Spiritually Alive – Exploratory
This congregation got its start as a child of a formal, organ centered, and large congregation (First Congregational of Madison). The intent was not to recreate that church but to experiment with a new way of being church. Our founders built an intentional low structure to blend in with the neighborhood. They created a worship space that was primarily ‘in the round’ – in hopes of gathering around the communion table, the cross and the Bible. They believed strongly in the power of community and didn’t want the sanctuary space to reflect a theology that indicated separation between God and God’s people, with pastors as intermediaries. They sat, not in pews, but on folding metal chairs. They had a piano and liturgical dance. For many years there was real life clowning in worship. By the time the congregation renovated the sanctuary in 2000, there was a strong movement in both Protestant and Catholic churches to have the communion table in the center of the room. Our congregation had been living with a version of that since 1960.
I have a deep sense that in the 1960’s and 1970’s, people came to this church because it was different, it was new, and it was full of energy and even a bit of chaos. The exploratory nature of the congregation has also been expressed in music. We’ve had choirs of all kinds and ages, handbells, rock bands, organ and piano music, chanting and praise music, traditional hymns and Negro Spirituals. There has been a constant openness to exploring the way God’s people express their faith through music that could now be called “blended worship.” More importantly, however, every musician and worship leader and pastor has experienced this as a congregation willing to try something new and different.
Our spiritual exploration has included retreats, meditation groups, mission/work trips, immersion and simulation experiences, guest pastors and musicians, services during the week, home discussion groups, online circles, book studies and prayer circles. In 2007 we established a ‘garth’ where members could have their ashes scattered and stone placed; and in 2011 we installed a labyrinth and meditation room in our facility.
Committed to Justice
From the beginning, the congregation sought to be a resource to the neighborhood – a community church in the best sense of the word. Early on, this meant opening up our Friendship Hall to neighborhood teens for dances and activities, as it did throughout much of the 1960’s. We’ve hosted neighborhood groups, scouting groups, mothers of twins, and exercise groups. All of this has been fueled by a desire to welcome people where they are and to offer our space as a resource for a brighter and more vibrant community.
But always, we’ve had an eye for people in need. It has always involved global needs, but also needs very local. In an era when many kids went home for lunch during the school day, some of our members began to notice that some families struggled financially, and they created a lunch program for needy children. This evolved over time and became a nursery school that still exists today (known as the Orchard Ridge Nursery School on Gammon Road). It was expressed in the purchase of low income housing for people of color during the 1960’s Fair Housing movement, being a founding partner in Habitat for Humanity Dane County, and an original host church for the Interfaith Hospitality Network (1999). Our capital campaign in 1999 helped create the first caseworker position with The Road Home, and it seemed natural that we’d follow up our 2011 capital campaign with the formation of the Southwest Partnership in 2012.
Justice has also meant a deep concern for the earth, with an Earth Day Family Festival for many years in the 1980’s, a Green Team and a Care of Creation group, preaching and teaching and singing going back to the year that Earth Day was established when scientists in our congregation got together with a pastor to create a worship series focused on the earth. We continue to explore the ‘greening of our theology’ even as we get our hands dirty with member maintained gardens (community vegetable, ornamental and rain). It has meant becoming an early adopter of Open and Affirming – and evolving in that effort to include first bi- sexual people and later people of all gender identities and expressions. It has meant paying attention to people of varied abilities with an accessible building, circles of support for people with physical limitations and the hosting of Special Olympic activities for almost 2 decades.
Justice has also meant learning to “love in times of disagreement.” In the mid 1990’s, this congregation had to ask one of their pastors to leave due to issues of alcohol. That decision, made prayerfully by the Executive Council at the time, was painful and controversial. In his wisdom, Interim Pastor Doug Pierce urged the leadership to invite the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center to come and conduct a mediation process. For almost a year, the congregation went through education and conversation about how to live together in the midst of conflict. Hard, and heart felt work was done. Small conflicts had arisen throughout our history, and part of this process urged the honest and direct communication necessary to get beyond these hurts. It seems that the congregation learned many things, but chief among them was the need to pay close attention to process in any decision being made. “Agree on process before jumping into the content,” we were advised. While this church was no different than most communities of diverse people, we had to learn new ways to listening and discussing, even arguing. The congregation had to own its own role in allowing the previous pastoral conflict to fester. However, as the pastor who followed this process, I have come to believe it has been one of the single most important activities of our entire history. We learned powerful lessons that have been useful in other settings, our families and our work places.
Joyfully Inclusive – and Evolving
The point of lifting up our past work is not to worship the past, but to demonstrate that a critical part of the life of this congregation has been an openness to change, to adaptation and to evolution. The phrase, “we’ve always done it this way,” is rarely heard here. Hardly any area of our life together has not seen evolution. Worship has evolved in style and form. Our ministry with children has changed and adapted to meet the needs of each generation’s children. In late 1960’s, for example, we experimented with a 90-minute Sunday morning schedule – 45 minutes together in worship and then 45 minutes in age segregated education. Socially, we have been rooted in our biblical faith while also responsive to cultural dynamics – be it the race issues of the 1960’s, the women’s movement of the 1970s, the LGBT movement beginning in the mid 1980’s, as well as numerous political protests, social movements and community wide conversations. Our theology and liturgy have evolved to reflect our changing needs as spiritual people – looking on the one hand more inter-faith (we frequently draw from Buddhist and Jewish traditions) and on the other, more liturgical than our founders could have ever dreamed (Ash Wednesday worship, healing prayers and foot washing would not have been looked at kindly in the beginning). Our professional staffing has evolved from one full time pastor to two full time pastors to a larger staff with focused ministries and job descriptions. And it probably goes without saying, that some of our evolution has occurred as some of us have aged. We make room for new ideas, new leaders and new opportunities for growth.
No history is complete – neither a narrative nor a set of bullet points. We welcome you as you explore what it means to both join and contribute to this lovely and growing community of faith.History of the Building and Pastors: 1954- First Congregational Church purchases six lots on Madison’s far west side. 1955 – 35 individuals purchase two additional lots. September 18, the first service is held at Dr. & Mrs. Gordon Garnett’s home. Rev Al Swan, minister of First Congregational Church conducts the service. 1956 – February 27, 14 First Church members commissioned to form new church. March 4, the charter is signed, officially beginning the church. 1956-59 – Sunday services are held at the West Side Businessman’s Club, comer of Odana Road and Whitney Way. The Rev. Norman “Jack” Jackson is our founding pastor. 1958 – Board of Homeland Ministries of the Congregational and Christian Churches of America approve a $5000 grant and a $30,000 second mortgage loan for building construction for the worship hall. 1959 – May 10th marks the ground breaking ceremony for the worship hall. Everyone brings a shovel, so the project begins and continues as a group effort. 1961 – Rev. Roger Knight begins serving the church until December 1971. 1962 – March, the church name is legally changed to Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ (Congregational) to reflect the merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches. Membership now stands at 170. 1967 – Dedication service is held for the completed education wing. Orchard Ridge Nursery School opens through the support of ORUCC. 1971 – Rev. William Wineke serves the church as interim minister through December 1971.. 1972 – Rev Dan Apra begins serving the church until December 1979. 1973 – Vicki Nonn hired as organist and choir director 1979 – Rev. Stanley York serves the church as interim minister through June 1980. 1980 – Rev. Tim Kehl begins serving the church until October 1995. 1984 – Benevolence giving exceeds our OCWM obligation for the first time. Membership now stands at 345. 1989 – Rev. Karla Schmidt serves as Associate Pastor through 1999. 1993 – Congregation becomes an “Open and Affirming” congregation of the UCC, publicly welcoming people of all sexual orientations 1995 – Rev. Doug Pierce serves as Interim Minister through 1998. 1997 – Congregation adopted “Living in Love in Times of Disagreement” after a year long mediation process with the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center. 1998 – Rev. Winton Boyd called as Senior Pastor (began in January 1999). 1999 -Congregation raised $400,000 in a special Capital Appeal for renovation and mission work. Susan Schneider Adams serves as interim Associate Pastor until June, 2000. 2000 – Rev. Deborah Dean serves as Associate Pastor through 2006. 2000-2002 – Worship Hall is remodeled, new organ and piano purchased. 2001 – Congregation commits $36,000 to Interfaith Hospitality Network in an effort to assist families seeking to move out of homelessness. 2002 – Second Capital Appeal, “Extending our Welcome,” held to renovate the bathrooms and lounge and to install Air Conditioning. 2004 – Congregation votes to become a Safe Sanctuaries church, committing itself to the protection of children from abuse of all kinds. 2005 – Congregation agrees to build a home with Habitat for Humanity in the Twin Oaks Development. The project, titled SpiritBuild, is done jointly with Good Shepherd Lutheran church. Construction takes place during the summer of 2006. 2006 – We adopt the new vision statement: ORUCC – Spiritually Alive, Joyfully Inclusive, Committed to Justice. 2006 – Revs. Ree Hale and Tammy Martens are hired as interims working with adults and children/families, respectively. 2007 – Congregation embarks on the Next Generation Initiative. This results in two new pastoral positions, as well as the addition of a choir director and Children’s music director. The Rev. Tammy Martens interim position is made permanent as the new Associate for Children, Youth and Families. Dr. Bruce Gladstone begins as ORUCC choir director. 2008 – Julie Mazer is hired as Children’s Music Director. 2009 – Rev. Ken Pennings called as Associate for Congregational Life. 2010 – Seeds for the Next Generation Capital Campaign held, raising $1.5 million, including $150,000 for a mission outreach project. 2011 – Seeds of the Next Generation Construction completed. This results in the entire interior of the building being remodeled, new names for our classrooms, a labyrinth in the Friendship Hall and the addition of windows in the Friendship Hall and Worship Hall. 2012 – ORUCC uses mission gift from the Seeds of the Next Generation Campaign to initiate the Southwest Madison Housing Partnership.