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Congregational Christian Church UCC Burns Mortgage

by Rev. Larry Grim

It was my honor to recently participate in a mortgage burning celebration at the Congregational Christian UCC in Hacienda Heights.  As I write this (on Oct 19, 2009), it occurs to me that in many ways the story that leads up the recent festivities began almost exactly 10 years ago.

In the early fall of 1999 I was ministering to the Euro-American UCC congregation in Hacienda Heights as we sought ways to live out our commitment to becoming a genuinely bicultural congregation.  At the same time, Sepulona Tanuvasa was ministering to a Samoan UCC congregation temporarily meeting in Orange County and looking for a place to permanently call home.  In a flash of inspiration, Conference Co-minister Jane Heckles arranged a meeting between the two of us.  As it turned out, Sepulona and I were muy simpatico, so we arranged a “blind date” between our congregations for the First Sunday in Advent.  It was agape at first sight!  We began worshiping together the first Sunday in 2000, and by August the two congregations had fully merged into a single church with one set of by-laws and a new name.

Worship was designed to be fully bicultural and bilingual, including short homilies in both Samoan and English, English anthems and Samoan congregational singing.
There were challenges along the way.  For example, how many flowers should there be on the altar on Sunday mornings?  Should New England austerity be honored, or Polynesian exuberance?  (We worked out a compromise – alternating months of austerity and exuberance.)   A larger challenge was a mortgage dating to the 1960s!  With financial sacrifices made by all the members of the congregation, and with encouragement from the good folks at UCC Local Church Ministries, this was paid-off earlier than originally anticipated last spring.

Over the years, Sepulona and I have moved on to other ministries, and the congregation in Hacienda Heights is currently pastored by the very talented Leoaga Tanuvasa (Seuplona’s nephew) – who worked tirelessly in recent years to end the congregation’s debt.  However, “Sepu” and I were delighted to be a part of the mortgage burning celebration this past July.  We hope and pray that the spirit of unity and accord exemplified by the diverse membership of the church in Hacienda Heights will inspire other churches in the Southern California Nevada Conference.                       

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