The decision has been years in the making. Peace UCC, Webster Groves, Mo., recently voted to sell its 2.5-acre campus — home to the congregation since 1920, and including its current 1937 building — to partner with Eden Theological Seminary in a new vision of “Being the Church” in the 21st century.
The Peace UCC congregation has moved their worship, education, music, and justice work to the campus of Eden; they’re located just down the street from one another on East Lockwood Avenue in Webster Groves, Mo.
In a congregational meeting on March 6, 2022, nine of every ten members who voted agreed to put the church’s property at 212 and 204 E. Lockwood on the market for sale, and to enter into a partnership of faith, community, and sharing space with Eden.
Deciding on Outward-facing Mission
The move comes four years after the 102-year-old congregation adopted a new mission and vision focused on living out the radical teachings of Jesus and working in solidarity with all to achieve well-being, justice, and equity for God’s creation.
As they questioned what was essential to the mission, members considered how the work of the church could be strengthened if the time and cost of maintaining its building were instead channeled into supporting its mission.
In 2020, Peace UCC approached Eden as a potential ideal site for its imagined new location — offering beautiful grounds and accessible facilities to pursue its mission in collaboration with the Seminary’s community of learning and faith. The Seminary responded with openness, and a collaborative visioning process has begun to outline ways the congregation and its Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School® can do more than merely share space.
Taking the Leap of Faith
“This is an exciting leap of faith,” says Rev. Wendy Bruner. “As a minister, I am in awe of what the church I serve has decided to do. We are truly living out our faith.”
Eden President Rev. Dr. Deborah Krause also celebrates the congregation’s decision. “Eden and Peace have a rich shared history. In the past, we have shared a childcare center in common (the Eden Lab School), and now we have the chance to share space and more programming together. We believe with the Spirit’s guidance we will learn and grow together.”
Peace UCC and Eden both have long been focused on social justice. Church members stand up for Black lives on the church lawn every weekend. Just laws are supported with voter registration drives working with Metropolitan Churches United. In the summer, the church hosts its Freedom School, a program in partnership with the Deaconess Foundation. Likewise, the Seminary’s curricula aim to empower religious leaders to lead their communities to resist racism and its intersecting oppressions with interfaith collegiality and vocational resilience.
Influencing the Vision
The partnership between the congregation and Eden has been influenced by Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, General Minister and President of UCC, and his book, Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World.
In direct correspondence with Peace UCC leadership, Dorhauer has affirmed the process. “What the Rev. Wendy Bruner and Peace UCC are doing together with Eden is admirable. It is a display of faith and courage needed in the church today. I pray for more like her and them: courage in the face of the unknown; trusting a vision cast by the Spirit; and a willingness to put it all on the line for the mission you are called to undertake. That is the church today. It is not for the timid — but when has the call to discipleship ever been?”