Podcast: The Big Event

The BIG Event is the annual Stewardship Sunday held each Fall at LUCC. This year the celebration was focused on the ways that LUCC functions as a Base Camp: Mission Support. The BIG Event offered the opportunity to celebrate the many ways LUCC does this, a ministry that transforms lives and is worthy of support with time as well as money. Those present were given the opportunity to make a financial commitment to the church for the coming year and to indicate how they would like to contribute their time and talent to the ministry of the church.

At the BIG Event this year, three LUCC members shared how they experience the church as Base Camp: Mission Support.

From Colleen Coughenour

Good Morning, my name is Colleen Coughenour. When my husband, Mark and I first moved to St Pete in 1993, I’d all but given up looking for a spiritual base camp. As a young adult, I’d briefly been a part of two extraordinary church homes.

The first was when I was 19 years old. I was living in Boston for the summer and attended a Presbyterian/UCC church. It was here that I initially experienced the liberation of inclusive language – of God as a mother and a woman, and the inclusion of my gay brothers and sisters. It was life changing. The second, was a small progressive Mennonite community where Mark and I worshiped during our college years. The sense of community was safe, challenging and loving.

Both communities were an extension of the faith I’d been introduced to as a child – but unlike the churches of my youth, the base camps of my youth, where being female meant a smaller and separate tent – these churches offered a place to question and evaluate my faith, and for the first time gave me an equal place at the table and in the big tent.

In those days, and many after, so much of my energy was reconciling being a woman of faith yet not being included as a valued part of the body of Christ. Some of you have lived this as well. I knew these camps existed, but I couldn’t find one. It would be many year later – almost 15, before I would find another church that provided this kind of shelter, security, strength and call for service.

The years that followed involved relocating to Florida – and resulted in limited success at finding a church home. Fast forward to 1993, a move to St Pete with our two year old child; Mark and I decided it was time for another try. We visited several churches, but it was always difficult for me to get past the male oriented language. I just couldn’t go back to the tiny tent. I gave up, but fortunately for me, Mark kept looking. After reading an article quoting Pastor Kim – Mark urged me to go with him to visit Lakewood UCC. I was skeptical.

However, like many of you, that first visit left us feeling hopeful, like we finally found a home. Our base camp.

We were surrounded by a loving, welcoming community that although relatively small – reached out into the greater community in a powerful way. It didn’t take us long to know this is where we belonged; where we could explore, question and grow in our faith. A place where we too could recharge.

And not only did we recharge, but we proceeded to venture out into some of the most treacherous and exhilarating journeys of our lives. Emily, our oldest, was six when we decided to adopt our daughter Olivia, from China. It is unlikely this would have happened without the church. That journey took a lot of replenishing. It is here that our children were also raised. They had to the opportunity to grow up in a church where race, gender and sexual identity were not a test for entering the camp. They understood that welcome actually meant welcome.

We listened to the stories and observed the lives of those who were much older than us. People who had traversed these trails before, and warned us about the missteps and applauded us for making it through thorny ventures. These people, many of whom have passed on were instrumental in the camp. They were the sages, and the workers. The “old timers” who let us know that we were on the right trail. Their stories and support were essential and inspiring.

In many ways, I feel as though it has been a luxury to be a part of this congregation. The base camp is fully stocked and open to all. The inclusion and welcome for all people is a given. Here, we have formed lifetime friendships. Our two children have mostly moved on, but the lessons of the base camp live on. Olivia recently revealed to us her first (and Mark is hoping only) tattoo. It was a symbol of the UCC cross. We’ve witnessed and continue to witness faith in action through the lives of our brothers and sisters. We comfort and support each other in time of need, and celebrate the joy of living. All of our church community’s needs are met -and this , of course, allows us to venture out and express our faith in our greater community in a myriad of actions.

For us, the base camp has become a home. Others may stay for a time, re-charge and then move on. And we are grateful to have their energy, gifts and fellowship while they are here.

But here’s the catch. The base camp is always in need of attention. Someone needs to tend the fire, to gather the wood, cook the food, or build the shelter and of course, there’s always the need for someone to sing, play music and tell stories around the fire. It takes all of us.

So, today, I challenge you to think about what this basecamp means to you – and what part you can play to keep it running. I am so grateful for this community of faith, and look forward to giving of my time, talent and my financial support.

From Patti Cooksey

Over 20 years ago, I pulled into the parking lot of LUCC to respond to the church sign that read, office assistant needed. Within days I began serving as the part time LUCC office assistant, which was a perfect, safe base where I could find focus and make a few dollars while finishing my courses and senior thesis in the PEL program at Eckerd College. When I left LUCC about a year later, Pastor Kim gave me this apple paperweight with a beautiful note thanking me for my service and encouraging me to continue on in my studies, suggesting that I was a teacher. Nobody had ever told me that. I had always worked in the medical field. Her note seemed odd, but I kept reading it and still have that note–and this apple.

Today I am happy to say the apple has been on my bookshelf in my office at Eckerd College for over 16 years. I did continue my studies and have been blessed to serve Eckerd College as a teacher, an academic adviser, a consultant, a service learning coordinator, and a member of the spiritual life council. Mind you, I never applied for a job at EC; I was called to come back as an alum and serve as a writing tutor for students. My career blossomed from there. I think of Fredrick Buechner’s words as he spoke of vocation: “vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” In reflecting on his words and the inspirational note from Kim, I can see that in listening and following, we can find our calling. This apple represents the day my journey to follow, to serve, began, and it has now become a symbol of my church home; my church family; my base camp.

Although I could write a book about the many joys that have come through teaching and sharing the successes of so many, I want to share some extraordinary circumstances from this past year that have helped me realize that the faith journey can become treacherous; grief, doubt, and confusion can obscure the path.

Facing the fallout of murders, violence, racism, bombings, and political divide in our society, my students and my classrooms, were becoming overcome with fear and anger. I found myself sometimes overwhelmed, uncertain, and drawing heavily on my faith to keep balance, openness, dialogue, and hope not only in the classroom but in my life as I shared their pain and sought answers. I saw racism; I heard the words and saw the expression and the body language of hate and mistrust. I had students who wept in my office after the shootings at The Pulse. Some of their families were dividing over social and political issues. They were having difficulty with their studies. I wept many nights on my way home, praying God could use me to help bring love, peace, and understanding into my classroom, and into the hearts of all who were suffering. This was not written into my course curriculum.

Along with prayer and blocking of any distractions that could keep me from my base camp, I climbed my way through any obstacle so I could reach LUCC base camp for renewal and refreshment through God’s word– and through my church family.

It has been a real struggle to stay on the path of light this year, but I can tell you that that light, warmth, love, and understanding have emerged. I have found renewal through the flickering firelights at the camp. I have been able to see students come back to me and share new understandings and a healing that occurred in the classroom. They have less anger and fear. I had a new energy as I stood with one student at the prayer vigil at City Hall as we prayed for the victims of the Pulse shootings. He found healing that night, a healing that went deeper than the shooting event. All of these blessings came from God and our church that unites us and leads us out to serve, to bring love, peace, and hope to those who suffer.

Today I continue to be nurtured and be given more love and understanding to carry forward. I may be a little wobbly in my hiking boots, but I know I can continue to serve not only those on the EC campus, but also the families in the Family Promise program, the neighbor on the ground suffering from a seizure, a brother grieving for his wife, a granddaughter abandoned by her wife. I also know I will find peace and guidance after recently losing my dear friend and now beginning to close out my position at EC. I have a firm foundation at base camp—a foundation of love, service and a unity that connects and strengthens me in my service.

While I have sadness as I am preparing to leave my office on the EC campus, I know I will carry forth many lives and many experiences as I go forward to wherever I am called. I will also have this apple to remind me to listen, to pull into base camp for the love, guidance, and peace that will lead me forward as I continue to serve LUCC. Thank you, Kim, for being the voice that led me to a vocation of joy and service, and thank you for being my camp leader. I now go forward on my journey with this apple, the love and mission of LUCC, and the words from this song in my heart:

Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.

From Victoria Long

This metaphor of mountain climbing, and the necessity of base camp speaks to me. Gary and I climb mountains, never Everest….but we did stand at the top of Kilimanjaro. I can speak with authenticity, when I say, I know what it feels like to wake up each morning, pull on my boots, step out of a tent and begin the day knowing…without the support of those around you…your goal…your hope… of summiting a looming formation that taunts your— every step….would never…could never…happen without those who sustain you at base camp.

And this is exactly what I discovered when I found myself adrift, almost three years ago….as I made my way through those doors and sat in your midst. You see, my GPS seemed to have gone astray. My vocation as an ordained minster had me traveling in a direction that I did not seem to have the necessary maps or the right equipment for. I had served a church as their associate minister, and I “thought” that was the adventure I had been called to. But a still small voice began to rise up, and I knew that place, in that time, was a mountain that had been navigated and now it was time to discover new elevations, new crevasses, cliffs and crags, and soaring slopes.

Mountain climbers are most often supported by a Sherpa. Sherpas are highly experienced mountaineers. They serve as guides at the extreme altitudes of the peaks and passes. These guides lend their knowledge and expertise to ones attempting to summit new ranges. Kim was the first of your Sherpas to throw me a rope, a cup of hot tea and a new compass. Yours is a base camp full of wise and seasoned travelers and much has been learned just sitting in your midst. I indeed took this sacred space and rested and reflected for awhile. I then was ready to be re-nourished, and finally feeling re-stored and renewed, I re-engaged!

Much has occurred over these past few years. Professionally, my path has had me traveling in places I never expected. As of September 26th, I am a full time Hospice Chaplain, with a team of my own and a redefined understanding of what my call had been all along. And if that were the only truth discovered, well that would have been worth the trip. But NO…there was more!

In this place of sanctuary….where we come to recover….we….you….decided…..we here at Lakewood would offer our Sherpa skills to others. To those who had found themselves homeless. We joined with Family Promise and Lakewood United Methodist to provide a base camp for families and their children and this base camp even came with tents! We became part of a network of camps that offered new trails/paths that sustains these folks as the climb out of poverty. Making a way out of no way, by being present to another and sharing what we have….what we have learned.

And that is what each of us are called to do…that is what Sherpas do You see…Sherpas cannot provide promises of expected or hoped for outcomes the individual climber may be holding within their hearts. They simply can companion with, offering support as needed. Because of their expertise, they can interpret the weather, the path, the crevasses better than those new to the journey. They can encourage and offer their wisdom gleaned from years of climbing, but ultimately it is up to the individual to make the accent. To journey with, for a while and then return to our own individual place and time. Possibly transformed by the experience, and able to share what we have learned with another.

That is what happens here…..Kim reminded us of that a few weeks ago…
Here, we listen for our calling.
Here we have our sense of mission confirmed.
Here we learn to work together, without the need for recognition, fame, or glory. We look out for each other and seek the highest good of the other. We find our calling to live for something beyond our personal satisfaction, comfort, and pleasure.
Here we identify resources, financial and human, to mobilize for mission.

It is in this place, each of us listen to our own “still small voice ” and respond to whatever mountain calls our name…..poverty, injustice in whatever form, children, the least of these….anyone the world treats “less than.”
Because… like another 21st century prophet has declared….we here at base camp Lakewood….respond.
And how do we respond?

When they go low…..we go high.!
Thanks be to God for this sacred space and place
Base camp….as sanctuary….LakeWood United Church of Christ!

In addition to the speakers, there was the reporting of the results of the Harvest for 2016, read by Charles Lewis and Jim Andrews. Each year the church family is invited to fill out a form indicating the total amount of money donated in the past year and the total amount of time volunteered. In addition, there is the opportunity to list the organizations and activities that receive the time and money given. At The BIG Event, there is a reading of the list and a sharing of the total money and time donated. The information is astounding! Here is the full report.


Total Hours: 5350
Total Dollars: $94,585
Total Sheets Handed In: 24

Organizations and Institutions:
Bread for the World
Youngest Child
Humane Society
Bayfront Health
Dali Museum
Family Promise
Sanderlin IB World School
Suncoast Hospice
LUCC office and book club
American Bible Society
Clearwater Central High School
Freefall Theatre
Harvard University
Metro Wellness
12 Step Programs
Bulow Charity
Operation Attack
Helping neighbor
SPC Community Chorus
Gulfport Senior Center Foundation
Club Sports Kids
Political Groups
Tampa Bay Watch
Making Tote Bags
SAMS Episcopal Missionaries
Friends of the Depot
Interfaith Association
Russian Heritage
Environmental Projects
Sunday School
Eckerd College
Spiritual Counsel
Grinnell College
Avelos Scholarship Fund
Salvation Army
Geneva College
HEIFER Project
Making storage holders for walkers
Peninsula Rescue Mission
Jack and Jill
Union Theological Seminary
Macular Degeneration
Eden Theological Seminary
Sierra Club Solar Initiative
Suncoast Health Center
SPCA Tampa Bay
Pinellas County Schools
Smile Train
Easter Seals
Metropolitan Ministries
Southeastern Fisheries Assoc.
Hillary Fund
Children’s Miracle Network
ASPEC at Eckerd College
Shriners Hospital
Maximo Elementary
Alzheimer’s Foundation
Westminster Suncoast Committees
Heart Association
Putnam Co.
New College
American Association Of University Women
Friends of the South Branch Library
Monthly Journal at Westminster Suncoast
Methodist Children’s Home
LUCC Creation Justice Task Force
Red Cross
West Chester
Wounded Warrior
Nature Conservancy
Florida Conference UCC
Shoe Fund
Westar Institute
Westminster Suncoast
Doctors Without Borders
Pet Pal Rescue
Habitat for Humanity
Equality Florida
International Rescue
Local Food Banks
Local Arts Community
National Public Radio
Children International
Emory University
American Diabetes Association
Americans for Responsible Solutions
Biloxi Mission
Southern Poverty Law Center
Carter Center
Ghost Ranch
LUCC Communion Fund
Nepal Victims
Good Samaritan Church
Salvation Army
Heartbeat Scholarship
Good Will
Tampa Museum of Art
St Jude’s
Aylesworth Scholarship Foundation
Samaritans Purse
Rincon UCC
First Church of Christ, Scientist
Terra Nova
Every Town for Gun Safety
Florida Orchestra
Sheriff’s Youth Ranch
Indiana University
Cancer Associations
University of Florida
St. Petersburg Free Clinic
Veterans for Peace
Visiting long term care residents
LUCC Advisors
All Children’s Hospital
Visiting sick
Writing letters to inmates
Visiting hospital patients
Salesian Missions
Sea Level Rise Planning Network and Conferences
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
Veterans Of Foreign Wars
Neighborhood Association
Center for Action and Contemplation
Suncoast Employee Appreciation Fund
First Presbyterian Church Festival Chorus
Amnesty International
Wellesley College
Syrian Refugee Crisis
Sing Out Tampa Bay
Piano Fund
Garden assistance
Pass A Grille Beach Community Church
St. Anthony’s Hospital Foundation
Democratic Party
74th Street Elementary School
UCC Annual Fund
Internal Review Board, Bayfront Health
Family member with cancer
Suncoast Hospice Thrift Shop

Special music for the celebration included Méditation from the opera Thaïs by Jules Massenet, performed by Katie Aucremann, solo euphonium, and Hilton Jones, piano and the Lakewood UCC Choir performing The Canticle of the Turning, featuring instrumentalists, the Rev. Mardie Chapman, piccolo, and Zach Blair-Andrews, guitar.

Colleen Coughenour prepared a beautiful installation for the altar that perfectly captured the theme: Base Camp: Mission Support.


photos by Yoko Yogami

Click on any picture for a larger image and then again for a closeup. 


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