by Larry Reimer
In 1965, a time when the all the public schools and most of the churches in Gainesville were still segregated, a group of caring people imagined a church that could be inclusive of all people. In a time when the country was splitting at the seams with questions of race, justice, peace, and faith, this group put an ad in the Florida Alligator asking if anyone was interested in forming an open, liberal Protestant Church in Gainesville that would truly welcome all people regardless of race, ethnicity, or even creed. Fifty people showed up at a meeting at the Student Union.
That group formed into committees and wrote the Compact that has been the guiding vision for this church.
We join as a spiritual community in this compact: to worship God, however known,
to welcome into our church those of differing understanding
and theological opinion,
to learn from our religious heritage,
yet to grow by seeking new dimensions of truth,
to follow, even imperfectly, the way of Jesus
in personal involvement with each other.
and strengthened by this bond,
to act in Christian concern for the welfare of all people.
With a commitment to form a church, and this compact in hand, these people looked for a denomination that would accept them. The United Church of Christ was just eight years old at the time. It had formed as a result of the merger of the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church in 1957. The Congregationalists had begun with the Pilgrims. The Evangelical and Reformed Church came out of the European reformation. As a new denomination the United Church of Christ was already known for taking bold stands in faith. It had been instrumental in freeing the slaves held on the ship Amistad. They had hidden the liberty bell during the Revolutionary War. They had ordained the first woman to ministry in a mainline Protestant Church in 1852. And now they welcomed the United Church of Gainesville into their midst.
Today the United Church of Gainesville has over 700 members, four ministers, Larry Reimer, Sandy Reimer, Andy Bachmann and Vince Amlin, and twenty support staff. Most importantly, however, the entire congregation is active in its programs. On any given Sunday hundreds members lead and share in childrens programs, youth groups for middle school, high school and post high, adult small groups, men's and women's groups, meditation and study groups, and social justice and service activities as well as worship leadership.
We are an Open and Affirming Church (www.ucccoalition.org), which means we publicly state that we welcome all people regardless of sexual orientation into every element of church life and leadership. Our denomination is the only mainline Protestant denomination that does this as well. Most people come to this church because it is well known for vibrant programs for justice, compassion and equality in the community. Most stay, however, because they find an open and welcoming spiritual community. It's like coming home to a place you've never been before. The surprise is the times of quiet, meditation, retreat, sharing, support, and acceptance in the midst of all that happens here.
One of the root meanings of the word religion is rebinding, and there is much rebinding here with the yearnings of our hearts for meaning. We have developed a motto, "It's not like this every Sunday," and we say that every Sunday. We have a new worship theme every six weeks. Prior to each theme a worship exploration team, different for each theme, drawn from all over the congregation, meets with the pastors to brainstorm the music, readings, sermons, format, and even the visual arts for that theme. There is never a dull Sunday here. Check the sermons site for a sampling of themes, styles and directions. Our faith continues in the theme of the founders to be inclusive, in the Judeo Christian tradition. There is no test of faith, and everyone who accepts the compact is welcome. We recognize that no single religious tradition can ever exhaust the possibilities of Gods grand embrace. So we are always open to new truth.
This church always has a three-year-plan, updated regularly, with visions and hopes.
Our new projects include working through the Greater Gainesville Action Network to rehab sub standard homes for greater energy efficiency both to save money on utilities for the people who have the least to spend, and to reduce Gainesville's energy consumption. We are forming more sharing and study groups for greater connections within the congregation. There will be more opportunities for meditation, singing, and experiencing the holy through a variety of dynamic worship experiences. You may be relieved to know, however, that one thing we are not planning at the moment (though this too could change) is a major building program!End of Main Content - Navigation follows