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UCC Parish Update: Nashville, Here We Come! A report from Russ Smethers

by Russ Smethers, Coordinator of Parish Activities

     You heard it first in Connecting Voices back in September, “it” being the story of Las Vegas’ UCC Parish (see “Southern Nevada Thinks Outside the Picnic Basket.”   As part of a rapidly growing coalition of area UCC churches,* Parish members come together to work toward common goals of community service and fellowship. Starting with a BBQ, then a movie night, they have since enjoyed a number of other get-togethers.  Upcoming are a caroling visit to an assisted living center, a combined Christmas Eve service, a luau and, a very special event,  traveling to Nashville, TN in July of 2011 to assist in relief efforts related to the recent flooding – an exciting opportunity for adults and teens to work together to help others, to make a difference.  The relief effort is being spearheaded by UCC National, which has asked UCC Congregations to assist for one week periods through 2012. Parish members felt this was an opportunity to “spread their wings,” while helping another community in the process.  To my knowledge, the Parish is the only “group” UCC organization participating.

     The types of assistance to be provided in Tennessee will range from operating a chainsaw (member Nelson Grandjean excitedly volunteered) to sign-language interpreting.  My daughter Kira, one of the teens going on the trip, has offered to help with that.  She loves seeing the look on people’s faces when they realize they are not alone and can be understood.  Her mother taught her sign language when she was very young. We joked then that Kira could “sign” before she could speak and that she might never learn how to talk.  Other skills to be utilized range from plumbing to administrative duties (someone has to answer the phones).  Fifteen people, adults & teens, representing four congregations will make the trip.  The feeling in the air is that of excitement and pride; pride that we are helping a community in need and excitement at the prospect of several UCC members working side-by-side towards a common goal on behalf of the Parish.

     As most of those going haven’t been to Nashville, I hope for a little down time to see Tennessee.   Not much – just a couple of hours.  I suspect, however, that most of our down time will be spent resting at the church where we’ll be housed – probably watching TV, calling family back in Vegas and Facebooking (LOL).  And, of course, as we will all be together, we could hold a Parish meeting…start planning the next Parish activity.  Well, maybe that can wait until we get home.

     When I initially suggested the idea of traveling to Tennessee to help out, I expected at least a little resistance or skepticism.  I was concerned that the others would laugh or snicker at my idea, might consider the logistics of such an endeavor ridiculous or, thinking the Parish wasn’t ready for such an adventure, would be unwilling to go.  After all, Tennessee is far from Nevada.  I started double-guessing myself, even wrote down responses to anticipated concerns and doubts they might have.  At one point I considered not bringing it up at all.  A few other members of the Parish knew of my idea before the meeting, so when discussion of “new business” began at the meeting, I felt them staring in my direction as if saying, “Well smarty, are you gonna open your mouth or not?”  I started with the fact that the UCC National was behind the program.  That way, if it were vetoed as a bad idea I could blame it on the UCC website!  Pretty smart, huh?  I presented the entire package, the whole idea, then sat back and browsed my way around the table.  To my utter shock, every single head started nodding in silence as though thinking “ok, yeah, good idea.” Then they looked at each other and, yes, they smiled!  Whew!  When the moderator (Pastor Dave Pomeroy) asked about “the next step,” I knew I could relax and that we were actually going to Tennessee.

     So, now the work before the work begins – picking volunteers from each congregation to go, planning and holding fundraisers to pay for the trip. We are responsible for all travel to and from Nashville plus food while we are there. The saving grace is we only have to pay $50 per person for the entire week’s lodging.  But, guess what? The fundraisers needed will, in themselves, be UCC Parish activities and will strengthen the churches’ bonds and relationships.

     This time last year the UCC Congregations in the Southern Nevada area barely communicated with one another beyond Association and Conference functions.  We didn’t know the names of those in the other churches.  Heck, we didn’t even know where some of them held their services.  Now we attend each other’s services, laugh and work together, and have even been known to gather and socialize away from church.  Kira and I occasionally show up at Northwest Community UCC’s service on Sunday morning.  EVERY time we walk in their doors we are met with hugs and smiles.  We help them set-up for their service and their choir even allows Kira to use their drum set to play music for everyone.  The welcome is the same at the other churches.  I have come to think of us as one huge UCC family.

     This is only the beginning.  There are plenty of communities and people needing support (we’ve  even considered inviting  non-UCC. churches to join the Parish).  With this in mind, I’m ending this article with a cliffhanger.  The Southern California/Nevada Conference Board of Directors has approved a new position in the Conference which will be responsible in developing Parish- type groups within the Conference.  Stay tuned for future articles concerning this position and the continuing journey of the UCC PARISH.

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*A fifth UCC church in the Las Vegas area (there are six) has shown interest in participating in Parish activities.  Not bad for a group that is celebrating its one year anniversary in December!

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