Grace Presbyterian Church 113 Hargrove Road, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401 - PO Box 1234, Tuscaloosa, AL 35403 205-758-1193

Grace Presbyterian Church Blog

A Letter to the Congregation

January 19, 2016

Dear Friends in Christ,

To say this is an interesting time in the life of our congregation is an understatement. Many questions, concerns, hopes and fears swirl around us. I hope this letter will address some of those, but I also want to remind you that my door is always open, and I welcome conversation. The members of our Session (listed in each Sunday's bulletin), as well as the members of the joint University Presbyterian Church/Covenant Presbyterian Church Exploratory Committee (Adam Miller, Sandy Wolfe, David Cannon and Annabel Stephens) also welcome your questions.

The growth we have been experiencing as a congregation has been both gift and challenge. We are faced with questions, such as:

  • What happens when we outgrow our sanctuary?

  • How can we create dedicated space for the nurture of children and youth?

  • Where can people park??

  • What happens if the University seriously pursues the purchase of our property?

  • Who are we becoming as we continue to evolve from a campus ministry center?

  • How might our name itself be limiting? (As in it speaks more to our location than to our ministry?)

  • Where should we be located so that we might better serve the hungry, the homeless, the disenfranchised?

My hope and vision is for us to continue to grow so that we can become a more powerful presence for Christ in our community. We have so much we dream of doing, and we need more hands to make this work possible. We are a progressive, Christian voice, but many still do not know we exist.

As you are well aware, one of the options we are exploring in the face of these challenges is the possibility of merger with Covenant Presbyterian Church, a faith community that shares our dedication to social and economic justice. From the first conversation with Covenant we said that our commitment to being a More Light Congregation, our commitment to being a church for ALL people would not waver. We clearly stated that we would not be willing to proceed unless this was understood. They understood, and our stance on this has fostered healing conversations among their members.

Our formal dialogue so far has consisted of two joint session meetings and two meetings of the Exploratory Committee. In addition to the members listed above, Covenant's representatives are Natalie Adams, Frank Deaver, Mary Jane Watson and John Dixon. Both Rev. Neil McCarter and I participate with this committee as well as our liaisons from the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley's Committee on Ministry. (These liaisons are our link to our larger community of faith.) Our informal work has included two combined worship services, and various educational and fellowship events.

The question we hold before us is this: could we be better/stronger together than separate? The only way we can discern this, is to continue to get to know each other by worshiping together, learning together, serving together and breaking bread together.

To give additional time for this process to unfold, Covenant has extended the suspension of their search for a new pastor through June of this year.

The January meeting of the UPC/CPC Exploratory committee drafted a proposal that "the two churches worship jointly two times a month for the months of February, March, April and May, worshiping at CPC on the first Sunday and at UPC on the third Sunday, with Cathy (Hoop) leading the service at both churches." Covenant's Session has met and approved the proposal. UPC's Session met on January 19, discussed the proposal in depth, and voted unanimously to approve the recommendation.

The subsequent goal set by the Exploratory Committee is that June 2016 be the deadline for reaching a decision regarding merger. Regardless of what is decided we will celebrate our 50th anniversary on October 9th in our sanctuary at 1127 8th Street. 

Some of you may be stressed by hearing that we have set June as a deadline for a decision, but a long, drawn out process is not going to be helpful to any of us. On Sunday, February 28, you are all invited to a lunch and small group conversations to explore the implications of merger. (Subsequent conversations will follow as needed.)  I encourage participation in these whether or not you are an "official" member of UPC. Should the time come for a vote, all members of the church will be able to participate in the vote. We will make plans for absentee voting for those who may be out of town or unable to attend once a date is set.

Let me assure you that this conversation has very organic origins; it began as a conversation between Natalie Adams (Covenant elder) and me. We did not meet with the intention of even imagining this process, we met only to plan a joint educational event. From that conversation, the idea emerged, and we both sensed the Spirit  working in our midst. This is not something our congregations have been told to explore by our Presbytery leaders; it is something our Sessions have chosen to explore.

Friends, "unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it."

This is a time for prayer, for reflection, for conversation. It is a time to think about what this possibility means for you personally, and for what it would mean for us collectively. Once you have thought this through, go even deeper. Ask where the Spirit is leading you, leading us. Most of all, let us hold one another in prayer, and let us hold the people of Covenant in prayer.

UPC is God’s church. It is not mine or yours, but God’s. Our prayer must be that God's vision be continually born in us, even when the work God calls us to do is difficult, especially when the work God calls us to do, is difficult...

Blessings and peace,

Cathy Hoop

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