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Celebrating Thirty Years of Togetherness: The San Diego Partnership Churches

by Mary Domb Mikkelson

UCC President Rev. Geoffrey Black- Photo by Sharon Young

UCC President Rev. Geoffrey Black- Photo by Sharon Young

They were trend-setters, San Diego UCCers eager to move their churches and their community into an exciting new partnership as one of twenty or so “Togetherness Churches” in the United States.  As described in an earlier Connecting Voices article, “And Then There Was One… But What a One!”  (November 17, 2010), they were “congregations seeking common ground, a way and a place for churches of diverse racial, ethnic and cultural memberships to come together to promote understanding through shared activities.”  One pastor and one lay leader from each of five local churches[1] met with area and national church representatives “to get the ball rolling” on March 8, 1983.   The San Diego Partnership Churches was born.

On April 21, 2013, the Partnership celebrated thirty years of togetherness and the sharing of a variety of activities, among them joint worship (a favorite is the Ash Wednesday service), “Sacred Conversations on Race,” providing scholarships  and a number of mission programs.

To commemorate their years of success (they are the only surviving partnership) current members[2] came together with UCC President, Rev. Geoffrey Black and SCNC Conference Minister, Rev. Felix Villanueva, at Mission Hills UCC, enjoying food, fellowship and a fascinating glimpse at possibilities for the future of their church both nationally and locally.  Among those present were three founding members, Aary Armstrong from Christian Fellowship and Rev. Yoshi Kaneda and Dale Kusumoto from Ocean View (now Pioneer Ocean View).

Rev. Darryl Kistler (Kengsington UCC), Rev. Black and Conference Minister Rev. Felix Villanueva - Photo by Sharon Young

Rev. Darryl Kistler (Kengsington UCC), Rev. Black and Conference Minister Rev. Felix Villanueva – Photo by Sharon Young

Kensington’s Rev. Darryl Kistler started the celebration with “There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit in this Place” then introduced Geoffrey Black, commenting that the UCC’s President had “brought the thunder” in a sermon that morning at Christian Fellowship.

Black invited listeners to explore with him the “historical continuum” linking UCC with civil rights.  We were born in the caldron of Civil Rights, he explained and sent one of our own, Andrew Young to be an associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. – a good model of “UCC Pentecostals.”

That Pentecostal fervor for justice and equality is, he stressed, essential to today’s church, a church struggling with the realities of a very different world, a world in which people have little time to volunteer and there’s an absence of young adults in church.  “We are about something of value…we’re a young church in a drastically changed world that needs what we have to offer, the good news we proclaim, the opportunity to be fully engaged in change.  In a time when conservative voices dominate the media, we want our voice to be heard.” [3]

San Diego Partnership Churches 30th Anniversary Dinner at Mission Hills UCC - Photo by Sharon Young

San Diego Partnership Churches 30th Anniversary Dinner at Mission Hills UCC – Photo by Sharon Young

Important to this, Black explained, is building on what’s happening in local churches – “where wheels are turning,” what’s being done by the gifted creative people there, people like those in San Diego’s Partnership Churches.  Also imperative:  using the media effectively to let people know we are here and to get our message out;  finding innovative ways to share our “Stillspeaking God” with people hungry for such a God; inspiring churches to act together (as do the Partnership churches).

Examples of ways the national church is involving local churches in reaching out include the “Faith in____” program which encourage UCCers to become an “expression of the Gospel where you are” and the new “Mission 4/1 Earth” program involving members in working together to planting trees, using resources wisely, advocating for our earth – and, in the process, “learn what resurrection is about.”

Still to come?  Possibilities, Black said, include “worship in the key of Jazz, the liturgical music of the 21st Century.  He spoke, too, of Reading Changes Lives, a program to bring literacy to children, especially the underprivileged, and the racism of the “cradle to prison pipeline”   (“You can tell by 3rd grade who will go to prison!).

Founding Member Aary Armstrong. Photo by Sharon Young

Founding Member Aary Armstrong. Photo by Sharon Young

Founding Member Dale Kusumoto with his daughter-in-law Yoe Kusumoto. Photo by Sharon Young

Founding Member Dale Kusumoto with his daughter-in-law Yoe Kusumoto. Photo by Sharon Young

Founding Member Reverand Yoshi Kaneda and his wife Setsuko Kaneda. Photo by Sharon Young.

Founding Member Reverand Yoshi Kaneda and his wife Setsuko Kaneda. Photo by Sharon Young.

Inviting all to get involved – “in education, advocacy, direct action and contributing financially,” he stressed that the church-wide Vision Plan, which has as its core purpose that:

Drawn together by the Holy Spirit, we are a distinct and diverse community of Christians that come together as one church, joining faith and action.  In covenant with the church in all of its settings, we serve God in the co-creation of a just and sustainable world as made manifest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

is inspired by and based on the accomplishments of local churches and groups like the San Diego Partnership of Churches which “let their little light shine.”

“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine” – a great song to wrap-up a great program; a great start to tomorrow’s vision, tomorrow’s church.

______________________________

[1] Christian Fellowship, Kensington, Mission Hills, Chinese Community, Ocean View
[2] From Christian Fellowship, Kensington, Mission Hills, Pioneer Ocean View, University City, La Mesa
 [3] Selected thoughts from Rev. Black’s talk

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