Put a little church in your summer

As much as I appreciate living in a former church, and I do marvel at the wonder of it almost every day, I’m aware that a congregation had to fail to make this space available.

The membership of the old Methodist church that became our home dwindled to the point of not being able to support a pastor, let alone keeping up with maintenance and repairs. As you might recall, no one dared ring the bell toward the end for fear of causing a catastrophy.

The United Church of Christ around the corner.

So when the pastor resigned at the church nearby (the one we belong to, not the one we live in) and we were asked to help find a new one, Tyler and I agreed. We were determined to do what we could to prevent what happened to the Methodists here happen again at the United Church of Christ around the corner. So I helped write the job posting for a new pastor, and Tyler agreed to head the search committee.

After months of interviews (all conducted virtually or very carefully in the midst of a pandemic), Tyler’s team found a keeper. Praise be to God!

The new pastor accepted the call and begins her work on Sunday. The church around the corner will resume worshiping at 9 a.m. every Sunday as it did prior to the world falling to pieces amid COVID-19.

The service Sunday on Independence Day will be resplendent with fellowship, prayer and patriotic hymns. Word on the street is that the organist is pulling out all the stops, an apropos cliché since the phrase refers to an organ’s stop knobs used to regulate the instrument’s sound. God bless America!

As a reader of this blog about transformation and sanctuary and converting an old church into a home, you might find the kind of community and sanctuary you crave after this long, dark nightmare wrought by the novel coronavirus at this little church around the corner. Please consider this an invitation to worship with us. And here’s wishing you a happy Fourth of July in which you contemplate the blessings of freedom and liberty!

Local charity offers souper way to warm up and help others

As a church for more than a century, the building that is now my home served its community in many ways.

At its most robust and active in the mid 20th century, the congregation undoubtedly supported numerous charities with service and alms. It was in the 1940s when the church renovated the entryway and interior to reorient the altar, and I’m guessing if the membership had enough resources to do so, they had enough to share, too. The church was renown for its Carolina barbecue dinners and its women’s group festivals that raised funds through the sales of baked goods and handmade items. And near the end of its life as a worship space, a food pantry was founded there and operated in the basement; we found the raised gardens in the back yard where fresh produce was grown to give away.

I consider churches to be awesome in the role of NGOsthat is, non-governmental organizations working toward benefiting society and human welfare. (Raising funds to renovate a religious building’s entryway is not the work of an NGO, but feeding the hungry or collecting clothing for the poor is.) When you pay the government (i.e., taxes) to perform such work, sometimes you see tangible results and sometimes you don’t, but when you contribute to a local charity through a church or operated by it, you often experience the results first-hand. It’s satisfying and meaningful in a way paying income taxes is not.

Which brings me to Family24, Inc. The church I belong to (not the one I live in) is raising funds for Family24 this month, and if you live in the village, you have the opportunity to fill your own belly while helping others. The local First Congregational United Church of Christ is offering a Souper Lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, February 6, 2021. You can drive-through and pick up a meal of two hot and packaged-to-go soups (chili and potato soup) plus a roll and cookie. Cost? It’s up to you: the church is collecting a freewill offering to support Family24’s mission trip.

Family24 is a mission-minded organization partnering with Hogar de Vida in San Andres Sajcabaja, Guatemala to provide nutrition and care for the children living there. Family24 also supports families in our local community.

Family24’s tagline is Faith, Family, Farming & Food in Wisconsin and around the world. I love that the group is doing a mission trip to Guatemala because my father has been there twice with Rotary International to construct buildings in isolated communities. You can follow Family24‘s work on Facebook.

Everything about this is good! Hot soup on a cold day. Freewill offeringgive what you feel called to give. Help a local charity while also helping internationally. If you live nearby, consider buying your lunch to help others.

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In other news, Church Sweet Home: A Renovation to Warm the Soul was named a 2020 Finalist this week in the Indies Today 2020 Awards.

Based in part on this blog, Church Sweet Home is the true story of how my husband I transformed a 126-year-old Methodist church into our dream home. It came out in May.

Full disclosure: I am not an NGO and most of the proceeds from the sale of my book go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble. But I am an independent author, and Indies Today is a resource for other authors like me. Readers can find some gems there among the reviews of self-published books. The contest’s overall winner, One Hit Away: A Memoir of Recovery by Jordan P. Barnes was named 2020 Best Book of the Year. That debut memoir is described as a “gripping, startling account of heroin addiction, compassion and ultimately, of salvation.”

Indies Today also named Genre Award Winners in 18 categories and more than 80 other Finalists. Show an independent author some love and check them out.

Free to a good home

You can’t beat free when it comes to live entertainment, friends.

Tyler and I were the free entertainment in our village last week, and it was a smashing success.

village sign
A limited amount of space on the village sign meant no first names and certainly not my pen name.

Our talk was advertised on the local village sign, which only the week before thanked the now-closed Mexican restaurant in town for their many years of good food. We felt like celebrities!

Tyler and I had a great time presenting “Church Sweet Home” at the behest of the local Library Friends. Fifty people showed up to hear some of the history we uncovered in the 127-year-old structure, some of the stories of the renovation, some before-and-after photos of the interior and some of our plans for the future of the building. I thought that was pretty good given the size of our new hometown. In the past, I gave a talk about organizing photos at local libraries all over northern Illinois, and most of the time, 10 or 20 people interested in getting control of their photo collections showed up. Fifty, usually only in a suburb close in to Chicago, was considered awesome!

My husband and I struggled a bit to condense our 16-month project that consumed nearly every waking second into a 45-minute presentation with 68 slides, but we figured it out and people said nice things afterwards, so we patted each other on the back and toasted ourselves with a shot of tequila when we got home. Tequila!

We also announced the open house for former church members, neighbors and contractors that we’re planning when we finish the details and smooth out the rough edges of our project. Mark your calendars for the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 15. You can see for yourself the quality of our work for just the price of one nonperishable food item per person. You might not know that the local Loaves & Fishes food pantry was founded right here in the basement of our church, and we’re honoring that community endeavor. We’ll collect food donations to give the food pantry, now located elsewhere in town.

If you were at our talk, thanks for your interest and your warm applause. We appreciate it!

Grant me the serenity

The internet is forever.

The former church we now call home once hosted meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous, and about twice a month, someone rings our doorbell about 7:30 in the evening asking about the weekly AA meeting.

“Nope, it’s not here anymore,” we say, conscious of the lack of anonymity represented by one of us standing in our open doorway. “AA meets at the church around the corner now.” And we offer directions to the nearby Congregational church.

We have had to admit our powerlessness over old Web listings that continue to show our address for Tuesday evening AA meetings. If it’s got “meeting,” “recovery” or “AA” in the web address, it might list our house as the meeting locale when you drill down in the search results.

That’s one of the weird things about living in a former church. What with the belfry and the church sign, which I still adore, we look like we might still be a church, so no one can be blamed for knocking on our door. No one has shown up for a Sunday morning sermon, but we’ve also had a couple of people drop by looking for the Loaves & Fishes food bank, which was once hosted in our basement. We give them directions, too, not nonperishables.

I don’t mind.

Those infrequent confused visitors are beautiful reminders that our home was once a hub in the community, a place where people met and extended their hands in support to each other.

The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.