4 Who is Our Neighbor?

4a Community Vision

How do the relationships and activities of your congregation extend outward in service and advocacy? 

Our congregation has a long-standing history of mission and justice and extending outward in service and advocacy. Our founders operated a station on the Underground Railway in the 19th century. We mobilized in the 1960s with the civil rights movement. We have been advocating for LGBTQ+ rights since the 1970s. 

We have acted as an overnight shelter with PADS, served at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and partnered with Night Ministry, Bridge Communities, Warrenville Youth Detention Center, and DuPage United. (see Appendix A for additional information.) 

The COVID-19 pandemic changed some of these missions. The PADS shelters have transitioned to providing hotel rooms and apartments and our Youth Group delivers hot meals monthly to 130 families in that hotel. We are now leading several churches in operating the Community Kitchen which provides hot meals and distributes toiletries, clothing, and gift cards to housing and food insecure guests not served by PADS. We converted our Free Little Library into a Free Little Pantry and partnered with the Downers Grove Public Library to move this pantry indoors in the winter.

This call to service and advocacy, mission and justice speaks directly to our UCCDG vision: A more just, compassionate world, united in God’s love.

Describe your congregation’s participation in meetings, relationships and activities connecting the wider United Church of Christ (association/conference/national setting).

UCCDG has had regular involvement/interaction in both the Fox Valley Association and the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ. We annually elect two lay delegates to represent us at scheduled meetings of both bodies, including ecclesiastical councils and installations/ordinations within the Association. We have hosted special events and both the spring business meeting and fall Association meeting of the Fox Valley Association. One of these was an Illinois Conference forum on racism, with a Fox Valley Justice and Witness workshop that featured ways for our covenanted churches to get involved on pressing issues such as ending bail bonds, gun violence, and climate change, among other topics.

We have had members serve on the conference Mission Support Committee, and who chaired the Outdoor Ministry Committee and the Association's Committee on Ministry. Our Senior Minister chaired the Association's Justice and Witness Committee. We give annually to Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM) and the other special offerings of the denomination. We have been a 5 For 5 Church in giving. 

We have used our Conference's church camps for confirmation and youth group retreats and for family camping weekends (Tower Hill, Pilgrim Park). Members of our church have been delegates and visitors to General Synod meetings. Our insurance for staff members and for our property is through UCC offerings, and our endowment funds are invested through United Church Funds. 

Many local churches love to tell the story of what they are doing in the community to transform lives. Some have identified certain aspects of their witness into the wider community using language shared with other UCC congregations.  For full descriptions, please visit ucc.org.

At UCCDG, we participate in Creation Justice, God is Still Speaking, Border and Immigrant Justice, and Open and Affirming (ONA).

Reflect on what the above statement(s) mean(s) to your community.

Is your congregation interested in working toward any of the above statements of witness in the near future?

With a vision of a more just, compassionate world, united in God’s love, one of the cornerstones of UCCDG is Mission and Justice for all God’s people. We are an Open and Affirming congregation. We value the dignity and purpose for each of God's children affirming that all are made in the image of God's love. 

UCCDG is a strong supporter of Creation Justice. Our church was the second church in the UCC Denomination to divest our endowment funds from fossil fuels. We organized trips to support the movement at the Standing Rock Reservation to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline and stand in support with Native American communities. In addition, we have been locally involved in climate change education initiatives.

We have explored being a Just Peace church and formed a team to begin the process of becoming a WISE congregation. We host NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) DuPage mental health events in our church in response to a growing need in our community.

Describe your congregation’s participation in ecumenical and interfaith activities (with other denominations and religious groups, local and regional).

Locally we’ve worked ecumenically to bring together denominations for semi-regular clergy gatherings, shared mission work within Downers Grove, and lead in the fight to repeal a Storm Water Tax on churches and all not-for-profit organizations. We share combined community worship services for Thanksgiving, Good Friday, and Downers Grove’s summer Rotary GroveFest celebrations (a summer outdoor festival).

In 1986 we also were one of the first two churches in DuPage County to partner with and co-found DuPage PADS for the homeless and working poor. We shared in this work with over sixteen other communities of faith and our local high school, Rotary, and civic groups. Students set up and took down the sleeping pads and other shelter supplies. Local churches and synagogues cooked dinners and provided overnight crews for our guests’ needs. These partners joined with us in raising funds to expand our facilities so that we could provide handicap accessible showers, laundry service, breakfast, and bagged lunch and dinners to all of our guests.  The DuPage PADS program ended in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In 2019 we joined DuPage United to work with our Muslim, Christian, Jewish brothers and sisters as well as civic organizations to organize and pool our resources and power to enact change in our communities. 

If your congregation has a mission statement, how does that mission statement compare to the actual time spent engaging in different activities? Think of the range of activities from time spent gathering, to governance, to time spent going out.

Our Mission Statement is to “Connect people with God and one another to serve, live, and love – guided by Christ.” This statement was thoughtfully and prayerfully created and guides everything we do.

We connect people to God and each other by cultivating an inviting worship environment where music, spoken word, and a genuine welcoming spirit invite those visiting us, in person and virtually, to know that they have found a place of community. We connect with one another during our fellowship activities, Bible studies, and family-focused events. We also make an intentional point of reaching out and welcoming guests and visitors.

As a Congregational church, it is in our nature to have a Pastoral and Lay Leadership structure that is inclusive and representative of our Mission, our Values, and the Body of Christ. We have worked hard to develop and follow the best model possible for our church, and to do so with an understanding that God is Still Speaking.

Our Mission work speaks directly to our Mission Statement and is an aspect of our church to which our congregation is especially dedicated. We believe that opportunities to serve our community are also opportunities to connect within our community. Whether it is in the partnerships we build with organizations such as Hope’s Front Door, or the missions we support such as Community Kitchen, we strive to foster a connection to God and to one another, guided by Christ.  

Reflect on the scope of work assigned to your pastor(s). How is their community ministry and their ministry in and on behalf of the wider church accounted for in the congregation’s expectations on their time?

As a just congregation, we offer our ministers a just salary, benefits, flexibility, and support of the lay leadership to balance the intense demands on their time. We recognize that our pastors have families, friends, and homes of their own. Their covenant with the church is only one covenant they share in life, and we recognize that for our pastoral staff to model a healthy, balanced life, we must respect their time constraints, days off, and sabbatical time.

The Pastoral Relations Committee  and Personnel Team encourage ministers to set boundaries, delegate, and use all the time off to which they are entitled. Consultations with the Pastoral Relations Committee are encouraged to alleviate any feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed.

The church lay leadership supports its pastoral staff during times of sabbatical, continuing professional education, and time to rejuvenate and recuperate on vacation with their families on many levels. During vacations and sabbaticals, both staff and lay leadership plan ahead for a minister’s absence, assigning others to assume the many duties a minister handles, as well as any emergency that arises. Guest preachers are scheduled, the Worship and Arts Ministry plans worship services, and staff take on additional hours as needed.