For nearly thirty years, the Michigan region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Michigan conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC) have partnered on a variety of activities and events, from attending anti-racism and boundary training together, to hosting joint regional assemblies for a number of years.
“For Disciples, unity is what we’re all about,” says Rev. Eugene James, Michigan’s regional minister. For that reason, he and his UCC counterparts have continued to forge a strong partnership of regular meetings and activities, as opposed to occasional events.
“We can accomplish far more together,” says Rev. James of his partnership with UCC Conference Minister Rev. Campbell Lovett. The two leaders started in their current positions around the same time, and have committed to intentionally cultivate relationships around shared goals for their statewide communities.
Still, the groups wanted to find new and creative ways to partner in their shared communities. They decided to reimagine their annual Festival of Faith event, a day of workshops and worship that alternated between Disciples and UCC locations every year. Instead of offering one central program, Rev. James and Rev. Lovett decided to try a day of service across the state.
The event was held on April 21, 2018 in three locations across Michigan: Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Benzie County. Participants and congregations signed up for a specific location, and began the day with a shared litany service.
In each city, participants worked together with community organizations to complete a variety of tasks, from painting and cleaning to repairing and constructing homes for families in need.
In Detroit, 22 participants worked with Rippling Hope, a local organization that focuses on home improvement and economic recovery efforts. This event was organized by Rippling Hope’s Executive Director Rev. Carl Zerweck, an ordained Disciples minister who previously served as the director of Disciples Volunteering for Disciples Home Missions.
In Grand Rapids, 24 participants worked with HQ, Family Promise, and Habitat Restore, community organizations that support and house homeless individuals and families. Rev. James joined this group, and worked on cleaning and repairing homes that would be provided to homeless families in the area.
In Benzie County, 4 participants braved the unexpected snow to work with community organizations in the area – one of the poorest counties in the state, and the home of the Michigan region’s Crystal Conference Center.
While the focus of this day of service was the completed work, Rev. James sees the groups’ commitment to partnership as an important success of the day.
“We are grateful that ours is a genuine partnership,” James says, “and we are quite pleased with the outcome. We thank God that we have been able to put the Gospel into action together.”