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And Then There Was One…But What a One!

by Mary Domb Mikkelson & Carol Rainey

     They were called “Togetherness Churches.”  Nice name, capturing both purpose and atmosphere in one perfect phrase.  Created by the National UCC Staff back in 1982, there were some twenty of them scattered around the United States, 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 of them called San Diego home.  Sadly, it is the only Partnership still “in business.”   This is its story.   (Note:  A new “partnership,” Southern Nevada’s UCC Parish, is thriving in Las Vegas.  See Russ Smethers’ “Thinking Outside the Picnic Basket” in this magazine.

     Joining hands as The San Diego Partnership Churches back in ’82 were Chinese Community Church; Christian Fellowship Congregational Church, United Church of Christ; Kensington Community Church; Mission Hills UCC and Ocean View UCC.  The group flourished, sharing picnics, choir festivals, , worship services, pulpit exchanges and delicious international potluck dinners;  marching together in the Martin Luther King Day parade and sponsoring Vacation Bible School (VBS) with each of the five churches hosting a day. 

     In recent years other area churches have joined the Partnership, adding to the richness of shared experiences.  They are Pioneer UCC (when they merged with Ocean View), University City United Church (UCUC) and, most recently, UCC La Mesa.  The members continue to worship together twice a year (coming up on December 1, 2010 is a Healing Service at UCUC), and hold an annual pulpit exchange with a potluck dinner and program at one of the Partnership churches.  An annual picnic is held in August and each year scholarships are offered to qualifying college students.  Special programs have included “Sacred Conversations on Race,” which were well attended and very enlightening.  The Partnership has also sponsored and/or participated in joint mission activities and forums and community events for/involving adults and youth.

     The Partnership Women sponsor programs of special interest to women, among them two recent events, the Spring Fling (an afternoon of fun, games and hats – yes, hats!  Think Kentucky Derby and you’ll get the picture) and the Women’s Fall Retreat (2010 theme – “Seasons of Life – A Journey”).

     Designed to promote spiritual growth, the Retreat is also a great time to “spend time with your sisters” and to make new friends.  This year 29 women (from 5 churches) gathered at the home of Jackie LaPointe, arriving in time for a hearty breakfast (at the risk of stereotyping, can anyone match a group of church women in producing amazing meals?) before embarking on a day of meditation and spiritual reflection (led by Rev. Paula Elizabeth of Kensington Community Church), sharing, self-exploration, exercise and more food.  Among the activities was an introduction circle to which each woman brought a favorite magazine:  the “whys” of the choices and a related discussion of what each would like to be seen as/remembered for both broke the ice and opened the floodgates.  The now-established theme was carried forward in Rev. Paula’s meditation, when listeners were invited to relax and enter into a time of self-reflection and thought – and to consider themselves and their role in God’s world.  Other activities followed – charting (with words and/or sketches) the path to one’s goals, complete with obstacles encountered and ways around them; discussing the balance needed  – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – before choosing a path to follow and, finally, creating Dream Boards, compilations of words and pictures from those magazines – postings of future dreams to be kept for inspiration. 

      How do such successful programs happen?  What keeps the San Diego Partnership alive and thriving?   The Partnership Steering Committee meets bi-monthly to plan the activities and events.  Each church is represented by (at least) one pastor and one layperson.  Each church makes a financial contribution (sort of like dues), which is used as seed money for the picnic and other events.  Collections received at joint worship services are designated for the Partnership Scholarship Fund or a specific mission project.  The joyful fellowship of worshipping, working, learning and socializing together with old friends and new ones keeps the Partnership vital – and looking to the future.  There’s talk of a Partnership musical or theatrical production in the near future and really, the possibilities are endless. 

     What about your church?  Your Association?  Might not a Partnership be just the thing to jumpstart plans to get to know your sisters and brothers in other congregations?  To grow together in service, friendship and fun?  The folks in San Diego  (and, it seems a sure bet, those in Las Vegas) say, “Give it a try!”


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