Rev. Paige Wolfanger
Pastor, Congregational Church of Batavia, Illinois
I can recommend, without hesitation, the good folks at The First Congregational Church, Downers Grove, both the parishioners and the staff.
Although I am not an “official” member of this amazing congregation, I do feel I have my finger on the proverbial pulse of the faith community, because I’m married to the Transitional Pastor who is working with them right now. This means I often get to attend worship, fellowship, and educational events with the congregation, as well as sometimes get the opportunity to work with the staff. (I, too, am an ordained pastor in the UCC, and have been invited to collaborate with UCCDG in producing devotionals, leading Bible studies, planning educational offerings, and helping as they reach out to all of their neighbors in love and grace.) And I can attest to the fact that these people are alive with the Spirit! They are warm and welcoming without fail, intelligent and biblically versed, committed to justice and kindness, and dedicated to the spiritual growth and well-being of all their members, from the youngest to the oldest. They are also inventive and creative when it comes to how they approach worship and education, two areas that have been especially affected by the pandemic. They are, as a whole, dedicated to the values of Shalom, and work to live and minister with authenticity, integrity, and faith in God.
The beating heart of this faith family is its staff. They are to a person creative, intelligent, reliable, blessed with humor, and faithful to the mission to which they have been called. Perhaps the most important thing is that they communicate with one another often, honestly, and well. This allows them to be all pulling in the same direction, regardless of their area of expertise and vocation. They share a vision, and come together with their various gifts and graces to make it happen. Anyone who answers the call to this position will be joining, in the staff and in the larger church itself, a family…not perfect or without flaw, but committed to being together, as the Body of Christ is called to be. Working with First Congregational Downers Grove will be a blessing and a joy.
Mary Ann Smith, Downers Grove community member
I am writing, as a member of the community and a member of a companion Christian church in Downers Grove to give you my impressions of UCCDG.
I have lived in Downers Grove, within two blocks of UCCDG, for over 40 years. I think one of this church’s strengths is its commitment to the community over these many years. It has been a real witnessing presence, providing many ministries to the people of Downers Grove. It had an opportunity several years ago to move out of the downtown area, but chose to stay in downtown.
The following will give you an idea of the breadth of its outreach. This church has provided winter overnight shelter accommodations for the county’s homeless for decades (PADS). It provides facilities for many self-help groups and continues to be the site of the Two-Way Street Coffee House on Friday nights. Through the senior pastor, UCCDG has been instrumental in arranging for the 4th of July and Thanksgiving Day ecumenical services. These programs reach many different “sets” of individuals that bring them into contact with the facilities, personnel, and services of UCCDG.
My most significant experience with UCCDG was a years-long working relationship with the PADS Program (overnight shelter). Although, my church helped with only two or three Mondays per year, UCCDG was committed to the program serving every Monday night/Tuesday morning from October through March each year. Their local volunteer contingent reliably staffed the shelter every week, providing supervision during check-in, dinner and bedtime, breakfast and clean-up.
I was always impressed with the helpfulness and positive attitudes of the UCCDG members who supported the program. Their dedication was obvious as it was the same people over many years. Knowing that UCCDG’s help was a constant made our annual renewal of support easier to continue. I was also impressed with the UCCDG’s commitment to remodel and upgrade their facilities in support of PADS after a devastating flood in the building several years ago. PADS contributed, local congregations helped, but the leadership of UCCDG made it happen.
My one suggestion for an area of improvement is one I think is needed in all organized religious communities and that is spreading the word of how we share the gospel in this noisy world. UCCDG does many good and wonderful things but sometimes, I think, it keeps its light under the basket. I think their influence in the community could be greater than it is with more publicity, more engagement with the local businesses and government. Since I am not a user of social media, it may be that they already do much in that sphere. I, however, think that there are still opportunities to be had in promoting the good that they do.
As you can discern from the above, my experiences and impressions of UCCDG are extremely positive. I think this church lives the gospel in the ministries that it delivers to the people of Downers Grove. My prayers and best wishes as you consider your response to this opportunity.
Rev. David Bebb Jones
Retired Presbyterian Pastor
(who served 30 years in neighboring Western Springs (1970-2000))
I am not an active participant in the UCCDG but I am happy to comment on my understanding, knowledge and appreciation of the congregation as a friend of the congregation and as a father and grandfather of members of the church.
Areas of Strength:
Vibrant and relevant worship that is theologically progressive with prophetic preaching, beautiful as well as meaningful music related to the themes of worship. During the pandemic there was imaginative and stimulating technology for their worship.
Daily devotions by ministerial staff during the pandemic that has continued - this was very impressive and unique in my experience during the challenges of the pandemic with a new inspirational message to look forward to every day.
Extraordinary outreach and service to the Downers Grove community along with a positive, challenging, and relevant focus on national and international issues. Most recently during the pandemic, there was a definitive sense of care and involvement for the homeless and marginalized. I am very impressed by the initiation and support for the Community Kitchen and it’s evolving and continuing service through multiple resources.
Areas Needing Improvement:
- Not being a member or regular participant, I hesitate to comment on these needs, but am aware of challenges to all churches as a result of the pandemic, which include finances and concerns for “reengaging full membership in activities and ministries”.
- Our daughter and granddaughter were very active in UCCDG’s Youth Group during a period of very involved group that graduated in 2019 and now there is the challenge of rebuilding the youth ministry, which obviously involves this pastoral position.
- Our grandson attended the Confirmation Class and chose not to become a member of the church. His age group was small and not very involved and he has not maintained an active relationship with the church. Now college age, he is struggling in his life. It is surely not the fault of the church, but an area of possible outreach.
Experience in the Congregation:
As mentioned, my closest relationship is through the membership and participation in UCCDG of our daughter and granddaughter (now away in college). For both, this congregation has been very meaningful and the youth experience was very important and pivotal in providing mission giving opportunities at the local, Chicago and national levels through youth mission trips.
Finally, I have great respect for UCCDG and admire its open and inclusive message and outreach to all persons. We need these examples like this in church and community, especially in our time!