Via First UCC in Phoenix- Imagining Our Next 100 Years

Imagining Our Next 100 Years.

First Congregational UCC Phoenix celebrates its 100th birthday in 2017. It has been an amazing 100 years: Three different sanctuaries built at our campus. Twenty-three pastors (including interims). Twenty-seven associate or assistant pastors. Thousands and thousands of members and visitors. Hospice of the Valley and Arizona School for the Arts started at First. We gave birth to North Church, now Church of the Beatitudes, which in turn birthed Shadow Rock. We at First look back in awe at the legacy given us.

As First imagines its next 100 years, the times are changing. First began in a thriving neighborhood that eventually became a slum, and most of it was demolished. First remained a beacon of hope in urban desolation and empty lots. Today, buildings are springing up all around us. In the next two years, First will have about 8,000 new residences within walking distance of the church. First no longer needs to even consider moving to a new neighborhood. A new neighborhood is moving to First. What other church gets this kind of miraculous second life? First now is eagerly imagining our next 100 years in downtown Phoenix.

Imagining Our Next 100 Years focuses on “why” – why are we members of First, and why is First relevant to the larger – and new – community around us. To answer these fundamental questions, First invited an awesome and remarkably diverse Vision Team, comprised of recent members as well as life timers, young and old, straight and gay, men and women, all races, ethnicities and religious backgrounds. The Vision Team spent months in prayer and study to identify what First is called to do, in particular what no one else is doing. First will vote on the inspirational and practical Vision plan on October 16.

In the meantime, we engaged a team of architects, engineers and historians to give us a complete diagnosis of the condition of our campus. Churches, especially those that rotate leadership, often react to building issues instead of planning ahead. First is no different, and we have a hefty deferred maintenance bill. We have the money to pay the bill, and then some, but we are in the process of asking ourselves whether our church buildings, as currently configured, will serve the mission of First for the next hundred years, or whether there are other options for our campus. We are in the fact-gathering stage and have not made any decisions. 

Four of us attended the UCC Church Building & Loan Fund training even on September 23 and 24 in Long Beach. We learned many new things about other churches’ successes and failures, and also were encouraged to learn the path First is on is the usually the successful path. The UCC national setting has deep experience working with Congregations imagining the future, and we intend to use them.

It is an exciting time for us at First. All the change – and change that has not even happened – stir up anxiety. Rumors abound that “First is closing,” “First is demolishing,” and more. Paraphrasing Mark Twain’s retort to rumors of his death, “The reports of First’s closing (or fill in the blank with any other rumor) are greatly exaggerated.” First is blessed to have so many opportunities in front of it. We pray for wisdom to hear God’s call so we can be good stewards for present and future members.

Even as we at First thank our forbearers for their legacy to us, we imagine the next 100 years in which First is engaged, vibrant and relevant. We imagine a century from now when First members are thanking today’s members for the legacy we leave them.