Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bethel Church to Change the World from Buckingham

The first event in the Bethel United Church of Christ “Change the World” program started by looking close to home: the Buckingham neighborhood. With a revitalization grant from the national UCC, the local church kicked off the program with an open house, inviting the community, especially people from the Buckingham Outreach Center, and Patrick Hope, the president of the Buckingham Community Civic Association.

Patrick Hope spoke about "Buckingham--Its Past and Future" (Click to enlarge the image.)

Mr. Hope gave a presentation “Buckingham—Its Past and Future.”

“I didn’t talk about the present, because there is no present in Buckingham,” Mr. Hope said near the start of his speech in front of about 50 people, a healthy mix of English and Spanish speakers.

People sat on folding chairs in the church basement and lunched on finger sandwiches, sodas, coffee and deserts [The tuna with sweet relish sandwiches were particularly good –ST.]

The neighborhood is constantly changing, Mr. Hope said, and anything he said today about the present Buckingham would not be accurate tomorrow. His presentation included a summarized history of the BCCA, the key points of the Neighborhood Strategy Area plan which is a sort of planning blueprint for the community (improved lighting, sidewalks and pedestrian safety are among the concerns there), and future projects in and around the neighborhood (such as the American Service Center and Mosaic Park redevelopments).

Buckingham Outreach Center Director Connie Freeman acted as a translator. The center operates out of a couple conjoined apartments in the Gates of Ballston complex. It serves the social service and other needs of Gates residents and others. She said in an interview that this was first time the church had asked the center to participate in an event. Quite a few people from the center attended.

The church, on the northeast corner of N. George Mason Drive at Arlington Blvd., was formed in the 1940s and many members talked about how it was, and is, a community church, a church most congregants used to walk to, though most now are drawn from all over Arlington and nearby communities.

Associate Pastor Carolyn Richar and Interim Pastor Don Smith. (Click to enlarge the image.)

“We’re happy to have this connection to the Buckingham Community, and we hope it continues,” said Reverend Dr. Don Smith, the interim pastor of the small church of about 40 members.

“Right now, we’re a fairly small congregation, but we’re building up,” said member Art Lipman.

The “Change the World” program is part of the national UCC’s vision that puts thoughts to social action, according to the Web site The local church has a dediction to changing the world that goes beyond Buckingham.

Bethel Church, along with La Luz Verdadera Iglesia—they share the church building on Arlington Blvd.—created the Vision of God Clinic in San Luis Talpa, El Salvador, a impoverished city on the Pacific coast.

According to church materials, the clinic provides medical care, professionals and supplies, along with educational materials from a church basement in San Luis Talpa.

Associate Pastor Rev. Carolyn Richar said she wants to see this clinic well-established before the church takes on another international project. She was credited by many members as instrumental in the formation of the clinic.

Rev. Richar said this is the first event in a series that will continue into September.

Although Mr. Hope is running for the Virginia House of Delegates, the church was clear that he was invited only in his official capacity as BCCA president.

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