Why are we a part of First Congregational UCC Albuquerque? Below, you will find some of our member's stories. Feel free to share your story with us by contacting us here.
I grew up with a solid Presbyterian Church upbringing in the suburbs of Chicago. Having moved to New York City the last semester of my senior year of college, I joined a large Presbyterian Church that quite a few of my friends belonged to. After three years in NYC, I went on tour as a manager for touring theatrical shows and left my church life behind. Five years later, when I got off the road and came back to NYC, I no longer felt that organized religion held any value for me; I was a gay, liberal, "yes, do", city-dweller, and it seemed that all religion said to me was "no, don't". Over the next 25 years, my job took me all over the country and all over the world. I had wonderful adventures and challenges, but organized religion still said to me "no, don't".
In 2010, I retired and moved to Albuquerque. I asked everyone I came in contact with, "what is your favorite restaurant, museum, outing, doctor, etc", and a friend said that I had to try the First Congregational United Church of Christ. Not only was Pastor Lee welcoming and wonderful, they began the service by saying that "wherever you are on your life and faith journey, you are welcome". As time went on, not only did I realize that they said it each week, but they actually lived it. They also had a wonderful community outreach extension and through Fellowship, Project Share, Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches, and the various committees that I have been lucky enough to be a part of, I have realized that this church feeds the value of my life. With the addition of Pastor Sue, my commitment to and from the church has only deepened, as I have learned the value of the community and that I don't always have to like or agree with everything that happens in that community. She makes me feel as though it is not only okay, but important, that I express my opinion.
Throughout my life and faith journey, I am grateful that I have been blessed in so many ways. AND, one of the most important ways that I have been blessed is to see my perspective of faith turn from "No...Don't" to "Yes...Do."
I am grateful for the Congregational United Church of Christ. I was baptized in the church in Mitchell, South Dakota. I was nourished and given leadership opportunities through Pilgrim Fellowship as a youth. I went on a month mission trip to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota I learned the joy of mission . I will never forget the little congregation in Bad Nation, South Dakota taking a mission offering and I knew how little they had. As a college student I went on a mission trip for a month in Kalamata, Greece under the auspices of the World Council of Churches and the Greek Orthodox Church. I met wonderful people from around the world and saw the face of God.
When my world fell apart with the death of my husband Stan Tyler at age 39, God and the church consoled me. My mother and the church taught me about justice for all people. The UCC seminary, Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California strengthened my faith and gave me my love JC Browne.
Belonging to First Congregational UCC in ABQ has enriched my life with worship, friends, social justice, and ways to serve. You have walked with me “through the valley of the shadow of JC’s death.” Thank you all. My God and my church have blessed me through my whole life.
To really figure out what church means to our family, I had to really dig deep and figure what church means to me.
As a child I never really grew up in a church. I remember those few Sundays a year I would attend a small Baptist church in Bosque Farms with my younger brothers when I would visit my mom. I never enjoyed going, I don't remember learning anything, and I always would rather have been somewhere else.
As a teenager while I was searching for myself I attended a few different churches with family and friends trying to find my place in religion. It never felt right and I would soon find myself searching elsewhere. Around 16 I was introduced to a large church in Albuquerque. It was a place my uncle turned to in drug addiction and they helped pull him from the life he was living to one that he could be proud of. I found this fascinating at the time. I remember thinking that this must be some special place to be able to do that. I began attending regularly with my grandmother up until I was about 18. This was my first taste of a "mega church" even though at the time I had no real meaning to what that meant. I was an irregular member there for at least another 10 years. It was where I purchased my first bible and where I learned to actually enjoy reading it. I learned to pray with my eyes open and talk to God as a friend. I learned to sing songs of worship with my windows down and my hands raised. Looking back I don't regret my time there. I am the type of person that was able to distinguish their brainwashed teachings into useful insights. I wouldn't have the relationship with God that I have now. But ultimately it taught me everything I didn't want in a church for my family.
As I finally reached adulthood, probably around the age 26, I started realizing what I really wanted in life and love and for my children. I found myself in the midst of a broken marriage on the verge of divorce and surrounded by the people I cared about most sick and dying. I thought I had hit rock bottom. I once again turned to that large church for a place of comfort, only to finally realize that there wasn't any when I needed it the most.
Then In 2012 I met my partner Spencer. I finally found the true meaning of love. We both had issues with the church. Spencer’s stemmed from years of fearing hell and damnation for being "gay" and mine was more recent feelings of abandonment by people whom I thought were family once I "came out."
We began rebuilding ourselves as a family together. As I was getting used to having an equal partner relationship, she was getting used to being a new parent, to twins at that. We both knew we wanted to find our place in a church that would accept us. My partner was also dealing with her own demons of not feeling loved by God. When you're told all your life that you are a walking sin, it's hard to believe otherwise. She needed much more convincing than I did to return to church.
We knew we needed to find a place to feel safe as a couple and a family. Someplace the children would learn the real meaning of God's great love and how to show that love to others. A church that would celebrate the differences of all people and teach acceptance to all. We had a huge list of things we didn't want our church to be and we weren't even quite sure yet what we were looking for when we came through the doors of First UCC.
On our fist venture through these doors we immediately felt accepted and welcomed. We were greeted with open arms by a diverse group of people who genuinely seemed to care for one another. We walked into this beautiful church that was obviously full of history and great memories. We were in awe. We had no idea that this was exactly what we were looking for and in just a few short months it would become our home.
So back to the original question, what the First UCC of Albuquerque means to our family. Well it means just that, family and home. It is a place of comfort, warmth, healing, and giving. A community that we have seen first hand come together to make a change. We truly do welcome whoever comes through our door with a safe place to sit, a cup of fresh coffee, and something to eat. We may not have a lot, but we give everything we have to make others happy. That is God's love.
Many of you are aware that my partner passed away a year and a half ago. She gave the good fight against cancer for 5 years. It proved to be stronger than she.
During those 5 years, many of you listened to my worries and fears about what the future might hold for us. Your caring, listening and encouragement helped me find the strength and courage to help Pat in her struggle. When she passed, you offered up a moving remembrance service and a lovely lunch following the service. I shall always remember that day with the love that you offered. When she died I seriously considered moving back to Chicago to be near my family. I felt very alone without her. Through your tender caring and helpful assistance as I embarked on my new life without Pat, I realized that I was not alone. I had family, who are good and kind, generous and caring. You are my family.
We often talk about and the Extravagant Welcome that we offer to all who come to worship with us. I am not sure that we think about how we give the same Extravagant Welcome to each other every week. I know that I see it and feel it every time I am here.
There are so many things to be grateful for in this congregation. But for me knowing that I am loved, accepted and celebrated as a child of God is such a gift. Thank you.
Iris Castagna and Peggy Warner
As most of you know we (Iris and Peggy) have been members here since 2006. What you may not know is that we left a prominent local church because our same sex relationship was determined to not be appropriate to serve in the church under then denominational by-laws. Following this departure we were feeling spiritual emptiness. We struggled with a dilemma of where can we attend church now? Where can we find a new church family? We literally conducted church shopping by attending numerous services in search of a new home. This search brought us to First Congregational United Church of Christ, which was so welcoming and “walked the talk” of being open and affirming that we truly felt at home. What a joy to be accepted as “us”. We whole-heartedly served the church in numerous and various ways. During our years of membership we have come to love our church family.
On February 2, 2014 (following the New Mexico Supreme Court decision approving same sex marriage) we were married by our then interim Pastor Ute Molitor. When planning the ceremony we indicated our desire to hold our wedding during the Sunday service in celebration with our church family and in recognition of the hard choice made years earlier for the church to be an open and affirming church. Members of our church family were integral in our ceremony along with our dear friends. What a wonderful that day was as we felt the love, joy and acceptance of all. It was further a celebration of Christian truth in action.
Our understanding of Christian faith was developed by our families during our early childhoods. We both came from different religious backgrounds but we had pulled away from attending church as adults. As we developed our life together we determined our need to become part of a church again and pursue our spiritual paths.
We are thankful for all of life’s blessings and mindful of how these blessings shape our material and spiritual well-being, our church community and world. We have continued to grow into a fuller understanding of what it means to be a good and faithful steward of our time, talents and treasures. We believe that we must always strive to meet our pledge of financial commitment to the church, as all of our riches at whatever level they may be, have been provided by God. We are committed to keeping our pledge – whether we are in attendance or away.
We each bear a responsibility to ensure that Christ’s church remains vital and strong. Pledging is the primary way that we support our church building and funding our ministries. Pledging helps other people in need. We also bear responsibility for the world around us. What we pledge supports people and organizations of Christ’s church: through the work of the clergy and staff, use of the church building, and through the outreach ministries.
Pledging focuses our life priorities! And, God calls us to focus ourselves on the things that matter. A good steward is being a “manager” given responsibility to administer faithfully all that God has entrusted to us.
When we return a portion of what we have received, recognizing that all we are and all we have is a gift from God, we outwardly express our faith.