minutes of the Uniting General Synod, 62.
  7. 7. Veilleux 7 Becoming Christ Church United in Lowell, Massachusetts The history of the CCU is one of response to change in the cultural make-up of the city of Lowell over a span of over 140 years. Christ Church United was formed with the gradual merger of ten Congregational and two Unitarian churches. The mergers occurred because of the ebb and flow of the population and different cultures that immigrated to the city. For example, at one time Lowell needed three Congregational churches, but as the population changed they only needed two. Or, in one instance, it was a question of finances. The High Street Congregational Church and the First Unitarian Church decided to merge into one church because High Street had the building and the Unitarian church had the money. They became All Souls Church in 1921. Ultimately, the final merger occurred when the First Congregational Church in Lowell, All Souls, and Highland Congregational Church came together to become Christ Church United in 1969.17 Even though this church has been predominately white throughout its history, the members of this congregation never considered closing its doors to open a church in the suburbs as many other mainline churches did during the so-called “white flight.” Instead of moving, they continued to serve the needs of their urban neighborhood. This common goal of helping others created a tight bond among its members of which few churches can boast; while the average attendance to membership ratio of the eleven UCC churches of the Andover Association that reported these figures in 2011 is 49%, CCU has an 88% attendance rate.18 This consistent commitment of the congregants' participation in CCU's worship services shows their strong interest in continuing its urban ministry in Lowell. Urban Ministry-Introduction: The Congregational side of the UCC has a long standing tradition with urban ministry. The lay people in these churches took it upon themselves to start missionary societies in the nineteenth century. Of particular importance was the Christian Activities Council formed in Hartford, Connecticut in 1851. 17 Reed, “Historical Reflections,” 8,9. 18 Directories of the MACC UCC Churches of the Andover Association, Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ, 1999-2011. (accessed April 19, 2011).
  8. 8. Veilleux 8 They created mission centers in this city to serve the large amount of new immigrants coming into the area in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries because of their belief that Christians are “to serve the needs of the poor, the oppressed and the needy in the city of Hartford.” This group had lay representatives from each participating congregation and, after the merger in 1957, this mission continued in the UCC.19 Although many churches from the 1940s to the 1960s were moving to the suburbs, many church groups stayed and made very specific efforts to try to form strong ministries in the urban areas of America. For example, one famous mission was the creation of the East Harlem Protestant Parish in 1948 by three ministers who later joined the UCC. George Webber, Don Benedict and Archie Hargraves became friends when they attended Union Theological Seminary in New York City and their friendship continued after graduation. Together they planned to open a storefront church in an urban setting that would focus on the communal and worship life of the congregants while pursuing a strong social action and justice program. The three men approached Truman Douglas, who was the Vice President of the Board of Home Missions for the Congregational Christian Churches, with this idea. It was such a successful experiment that Douglass continued his leadership in the UCC's newly formed Church Board for Homeland Ministries in 1957.20 By 1963, the UCC recognized that if the ministries in America were to continue to flourish in urban areas, they needed to understand the pathos of urbanization and very specifically target these problems. In 1965, Don Benedict issued the Final Report to the Urbanization Emphasis committee and stated that Harvey Cox in the magazine Secular City said, Urbanization means a structure of common life in which diversity and disintegration are means that a degree of tolerance and anonymity replace traditional moral sanctions and long-term relationships.21 19 Clifford Green, Churches, Cities and Human Community: Urban Ministry in the United States, 1945-1985 (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1996), 216-217. 20 Ibid., 220, 215-216. 21 “Final report to the Urbanization Committee by Don Benedict, Executive Director,” Minutes of the Fifth General Synod of the United Church of Christ. Chicago, IL, July 1-7, 1965, 229.
  9. 9. Veilleux 9 This meant that the denomination needed to reevaluate what they viewed the church's mission was to the community and how to make their message work for people in their everyday lives. Benedict said that education in the church up to this point was primarily aimed at “the nature cycle; i.e. birth, puberty, marriage, sickness and death,” but that teaching about these things to the congregants did nothing to prepare them to deal with problems in the rapidly changing world around them. They saw the need to train ministers to be able to be in touch with the outside world so they could relate to and help their congregants cope with the unsettled world around them.22 In fact, Mrs. Allen Hackett, Chairman of the Committee for the Emphasis on the Church and Urbanization Committee, explained the church's mission quite well when she said, “violence, cybernation and urbanization have been powerful forces in shaping today's world. Violence, alienation and restlessness are marks of our time. But this is the world into which God sends us.”23 Justice and Compassion for Those Less Fortunate: The Social Gospel Lived out in Love Former CCU pastor, Rev. Virginia Ann McDaniel once said that : The church isn't for its “members,” it's for all the people outside its walls. It's not to make church folk comfortable; it's to equip us to go out and make a difference in people's lives. It's not to draw in and take care of them once they are here; it is to send the people who are here out into the world to put their faith into action.24 This is exactly what the UCC's mission is. Because the UCC has always been sensitive to the differences of doctrines and beliefs of the many congregations that make up their denomination and their determination to unite with each other out of respect for God and humanity, they are responsive to the needs of all the people, within and without their community of faith. This mandate is taken seriously by the UCC. While many mainline churches feel it is their duty to help the poor and hurting people of 22 Ibid., 231. 23 “Report on the Committee for the Emphasis on the Church and Urbanization,” Minutes of the Sixth General Synod of the United Church of Christ, Cincinnati, OH, June 22-29, 1967, 114. 24 Rev. Virginia Ann McDaniel, “Chosen—Equipped—Sent,” Sermon, Christ Church United, Lowell, MA, 27 January 2002.
  10. 10. Veilleux 10 society, very few of these churches try to change the political and civil structures around them, like CCU does.25 As early as 1960, Reverend A. Babock said at the Second General Synod of the UCC said that the Covenant that God created with humanity should be shown through the church's “own sacrifice and devotion to righteousness” and that “this covenant is for the church to affect legislation, justice, peace through strategic actions and organizations, programs, reforms, being in the spirit and mind of Christ in the heart and souls of men.”26 Even before the churches in Lowell came together to form the CCU and join the UCC, these churches exhibited the spirit of helping the poor. In the nineteenth century, the South Congregational Church had a missionary society which collected second hand clothing for children, spread Bibles, visited the jails, built a Lyceum, held Bible classes and ran a school that taught reading, writing and arithmetic to people over the age of fourteen.27 Across town, the Highland Congregational Church was doing its part with the Lowell Mission Maids. They collected “over two hundred pounds of the good things of life in the form of sugar, teas, coffee, oatmeal, etc.” and sent them to Mrs. Yates' Mission School in Tennessee for poor whites.28 Of course, as the needs changed, so did the mission of the church. During WWII, the All Souls Church gave money to the Red Cross Nurses Aides, Gray Ladies, U.S.O., War Chest and Civilian Defense funds.29 The UCC became a denomination during a time of great change. Oppressed classes of people began to demand that the government secure their civil rights. The UCC made sure to respond to these and other issues by implementing a mission of justice. President Herbster of the UCC said in 1963 that “our church life must be transformed; and we must mobilize the manpower and the means of the church for racial justice.” In order to do this, Ashby Bladen of the Executive Council of the UCC said the 25 Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Pillar of Faith: American Congregations and Their Partners (New Jersey: University of California Press, 2005), 124. 26 Rev. Everett A. Babcock, “Communion Meditation,” Minutes of the Adjourned Meeting of the Second General Synod of the United Church of Christ, Cleveland, OH, July 6-8, 1960, 96. 27 “Ninth Annual Report of the Minister at Large to the Missionary Society of South Parish” (CCU Archives). 28 Lowell's Mission Maids, Congregational News (CCU Archives, November 18, 1896). 29 “Minister's Report,” Annual Meeting of the All Souls Society (CCU Archives, January 21, 1945).
  11. 11. Veilleux 11 denomination would support and fight for the right of African Americans to have job equality, live in equal housing, have the best schooling possible and make sure they could marry whomever they chose. They were to provide bail bonds, legal defense and economic aid to this oppressed group of people.30 Following the lead of the UCC, CCU began helping underrepresented and oppressed people almost as soon as becoming part of the denomination. This was very aggressive and deliberate on their part and it still continues. While only 12% of the churches in America with less than three-hundred members have any significant ongoing community outreach programs, CCU with ninety-six members is still a leader in the community.31 While the church and the surrounding communities in Lowell during the 1970's were still predominately white, the church reached out and collected money to be sent to a black college fund run by the General UCC to support six black colleges in the south. Between 1974 and 1976, the denomination raised $17 million for this cause to keep them from closing, and the members of CCU gave willingly to this cause. For another example, in1969 Marcus Munoz of the United Farm Workers appealed to the UCC General Synod to tell their congregants to boycott California grapes until the workers were secured equal working conditions and were paid living wages. The CCU enthusiastically started supporting them in 1973. They have boycotted many items over the years, including some coffee companies and Mt. Olive grapes. In fact, “they've always [battled] homelessness, poverty, hunger, equal rights for all groups.”32 Member Connie Ludwig said her church's involvement with helping individuals in the community just naturally happens.33 As early as 1972, the CCU set their sights on becoming a church that reaches out to its community when they created the Social Action Committee. Rev. Dr. Thomas E. Dipko said the Boston hospital had called them to help a needy family in Lowell because they “are a church that has a reputation for helping people.” The members of CCU work not only with their church to help the 30 “President Ben M. Herbster's remarks on the Present Racial Crisis” and “Executive Council Statement,” Minutes of the Fourth General Synod of the United Church of Christ, Denver, CO, July 4-11, 1963, 132, 23. 31 Ammerman, Pillars of Faith, 147. 32 Judith Thurlow, interview by Mila Veilleux, Christ Church United, Lowell, MA, 12 February 2012 33 Connie Ludwig, interview by Mila M. Veilleux, Christ Church United, Lowell, MA, 5 February 2012.
  12. 12. Veilleux 12 community, but the members and leaders themselves have ministries of their own to help the residents of Lowell. For example, Rev. William Craige Rennebohm was the Minister to the Community in 1972 and he not only worked in the church to create community social action groups, but he was also part of the Headstart Program and a chaplain to the Lowell Juvenile District Court. They truly wanted to live up to their Litany of Union which said, “and we earnestly beseech You, O Lord, to make us in Christ Church United in Lowell, a congregation worthy to be called a Church of Jesus Christ.”34 Jesus said to feed the hungry, and poverty and hunger have always been a major concern for Christ Church United. The congregation has always given to “One Great Hour of Sharing” and “Neighbors in Need” for local relief, but they also opened their doors and gave space to help the needy in other ways. Pre-school children living in poverty often times need extra support outside of their home in order to be prepared to enter school so when Project Head Start needed a place to meet to help these low-income children and their families, CCU gladly made room for their meetings. They signed a Letter of Agreement with Head Start in 1976 that agreed to provide them with free space, one classroom, one kitchenette, two restrooms, space for eating and indoor recreation and an area for outdoor play.35 The church has always provided for physical as well as emotional needs for their congregants and others who met under their roof. There was a boyscout troop that met there, as well as a Big Brother/ Big Sister branch. Long-time member Robert Kangas fondly remembers working for the BB/BS group as well as being part of the middle and senior high youth groups and playing on the church basketball team.36 Organizations like these help the members connect and work with others who need to know they are accepted by and important to the community. 34 “Report of the Pastor” and “Report of Minister to the Community,” Reports to the Annual Meeting of CCU in Lowell, MA, ( CCU Archives, April 1, 1972), 1,5, 7. 35 Timothy C. Downs, Temporary Secretary, Christ Church United in Lowell, Issues and Concerns Subcommittee of the Church and Community Committee (CCU Archives, April 19, 1976). 36 Karen Stairs, interview 2 February 2012 and Robert Kangas, interview by Mila M. Veilleux, Christ Church United, Lowell, MA, 25 March 2012.
  13. 13. Veilleux 13 Today, the CCU continues to reach out to the community through a program called Under the Oak. The leaders of this ministry invite people living on the fringes of society to work on art projects, engage in fellowship and have some nourishing snacks in a safe environment. This is the brain-child of Rev. Judy Bryant, former Assistant Pastor of the UCC in Chelmsford and past intern of CCU. She got the idea from Ecclesia Ministries which was started by Rev. Dr. Debbie-Little Wyman. This ministry offers worship services in Boston for the homeless members of society and art programs and movies shown on Boston Common. Bryant has a heart for the disenfranchised and wanted to help people in this situation in Lowell so she asked if she could use space at CCU. Of course, CCU was there for her with open arms.37 Member Dennis Kearney says that marginalized people are always living day-to-day with little regard to their futures and this allows them to think about long-term projects. Many of the members live isolated lives and Under the Oak gives them a chance to talk and be heard in conversations, which is always necessary for one's well-being.38 The most ambitious outreach that CCU is now engaged in to help the disenfranchised of the city is All Souls House. This project is aimed at reducing homelessness in Lowell by providing low-income apartments to fill underutilized space in CCU's building. During a visioning meeting where the members of CCU were deciding what the church's mission would be for the next five to fifteen years, they discussed the question of how to use some of the empty space of this beautiful building to serve the community as God intended. The city of Lowell was going through its 10-year plan for ending homelessness and this seemed like a perfect way for CCU to help in the fight. In 2010, CCU registered “Spirit Builders, Inc.”as a separate non-profit organization to do the project. When the work on the building is completed, SBI will lease space from CCU that will house three 2-bedroom apartments and an on-site manager's apartment, all with section 8 status. This is but one way that the church has stretched its resources to create a loving environment for people that feel isolated and lost.39 37 Rev. Judy Bryant, conversation with Mila M. Veilleux, Christ Church United, Lowell, MA 6 March 2012. 38 Dennis Kearney, conversation with Mila M. Veilleux, Christ Church United, Lowell, MA, 6 March 2012. 39 Chris Coleman-Plourde, interviewed by Mila M. Veilleux, Christ Church United, Lowell, MA, 2 February 2012.
  14. 14. Veilleux 14 Even while this large project is underway, Rev. Peter Lovett, the current pastor of the church, works tirelessly alongside church members to help the people of Lowell in many other ways. He is actively involved with the Merrimack Valley Project which has been working with families that are losing their houses due to the mortgage collapse in 2010. In fact he has gone to protest Bank of America in Boston.40 Although Pastor Pete and members tackle large and sometimes daunting social issues, no problem is too small for this church to help. Many people call or walk through the church's doors in desperate need of shelter, food or clothing each year. In order to respond to these needs, CCU applies for a grant of $20,000 each year in accordance with the will and testament of the late Theodore Edson Parker. Administrative assistant, Karen Spicer said that all of this money and more is spent every year to help the needy people who look to this church for support.41 In the 1990's, a group of people from Laos turned to this church for help and became an active congregation within CCU's walls that works to serve Christ and the needs of others. Laos United Church of Christ According to the U.S. Census data, Lowell's Asian residents increased from 11,470 in 1990 to 17,302 in 2000, and they accounted for about 20% of the population of Lowell. Although there were less immigrants before 1990, the highest percentage change of the Asian population grew from 599 people in 1980 to 8,075 in 1990.42 Lowell was flooded with Laotian refugees starting in 1975 because of the end of the war in Vietnam and the subsequent years of internal struggle there and in the surrounding countries. The first wave of Laotians came as refugees who were collaborators with the United States' CIA and were involved in the “Secret War” to overthrow the communist group led by Pathet Lao. Many of these people escaped and settled in refugee camps in Thailand or the Philippines.43 40 Karen Stairs, interviewed by Mila Veilleux. 41 Karen Spicer, conversation at CCU, Lowell, MA with Mila Veilleux. March, 2012. 42 United States Census,, United States Census., United States Census. (accessed March 29, 2012), and Forrant and Strobel, Ethnicity, 141. 43 Forrant and Strobel, Ethnographic Overview, 145.
  15. 15. Veilleux 15 During this time of upheaval, Dr. Donald Persons was studying Thai Christianity at Andover- Newton Theological School in Massachusetts. He eventually traveled to the Philippines where he met a Laotian woman from one of the refugee camps and observed horrible conditions there. Persons was shocked by what he saw and wondered “how can humanity allow such a long internment of large groups of people?” In 1986, Persons and his wife, Chuleepran Srisoonturn, worked with the Lao outreach of the Eliot Presbyterian Church run by the head pastor, Rev. Steven Stager. In the beginning of their ministry, they did resettlement work for the immigrants but eventually set up Bible studies and worship services for them too.44 The local churches were helping to provide housing services and furniture donations but they could not keep up with the huge wave of immigrants coming in from Cambodia and Laos. The Federal Government formed the Mutual Assistance Association and created committees to resettle each group of immigrants in the United States. Congressman Chet Atkins and Senators John Kerry and Ted Kennedy secured much needed money from the MAA to help settle the Laotian and Cambodian refugees in Lowell. Although there were resources to help the immigrants with their physical needs, the churches in Lowell were not prepared to handle the “subtle cultural and religious desperation emerging in this group” because the Laotians and Cambodians needed places to worship.45 In 1987, Persons graduated from seminary and realized he wanted to provide for the Laotians in a spiritually ecumenical way that was respectful to their religion of Buddhism. That fall he met with the Eliot Presbyterian Church's pastor, Rev. O'Brien, who was part of the Christian Missionary Alliance and spoke fluent Cambodian. He was starting to form churches for the Southeast Asians that were pouring in because of the political upheaval in their countries. Persons got certification from CMA's Theological Education by Extension school to equip himself to plant churches for these immigrants in their native languages within the UCC denomination. Later, in 1992, Persons was advising the Lao Congregation of 44 Donald S. Persons, D.Min, “The Story of the Lao UCC in Lowell, MA: Personal Memories and Reflections 2010.” Found in the archives of the CCU, Lowell, MA. 45 Ibid.
  16. 16. Veilleux 16 the Nazarene Church in Lowell and he approached Lloyd Dunham, the current pastor of CCU, to speak to him about the need for more space for this congregation. Pastor Dunham opened up the church doors wide and welcomed them in so they could have their own space to meet with their congregation. Dunham and Persons worked closely with the Andover Association of the UCC, the group of local UCC churches within the same conference, to find a Laotian pastor for this church but they could not find one. Eventually, a member of the congregation that met at CCU, Boontung (Ted) Rasakham, was trained and ordained to become the pastor and lead this flock.46 While living in Laos, Rasakham never envisioned himself as a Christian let alone a pastor of a church. He was first introduced to Christianity when he and his family escaped the horrors of the civil war in his country and settled in a refugee camp in Thailand. While living there for ten months, the First Reformed Church in Lynden, Washington sponsored his family to come to America in February of 1980. While there, he was introduced to the Christian faith by his sponsors and he reacted positively towards it because “it was interesting.” When he came to the United States, the church took care of his family and he learned about the “love of God and love of Christ to save ...people's [lives] and they talk[ed] about love.” Before this time, they were raised as Buddhists because in Laos “80%-90%” are of this faith. After a year of living in Washington, they began to believe that it was good to have faith in God and Jesus and that they should learn more about it. Although Rasakham and his family were happy with their church and living in Lynden, they also yearned to be with other Laotian families to be able to share in the culture of their former country.47 Rasakham sponsored some relatives to be able to join them in America, but these families soon moved to Lowell, Massachusetts. They told Rasakham that the living situation in Lowell was good and that their was a large Laotian community that they would be able to join. This convinced Rasakham to move his family east to Lowell. He was able to secure employment and also found that the Nazarene 46 Persons, “The Story of the Lao.” 47 Ted Rasakham, interview by Mila M. Veilleux. Christ Church United, Lowell, MA, 27 February 2012.
  17. 17. Veilleux 17 Church had a small group of Laotians attending their church. Unfortunately, the services were in English and they were not able to understand the teaching, and consequently were not able to grow in their understanding of their new-found religion. Fortunately, he met Persons who was able to lead him to the CCU in Lowell.48 The welcoming attitude of the CCU convinced Rasakham that being part of the UCC denomination was the best fit for his congregation and he is “proud of [the] UCC because [I am allowed] to bring my music from Laos...bring my culture.”49 In fact, he was told that if he came to CCU, they would find a pastor that would preach and teach in their native Laotian language. One year later, they were still not able to find a pastor so they approached Rasakham to become the pastor because he had been leading Bible studies for his group. He agreed and teachers from the Laotian Theological Education by Extension Program of the Andover Association of the UCC met with Rasakham one-on-one to train him in pastoral studies and how to run a church. After five years of instruction, the Association finally ordained him as a UCC pastor in February of 1997 and he is now able to lead his congregation in the Laotian language.50 This church has become home to Christians of the Laotian community who are struggling with understanding their new faith. Many of the members left their country during turbulent times and found themselves faced with a new home, new language and new religion. The old traditions of their former religion and lives were left behind so they could have a better life in America. A relatively new member named Lucky explained that even though he joined an English congregation upon moving to America and he learned many things from them, his heart told him to go to this church because “they're my people, you know...I can't just walk away from them.” They need to hear about what he has learned about the God of the Bible because one can't “walk away from the poor [in spirit]” and this is made 48 Ibid. 49 Ibid. 50 Persons, “The Story of Lao”, and Veilleux, interview with Ted Rasakham.
  18. 18. Veilleux 18 easier by speaking in the language that they are most comfortable with: Laotian.51 Although many of the older members do not speak English as well as they would like, this church is still involved with activities in the general Lowell community. They sell food at the Lowell folk festival and are involved with the Asian Water Festival. These two fundraisers that they participate in each year help support their church so they can pay for books, supplies and other things necessary to continue their ministry. While this church provides for the spiritual and cultural needs of first generation Laotians, Christ Church United had the foresight to teach the English and Laotian children in a combined Sunday school to bridge the gap between the two churches and allow this generation of church members grow together as one congregation. One member of the English-speaking church remarked that her daughter, who is now 38 years old, worked in the nursery years ago and one of the Laotian children she taught, who is now an adult, was recently in church and remembered her.52 In fact, Pastor Ted's daughter Lily, who is also a student, said that “it's like one church” and that when the youth group gets together it's like “we', and we come together and have so much fun. We're always there for one another.” She said that when she graduates from Sunday school, she will probably join the English-speaking CCU because she knows English better than Laotian. Despite language differences, the openness that characterizes the CCU in both congregations has made a huge impact on the children of the Sunday school as shown by Lily's and the other youth's willingness to reach out to new people in the church. No matter what culture they are from they make a deliberate attempt to make them feel welcome. Lily said that they “interacted, and made [new people] comfortable in our group, and they became like a family.”53 As a consequence of this, three members of this “family” traveled together to New York City for their first short-term mission to volunteer to help the disadvantaged people living on the streets of the city. 51 Lucky, interview by Mila Veilleux, Christ Church United, Lowell, MA 26 February 2102. 52 Judith Thurlow, interview by Mila Veilleux. 53 Lily Rasakham, interview by Mila Veilleux. Christ Church United, Lowell, MA, 4 March 2012.
  19. 19. Veilleux 19 The success of this type of ministry extends beyond Lowell to the nation, as reflected in the restructuring of the UCC in 2000. They believe that Christianity should break down the racial and cultural divide and strive for the unity that Christ commanded. In view of this, the UCC decided that the National Ministries would support the founding of minority congregations, assist in the recruiting of minority clergy and conduct diversity briefings to enable the denomination to reach out and care for all people around the globe. As a reflection of this, the Council for Racial and Ethnic Minorities have eight historically underrepresented constituencies: Council for American Indian Ministry, Council for Hispanic Ministries, Ministers for Racial and Social Justice, Pacific Island and Asian American Ministries, United Black Christian, United Church Coalition for Lesbian/Gay Concerns, Committee on Persons with Disabilities, Council for Youth and Young Adults.54 Diversity for the UCC clearly goes beyond the differences of race to include those forgotten, ignored, oppressed or deemed as a burden on society by the general public. Inclusivity through the Hymnal of the UCC The United Church of Christ was founded on the belief that all people are equal in God's eyes. As Karen Stairs of Christ Church United said, “we're an open and affirming church...I think a person, is a person, is a person.”55 Language is one of the ways of defining a person and because language always changes, it is important for the church to be sensitive to the words used to communicate the message of the gospel to its congregants and visitors in its printed material, order of worship, and hymnal. In fact, the UCC said in their General Synod in 1963 that because hymns are a way of unifying people's beliefs and that there were so many different traditions brought together to form this denomination, they needed to create a hymnal that could be used by all of their denominational churches. This allowed them to “draw from the richness of their varied roots” in order to appeal and minister to the many different needs 54 Emily Barman and Mark Chaves, “Strategy and Restructure in the United Church of Christ,” in The Church, Identity and Change: Theology and Denominational Structures in Unsettled Times, ed. David A. Roozen and James R. Nieman (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2005), 482-483. 55 Karen Stairs interview.
  20. 20. Veilleux 20 represented by the different cultures and backgrounds of the congregants and be used as “an instrument for the unifying of Christ's people.”56 This new hymnal was not only created to further the cohesion of the different congregations that formed the UCC, but also aimed to be ecumenical. In order for this to happen, the hymnal committee included representatives from the Episcopal, Roman Catholic, United Methodist, United Presbyterian, three major Lutheran bodies, Moravian, Covenant, Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Canada churches. In fact, the “red hymnal” of 1974 was formed in consultation with the United Presbyterian Church so that their books of worship would be similar.57 In order to meet the needs of such a diverse group of people, the Ninth General Synod proclaimed that it “commits itself and commends to the congregations, associations and conferences the elimination of sex and race discrimination in every area of its life” and that would be done, in part, by using inclusive language in all of its writing. This included the order of worship as well as the hymns found in the hymnal.58 In following the lead of the General Synod, the newly formed CCU adopted this red hymnal as their own. It was a bold move at the time because many of the people of the congregation had grown up using the Pilgrim Hymnal and were comfortable with the wording of the old hymns. But, to continue its commitment to include everyone and welcome all to their house of worship, the congregation of Christ Church United adopted it.59 As the hymnal gained use in the UCC Churches, so did the cultural diversity in them. Madaleine Forell Marshall who is a language scholar and hymn translator said that “hymns are living texts, not historical artifacts. They are only valuable to the extent that they work for modern singers.”60 With this in mind, the new hymns try to be devoid of gender, disability and race related words. In this way, people 56 John Ferguson and William Nelson, eds., The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ (Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1974), 6. 57 Ibid., and “Report on the Commission on Worship,” Minutes of the Fourth General Synod of the United Church of Christ, Denver, CO, July 4-11, 1963, 57 58 “Statement on Women in Church and Society,” Minutes of the Ninth General Synod of the United Church of Christ, St. Louis, MO, June 22-26, 1973, 46. 59 Neil Bartlett, interview by Mila Veilleux, Christ Church United, Lowell, MA, 25 March 2012. 60 Madeleine Forell Marshall, Common Hymnsense, 10, cited in The New Century Hymnal Companion: A Guide to the Hymns, Kristen L. Forman, ed. (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 1998), 19.
  21. 21. Veilleux 21 from many different backgrounds and languages can relate to American Hymns. With this in mind, the UCC started investigating the possibility of a new hymnal beginning in 1990, and in 1995, The New Century Hymnal came into being. To keep the continuity of the the Christian hymns written throughout the ages, songs from the ancient Christian church that were in Hebrew, Greek and Latin are included but edited with inclusive language. There are also American hymns from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as well as songs represented from Christian communities around the world, such as Asian and Hispanic worship songs. Even Ancient hymns are updated in the new hymnal, one of the oldest and most well known song of praise to God, The Gloria Patri, or Glory be to the Father, is rewritten from: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost” to “Glory be to the Creator, the Christ, the Holy Spirit, Three in One.” However, to allow people to gradually accept this change, which is quite jarring to some people, it has the original words in a footnote. UCC is interested in welcoming new people while making sure that older members are still comfortable with what they are singing and proclaiming to God.61 In fact, to ensure that people know that changing the words does not change the message of Jesus Christ, Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” is on the cover page of the hymnal. The Eleventh General Synod stressed this continuity when they proclaimed that “the word of God is changeless but our attempts to communicate it in our words can and should change when we become aware that they do not carry our meaning to those with whom we speak and worship.”62 Along with using inclusive language and the new hymnals, the CCU became more inclusive with their style of music for the worship service. It was a very gradual change, one that was seen in many Congregational Churches. At one time, there was a paid choir who sang classic hymns. Then it went to 61 Fergusun and Nelson, The Hymnal, nos. 337-340, The New Century Hymnal, Arthur G. Clyde, ed. (Cleveland, OH: the Pilgrim Press, 1995), no. 759. 62 “Resolution on the Statement of Faith and Inclusive Language,” Minutes, including addresses, Eleventh General Synod of the United Church of Christ, Washington, DC, July 1-5, 1977, 92.
  22. 22. Veilleux 22 paid soloists and then a quartet. About ten years ago, Lori Guthrie agreed to help lead the music, and to reflect the change in the tastes of music a mixed worship service was created, including contemporary and traditional hymns. Once a month, when the Laotian and English CCU congregations have a shared worship, the children lead many of the songs and there is a mixed age choir.63 Anyone is welcome to sing, as long as they attend the practice. Music is a wonderful way to bring people together to express joy and worship and the CCU allows people to express themselves through music in a variety of ways. The CCU's mixed worship service not only refers to the musical styles but also the language in the spoken service when they meet with the Laotian church. The scriptures are read in Laotian and printed in their language in the bulletin. The Laotian's choir also shares a song in their language. Just as the songs in the hymnal reflect a more diverse and inclusive society, so do the creeds contained in it. The United Church of Christ assumes there are five traits common to all Christian faith organizations: 1)Christian faith generates community so organization of it is important, 2)this organization can either reinforce or distort faith, 3)there are many types of Christian organizations, 4)the Christian church is shaped by its surrounding, and 5)religious communities routinize charisma. This means that because these Christian faith organizations need to respond to the changing culture around them, the statements need to be flexible so their wording can change in order to be relative to the believers throughout the ages.64 This change is reflected in the rewriting of the Statement of Faith of the UCC, which reads in part: 1959 Statement of Faith: We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father, and to his deeds we testify... Revision of 1977: We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit, who is made known to us in Jesus our brother and to whose deeds we testify... 63 Neil Bartlett interview. 64 Roger L. Shinn, “Faith and Organization in the United Church of Christ,” in The Church, Identity, and Change: Theology and Denominational Structures in Unsettled Times, eds. David A. Roozen and James R. Neiman (Gran Rapids, MI: William Be. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 493-497.
  23. 23. Veilleux 23 Revision of 1981: We believe in you, O God, Eternal Spirit, God of our Savior Jesus Christ and our God, and to your deeds we testify...65 Although the Statement of Faith has gone through many revisions, and only the 1981 version is in the New Century Hymnal, all three forms are on their website in order to show continuity of the faith. Because the UCC's polity is still in the Congregational form, each church has the option to choose which adaptation to use in its service according to the needs and desires of their faith community. Inclusive to Open and Affirming: Resolving to Include Everyone in God's Love The UCC and its ancestor denominations have always been looking out for the needs of all people, especially those of oppressed classes: the homeless, the poor, the handicapped, ethnic minorities and women. This denomination does not just talk about problems, it engages them head on, works toward a solution, and treats all people as equals. An example from history is that Antionette Brown was ordained in a Congregationalist church in 1853, becoming the first woman pastor in the United States.66 The UCC denomination continued the tradition of being sensitive to the commitment they made to be inclusive of all when in1973 the General Synod declared that child care stipends would be issued so that both men and women would be able to participate in the national UCC meetings. This inclusivity for all made it quite natural for the denomination to demand equality for people regardless of their sexual orientation. In 1983, the UCC announced that ones sexual orientation could not be used to deny ordination or discrimination towards a volunteer or other staff member in the UCC, thus marking the beginning of what is now called an “Open and Affirming” denomination.67 The idea of being “Open and Affirming” is not a new idea for CCU. In fact, when asked about how people felt about it, the overwhelming response was that the members of the English speaking 65 Roger L. Shinn, Confessing Our Faith: An Interpretation of the Statement of Faith of the United Church of Christ (New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1990), xiii-xi. 66 Randall H. Balmer and Lauren F. Winner, Protestantism in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 128. 67 “Statement on Women in Church and Society,” 46, and “Report of the Committee on the Report of the Task Force for the Study of Human Sexuality,” The Fourteenth General Synod of the United Church of Christ, Pittsburgh, PA, June 24-28, 1983, 47.
  24. 24. Veilleux 24 congregation believe unequivocally that sexual orientation does not make a person any different than anyone else looking for community. As Judith Thurlow said, “this church has a history of open and affirming...before other't an's always been welcoming to everyone.” Since the beginnings of CCU they have been interested in integrating everyone and working toward getting people their rights so “it's the natural progression” to include the gay community in every way. As a matter of fact, this church would not be the church it has always been if it did not make itself an official Open and Affirming church.68 When Rev. McDaniel was the pastor of CCU around the turn of this century, congregants started having a conversation about becoming one of the Open and Affirming congregations in the UCC denomination. When a meeting was called to vote on this decision in 2002, it appeared that everyone who was able came to this very important gathering. Two very prominent members stood up to talk, one of them being Barbara Reed who is a long-time member and the church historian. Hitherto quiet in her opinions about the subject, at this she told of having a cousin who was gay and made it clear that it was very important for her to know that this church respected everyone as an individual. But the most moving statement was made by another well-known and respected member, George F. Richardson. Karen Stairs remembers it this way: “he got up and spoke and said that the church he knew had to become open and affirming. The church he knew had to do this or he didn't know if he could stay a member.” The vote was an unanimous one of approval and people joyously celebrated. 69 They wasted no time in proudly displaying the banner that represents their Open and Affirming statement, We at Christ Church United in Lowell, believing that all people are equal in the sight of God, declare that we are an Open and Affirming congregation. We are called to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we value the gifts of all backgrounds and economic circumstances; people of every physical, mental and emotional condition; people of every sexual orientation, gender, and sex; people of every age; people of any marital status; and people who are searching 68 Judith Thurlow interview. 69 Karen Stairs interview. I found no information about the Laotian and Hispanic Churches' opinions on Open and Affirming. Although the three congregations do many activities together, they are run as separate churches apart from the CCU.
  25. 25. Veilleux 25 for a relationship with God, including people from every religious background and those with no particular religious background. We strive to be a community in which all may find peace and security.70 This is the capstone statement of all the beliefs and actions that this church has stood for and done for their community since its inception in 1969. In this way, the members of Christ Church United, UCC in Lowell, Massachusetts boldly proclaim their love of God and others to everyone who reads their website or passes by their door. Conclusion The United Church of Christ is an ever evolving Christian denomination whose prayer and goal is to reach and reconcile as many people as possible with the love of Jesus through social activism programs and spiritual growth. It was formed by people with diverse theologies who believed that “in essentials unity, non-essentials liberty and in all things charity.”71 The essential unifying ideal of the UCC is to love God and serve and love ones neighbor. The American ideal of liberty is found in their Congregational style of church polity. These churches are loosely linked together with similar congregations of the same denomination but there is no hierarchy and each congregation has its own form of governance. It is in a democratic style in which each member votes his or her conscience on issues. Last, and most important, this denomination has survived because of its charity within the churches' walls and out in the community. People are willing to look over their differences in order to make a positive difference in other people's lives. The CCU is a model of these ideals because since the beginning of their first church ancestor in Lowell, this church and its congregants always looked beyond their own personal wants and focused on the needs of their changing surroundings. There was never any problem or need that was brought to their attention that they did and do not tackle through social activism programs and the giving of their 70 Karen Stairs, interview and “God Accepts All People, So Do We!” Christ Church United, UCC, Lowell, MA accessed March 3, 2012. 71 Barbara Brown Zikmund, “United Church of Christ: Redefining Unity in Christ as Unity in Diversity,” in The Church, Identity, and Change: Theology and Denominational Structures in Unsettled Times, eds. David A. Roozen and James R. Nieman (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2005), 462.
  26. 26. Veilleux 26 time to listen and react to lost and helpless people that crave a community that cares about them. When a community of Laotian people came to America and could not find a Christian Church to call their own, CCU opened its doors to train and nurture them and give them a home they could call their own. Although they are a called the Lao United Church of Christ, they are included in Christ Church United's congregation through the children's Sunday school and various programs and worship services. This spirit of inclusiveness does not end with the Laotians, however. In the spirit of the rights of women, different races, and children being fought for in the 1960's and 1970's, Christ Church United adopted a Hymnal and Worship book that uses inclusive language that replaces words that may harbor negative stereo-types today. This allows people from all backgrounds to feel comfortable coming to this church no matter where they are in their quest for spirituality and search for God and a loving community. Because CCU adapts to the needs of people as they arise, when the gay, lesbian, transgendered and questioning groups started to be heard and were persecuted for their sexuality that was outside of the norm, this church did not have to think twice before becoming an “Open and Affirming” church. Being an “O and A” congregation allows everyone to know that all people are welcomed and will be loved when they cross the threshold of this church building. Because CCU does not have creeds that members follow but rather changing statements of beliefs for each individual, it is able to react to changing needs of their community. These statements of beliefs are lived out daily through helping the needs of others. This has and continues to allow Christ Church United in Lowell, Massachusetts to stand out as a jewel in this neighborhood because they believe as Paul did that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”72 The last words of the sermon of outgoing interim pastor Rev. Brita Gill-Austern explained the spirit of Christ Church United exactly when she said this is a church that has “open hearts, open hands, and [an] extravagant welcome.”73 If history is any indicator 72 Galatians 3:28, ESV. 73 Rev. Brita Gill-Austern, “One Love, One Heart, One World: Everything Belongs to God,” Sermon, Christ Church United, Lowell, MA, April 22, 2012.
  27. 27. Veilleux 27 of its future, the people of Lowell will always have someone there to help them.