FIRST CONGREGATIONAL UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
1735 FIFTH AVENUE WEST
HENDERSONVILLE, NC 28739


SOCIAL JUSTICE

Members of First Congregational are passionate about social justice for all people. The congregation determines our social justice priorities annually, with dedicated teams forming around each issue.


We joined First Congregational because its liberal perspective on social justice issues combined with the authentic love shared among its members was exactly what we were looking for in a spiritual community.

Joel and Anna Helfand

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COMPASSIONATE ACTION

In December, 2016, the group demonstrated leadership by hanging a banner

in front of the church that expresses our core values.

The Compassionate Action work group plays an active, effective, and positive role in advocating for and supporting those whose rights may be threatened or violated in the new political era. We respond to instances of injustice or discrimination against vulnerable individuals or groups in our locality, state, and nation – particularly undocumented immigrants, Muslim Americans, Jews, LGBTQ persons, Hispanics, African Americans, women, and other minorities. The work group was formed by church and community members in keeping with First Congregational’s core values and longstanding tradition of compassionate social justice.


According to co-chair Bal Goleman: “For me, two Biblical injunctions express our commitments. From Micah, ‘What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’ And from Matthew, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ The Compassionate Action work group seeks to put these words into action.”

Our goals are to:

  • Provide information about issues, including the rights of minority groups, by conducting Adult Forum presentations, distributing articles, and suggesting books for discussion
  • Post notices of local, state, and national actions that threaten minority populations
  • Encourage discussion about these actions within the church and community
  • Seek partnerships with like-minded organizations
  • Plan and organize actions in support of the marginalized in response to threats against or violations of our church’s core values
  • Attract those in the community who are concerned about these issues and are looking for a spiritual home

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ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP

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We are in the midst of an environmental crisis that is touching every aspect of human society and the natural world.  However, our faith is fundamentally grounded in the concept of resurrection – the human capacity for renewal and rebirth, the ability of the human spirit to rebound and meet huge challenges head on. We also recognize our call to protect and preserve God’s creation.


In a TED Talk, Al Gore noted that, “enough energy from the Sun comes to the Earth every hour to supply the world’s energy needs for an entire year.” While first acknowledging the enormity of the problem of global warming, Gore goes on to conclude that humankind can and will migrate from fossil fuels to renewable energy, with results already being seen on a global basis.


The members of FCUCC Hendersonville have participated in this movement by installing 60 solar panels that will provide roughly half of our electricity needs and save 489 tons of carbon dioxide over the system’s lifetime. The project was funded entirely by members of the church and local community who recognize the call to preserve and protect God’s creation.

HOMELESSNESS

It wasn’t very long ago that many were unaware of the plight of homelessness in Henderson County except for a few agencies that were providing services for these persons. In 2012, representatives from these agencies and concerned individuals got together and formed a Coalition to address the needs of homeless persons in the county. Meeting to share information and coordinate services, this group has also been responsible for taking an official count of homeless peoples each January since 2013 for HUD. This year our “Point in Time” count revealed a total of 112 individuals, 82 of whom were “sheltered,” either at the Rescue Mission or Safelight, and 30 “unsheltered.” This count does not include those 90-plus youth who are unaccompanied minors. Though double the 66 reported to HUD in 2016, the count is still shy of actual numbers of homeless persons here throughout the year, especially in the summer when our numbers double. A count taken by the Coalition in May is 150 not including unaccompanied youth.


What First Congregational is doing to assist those who are homeless in Henderson County:

Our volunteer services have included but are not limited to feeding many people many meals at the Rescue Mission, working at Interfaith Assistance Ministry and Safelight in volunteer capacities as well as working with Homeward Bound, the Joseph Center, Homes for Youth, Only Hope, and Aura Home for homeless female veterans. Additionally last year more 1,000 pounds of fresh foods were donated from our garden as well as canned goods and other items collected and given to these agencies.


Missions dollars given to support the agencies directly involved with special services to the homeless include donations to Hendersonville Rescue Mission, Safelight, Homeward Bound, Joseph Center, Homes for Youth, Only Hope, and Aura Home, a total of $5,750 for 2017.


Says team member Romella Hart-O’Keefe, “Our compassionate vision is to increase awareness of the need for safe, just, affordable housing for all Henderson County residents, and to continue our active participation with the Coalition helping to rapidly house those who are homeless.”

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IMMIGRATION/INCLUSIVITY

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Amid rising global anti-immigrant rhetoric and sentiment, as people of faith and conscience who know we’re all God’s children, we believe that our calling is to welcome immigrants, offering them hospitality and justice. While we recognize that immigration policy is a complex issue that divides people of goodwill, our faith compels us to stand with the stranger. Some will see “just another illegal” where we see people whose stories are valuable in the eyes of God, brothers and sisters trying to provide for their families.


First Congregational has always welcomed the marginalized, even before adopting our Open and Affirming statement in 2008. To that end, our group participates in a monthly silent vigil on the courthouse steps advocating immigration reform. Likewise, the United Church of Christ champions “compassionate comprehensive immigration reform and the protection of the human rights of immigrants” (General Synod 2013).

Locally, First Congregational is part of Henderson County's Immigration Network, its Path to College Mentoring Program, and its DREAM Scholarship Selection Committee. We support El Centro, the Latino Coalition community and service organization. We also participate in a Bi-Lingual Eucharist with several other congregations and organized our fourth Las Posadas in 2015. In addition, the Inclusivity & Immigration group is a member of Friends of La Capilla, providing funds, lunches, and tutors for its summer reading and math program. Committee members are on the League of Women Voters Immigration Committee. Most recently, we helped organize and participated in an inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance through multiple service projects.


Going forward, the team is looking into the potential local settlement of a Syrian refugee family. We also supported the UCC’s Immigrant Rights on May 1, when the wider church ministries urged congregations to lift up immigrants.


Group member Pat Argue believes, “Too often the immigrants among us are rejected, treated as outcasts, and placed on the margins of society. We will continue to explore avenues to advocate for immigrant justice."

MENTAL HEALTH

Nearly one in five American adults have a diagnosable mental-health condition. The number of family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors touched by those facing emotional challenges is exponentially higher.


Yet mental health remains stigmatized.


With more than 40 percent of those seeking help with psychiatric issues turning first to clergy, First Congregational’s Mental Health work group seeks to lift the stigma through education and resources.

The group’s mission statement reads:


First Congregational UCC, open and affirming to all, offers inclusion, support, and encouragement to people with mental illnesses/brain disorders and their families. Our mission provides and promotes understanding and compassion, and reducing stigma, though education, support activities, and groups for individuals and families affected by mental illness, as well as through advocacy for legislative support and collaboration with other mental health organizations.


The Mental Health work group has been educating both the congregation and the community by sponsoring First Congregational’s Adult Forum and Fellowship Supper and by making regular contributions to the church website, library, and newsletter.


Additionally, the team has forged a partnership with the local chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), whose Bridges of Hope program provides a framework for congregations to help members in need. On January 30, 2016, First Congregational became a Bridges of Hope member church.


Moving ahead, the group plans to bring its message to the broader community. Says team member Nancy Keswani, “We need to break the silence surrounding mental illness and lift the stigma, so that anyone facing a mental-health challenge can feel comfortable seeking help.”

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REDUCING GUN VIOLENCE

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Gun violence is responsible annually for an average of 75,000 injuries and 32,000 deaths, including 3,000 children, 62 percent of suicides, and 35 percent of homicides. School shootings average two every month, and 52 women are killed each month with guns by their partners.


First Congregational’s work group to Reduce Gun Violence seeks to raise awareness of its daily toll in this country and to develop a consensus on sensible reforms to reduce gun violence that respect responsible gun ownership.


Members of the group have joined others in Hendersonville to plan vigils since the Newtown, Connecticut shooting in 2012, including a forum in December 2015 attended by more than 50 people. They have partnered with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and the local League of Women Voters to advocate for expanding background checks on everyone buying a firearm, improving gun safety, and other sensible measures.


Going forward, members will continue to plan local programs, including a Sunday morning Adult Forum, and expand collaborations with local and national groups. The team welcomes an opportunity to engage in a dialog with gun owners that could begin at the church, to speak with other faith-based communities, and to increase participation by congregants. Co-leaders Diane Swift and Bob Miles state, “We do not have to accept the current level of gun violence in this country, but need to find ways to reduce it.”