Year-end Report to Southwest Conference Board of Directors
Taos United Community Church, Taos, NM
July 5, 2019
We are writing to report on Year Two of our grant with the Southwest Conference and request your renewal of our matching grant for year three. Year two of our grant we focused on growing in faith, numbers, and commitment. We now have 37 current Partners (members) committed to Taos UCC. In our first Community Commitment season (stewardship) last year we had 22 households pledge $34,620 to support the work of Taos UCC. We just completed our second Community Commitment Season with 26 households pledging a total of $59,620. This brings us well over halfway to being fully locally self-supporting, and we surprised ourselves with our growing commitment.
Our weekly worship varies between 25 and 35 people each Sunday. Easter we had 45 people. These numbers top us out of our bookstore space and we have not yet been able to find a suitable space that can seat more people. We believe that once we have moved into a larger space our numbers will continue to grow again.
Our commitment to social justice is what binds us together and is our reason for being—our belief that God is Love, Jesus calls us to love each other, and with his life shows how love becomes justice in the world. Our mission: A Just World for All, keeps our faith community’s focus out into the world, our town, our state, our country.
Although we are a theologically diverse community, one thing the Partners of Taos UCC agree on is that the church exists for the world. We’ve identified five areas of focus for our social justice commitments: immigration justice, climate justice, poverty, peace, and human rights. We identify actions we choose to take and mission dollars we choose to share based on how things fit with these commitments.
As a sanctuary church with no building we have supported and assisted other churches and communities housing refugees, and we are working locally with Sin Fronteras, Taos Immigrant Allies, and other churches and local groups to try to coordinate all our efforts to make them more effective. We are also in the process of working with Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas to schedule a volunteer work trip in late September.
Our Medical Debt Relief Project for Taos was our most stunningly successful attempt to live out Jesus’ promise that what we give to God and to God’s poor multiples in ways we can’t imagine. We worked with the CEO of Holy Cross Hospital to purchase and forgive uncollectible medical debt that the hospital would normally sell to debt collection for pennies on the dollar. Taos UCC invested $800 to purchase and forgive local people’s medical debt, and then we invited two other churches to join us. We raised over $1,600 and were able to purchase and forgive over $80,000 of local medical debt. Over 80 families received letters saying their debt had been purchased and cancelled by the Taos Medical Debt Relief Project. We intend to make this an annual event and will invite more churches to join us.
This year we supported all 5 for 5 offerings of the UCC, the Southwest Conference fund that supports new church starts like ours. We donated to Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas to support their hospitality to immigrants and refugees and Rincon UCC in Arizona to assist with their hospitality to immigrants. We also donated to Tree of Life Synagogue after the shooting, to the Community Against Violence, New Mexico Interfaith Power & Light, Heifer International (kid’s mission project) and Taos PRIDE, as well as helping individual neighbors struggling in poverty.
Part of community-building this year has included helping to form the Taos Interfaith Alliance, an interfaith group of spiritual leaders who focus on ways we can address poverty in Taos and also support our undocumented neighbors. This new alliance allows faith communities and spiritual communities that might not agree on a lot of things to work together on the things we do agree on. I also helped form a local women’s clergy group to help our churches do social justice work together on immigration issues, poverty, and human rights.
This year we launched a quarterly Interfaith Kid’s Camp as part of our church’s mission to Taos. Our first interfaith kids camp hosted five kids, ages 5-7, who learned about Easter, Jewish Passover, and the spring practices and prayers of earth-based, indigenous religions. We planted seeds, shared a Passover meal, and passed around an inflatable Earth telling each other what we love most about our planet. Our mission for these camps is simple: World Peace. We imagine a world where no Taos child could ever be fooled into demonizing and fearing other people’s religions. We believe that the Taos UCC kids who participate in these camps will learn in this comparative way how to value and honor their own Christ-following religion.
This year we received our 501c3 designation from the IRS that allows us to apply for grants for the mission work we continue to do. Our Leadership Council spent long hours on meeting the IRS requirements, purchasing church liability insurance, and revising and rewriting our founding documents to be in compliance with the IRS, the insurance companies, and our bank. All this tedious and invisible work will serve the church in the years ahead, and our new Leadership Council will be able to focus on mission, ministry and community development.
We are in the process now of holding community conversations about Taos UCC’s vision for the future using the SOAR model Rev. Lyons shared with us, exploring our strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results. These community conversations are helping the Leadership Council and church leaders to help lead us forward.
Next Sunday, instead of church in the bookstore we are holding church in the park, and we have invited different groups and all our Taos neighbors working on immigration justice issues to discuss next steps in the work we all do, and discuss how we can be more effective together.
This year Taos UCC will continue to focus on growing Taos UCC in numbers and financial support, and continue to find collaborative ways to join our work with the greater Taos community and justice groups throughout New Mexico. Our most important short-term goals are to find a larger space to worship so that we can continue to grow in numbers, and to become financially locally self-supporting.
A longer-term goal is to create a Sacred Space for Taos that is shared with other religious and spiritual communities, provides Taos with a sacred space for all, creates an income-stream through rental fees for Taos UCC, and gives us a home to live into our Sanctuary commitment. Radical hospitality requires a home. How we transition to that radically welcoming home will keep us busy for the next few years. We ask for your prayers and for your continued support.
Peace & All Good,
Rev. Pamela Shepherd