Irvine United Church of Christ is California church that upholds their commitment to community and its congregation by meeting the area’s growing need for additional childcare, promoting greater internal staff productivity, and encouraging interfaith practices.

Irvine UCC’s New Church Campus Aims to Unite Community through Shared Values

For the first time in a long time, faith leaders from diverse religious backgrounds gathered upon the back patio of Irvine United Congregational Church (IUCC) to celebrate the ordination of Rev. Sarah Averette-Phillips, IUCC’s assistant pastor. After many years of planning, the vision for IUCC’s fellowship patio had finally materialized–a surreal moment for all involved in the intimate ceremony. Faith leaders of every religion gathered harmoniously on the church’s campus. This is a manifestation of IUCC’s core mission–and an undertaking that would not have been possible without the financial assistance from the Cornerstone Fund.

An Ambitious Plan in Motion

In 2012, IUCC reached out to Domus Studio (an architecture firm located in San Diego, CA) to create a master renovation plan for the entire campus. “The campus was aged and we were outgrowing it,” says Anne Rosse, Chair of the Capital Campaign and Building Task Force.

Domus then provided IUCC with a three-phrase plan that would be completed over the course of several years (with the first phase, to be completed in six months to a year).

After raising approximately $1.27 million for the restoration project, IUCC received assistance from the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund for the balance needed to complete the project.

Mark Allen, IUCC’s Treasurer, wanted to work with an organization devoted to faith-based projects. “Our congregation had a tremendous trust and comfort with the UCC Cornerstone Fund,” says Allen. “Cornerstone has been a faithful partner to Irvine United Congregational Church for over 25 years. We wouldn’t be here without their support,” he continues.

For the massive building project, the Cornerstone Fund financed nearly $1.2 million to IUCC–a sum large enough to pay for all the necessary renovations during the first phase of the project.

Both with fundraising efforts and an additional loan from the Cornerstone Fund, IUCC was able to break ground in October 2017.

Campus Facelift Improves Visibility

One of the primary goals of IUCC’s renovation plan was to increase visibility of the church. Prior to breaking ground on the new additions, the building was extremely difficult to see from the main road. “Drivers passed by the campus all the time. And if the person had the intention of walking through the doors, we discovered that people simply drove by because the building was not visible,” explains Rosse.

“This project is not one to serve ourselves; but to make sure we could throw open the doors to the community–ultimately so that we can do a better job of reaching out and serving,” says Rosse.

Naturally, increasing the church’s visible presence would likely lead to getting more people through the front doors. However, Rosse clarifies that “a surge in membership was not the driving force behind the project.

When planning the building project, Rosse and Allen’s primary goals included expanding the building space for internal staff, providing the neighborhood and surrounding areas with quality childcare, and making space to collaborate with members of the community. Increased membership? “Well, that’s just an added bonus,” says Rosse.

“Beautiful new frontage symbolizes increased visibility in the community, but it also has a much deeper meaning,” confirms Allen. Rosse agrees, “The heightened visibility is a bridge to an oasis of valuable resources for our community.”

A Worthy Cause for Celebration: IUCC Building Dedication

IUCC has been fully enjoying the new campus since the fall of 2018. During the building dedication, IUCC’s Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Paul Tellström, expressed how deeply moved he was by the buildings’ aesthetics. “The glass reveals life going on inside, and the boulders suggest a steady permanence.  Our bold signage welcomes and proclaims our identity.”

At the time of the building dedication ceremony, many members of the congregation breathed a sigh of relief. The 12 months of construction had been “absolutely exhausting.” Nonetheless, everyone involved in the project felt a sense of purpose after the project was complete. The IUCC family was relieved to see how all the hard work had paid off.

The hard work references the many aged buildings at IUCC that were long overdue for upgrades. Renovations included an additional 2,500 sq. ft of indoor space and 2,100 sq. ft of new or reconfigured outdoor space. The new indoor space has a new church office, three meeting rooms, two staff offices, one flexible workspace/future office, one file room, a pastor’s patio, and a spacious fellowship patio. The meeting rooms were designed and restructured with operable partitions, seating 75 or 160 standing.

All of these changes were made to better serve the staff, congregation, and community.

Rev. Dr. Paul Tellström was particularly impressed with the offices. “Our staff now has space to stretch out in, undisturbed by the gentle chaos of the preschool, and into spaces where we can speak in confidence and plan together as a staff.”

The Importance of Community and the Family Promise

The old church office was converted into a brand new preschool classroom. Not only does the new classroom provides additional space (and ten additional spots) for our Sunday school programs, the preschool serves a purpose in sharing IUCC’s values with surrounding neighborhoods. Increased enrollment in the preschool program provides the capital for IUCC to pay back the loan in the coming years; furthermore, it directly serves families needing reliable childcare as well as creating additional jobs.

In addition to the preschool, prior to construction, there was no place for the senior pastor to have confidential counseling appointments. “Now, if someone comes in to meet with him, they can leave through a back door, especially if they are emotional. This design was intentional so that any individual who walks through our doors can feel as comfortable as possible,” says Rosse.

In past years, IUCC also made a verbal commitment to national nonprofit organization, Family Promise; however, “the lack of space within the old campus did not allow us to host homeless families on our campus,” says Rosse.

She continues, “With most homeless shelters in and around our city, men and women are often separated, leaving the children to go with women. One of the reasons why we champion Family Promise is because they are committed to keeping families together. This summer, for the very first time [we’re hosting this summer], IUCC will be hosting our first group of families–providing meals and a safe place to sleep. This is all a result of our renovations, and we cannot wait!”

With the buildings’ new upgrades, Irvine United Congregational Church can now invite more organizations (whose values align) to use the church’s meeting space.

“A key for me, and for others, was the ability to host community groups that we thought would seek ‘Just Peace,’ in line with our UCC denominational designation,” adds Keith Boyum, area church leader.

A Pledge for Interfaith Collaboration

In 2013, pastor Terry Jones from Florida, was arrested for a planned burning of the Qur’an. Although IUCC had an established connection with area mosques, they wanted to show solidarity with the local Muslim community. In order to do this, IUCC intentionally had a Qur’an reading during one of their worship services.

“As the Church grows and shifts, it is evident that ‘ministry’ is also evolving. Getting folks into the pews remains only part of the mission of the Church. We must begin to think creatively about ways to engage the community. We must realize that our call for fellowship lies in connection to people who don’t look, sound, or act like us. And yet, we come together around a common purpose of connection, of justice, of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our new building at IUCC allows us to do just this,” emphasizes Rev. Sarah Averette-Phillips.

That’s why IUCC also frequently collaborates with area synagogues, mosques, and temples.

Irvine United Congregational Church wants those who practice and lead in other religions to know that they are always welcome to fellowship and come together with the IUCC family.

A Generation of Hope

A new generation of churchgoers is changing the conventional means of practice. “We recognize that how people want to experience their faith is growing. And that may not come on Sunday mornings,” says Rosse. “And that was part of how we thought about this building. How can we create a space that will make people want to be a part of our community?”

Even though budgeting for such a large project was a major concern, Allen knew that the campus desperately needed a makeover. Not just for current members, but for generations to come. “We were so constrained with the building that we had. We’re usually pretty tight with our pennies, but there’s a time when you just have to do more,” says Allen.

IUCC has also done its part for forthcoming generations by incorporating more sustainable features and green practices throughout the building project. Energy efficient appliances, drought-tolerant landscaping, and glazing for maximum daylight are just a few additions that made the IUCC a minimalist and eco friendly campus.

Allen was also very passionate about setting the future generations up for financial success. “We don’t want to saddle the next generation with a debt they can’t pay for.  We want to build only what we could afford.”

That’s why IUCC decided to not move forward with additional two phases of the building project. The renovations completed during phase one have been “more than enough.”

A Partnership in Faith and Future with the Cornerstone Fund
Mark, who is also a seasoned financial consultant, places loans frequently–so he understands the importance of quality lending services. Allen describes the Cornerstone Fund’s program as “top notch”  and “would highly recommend the Cornerstone Fund to others looking for a professional, faith-based lending program.”

Allen credits the Capital Fundraising Services of the UCC Church Building and Loan Fund, as well as the Cornerstone Fund lending team with helping IUCC throughout the entire duration of the building project. “[The CB&LF team] was instrumental to helping us, especially, with the capital campaign.”

Working with United Church of Christ ministries is very important to Irvine United Congregational Church because, as Allen points out, the new campus and everything it represents “is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.” Rosse continues, “We want to make everyone involved proud.”

Renae Boyum, moderator, agrees with Rosse and Allen’s assessment. “We see the new spaces  filled with light and with the spirit–we see our community coming together in faith and reaching out to all no matter where they are on their journey of faith.”

It really does take a village to raise a family–and it is evident that the Cornerstone Fund is a necessary contributor to the Irvine United Congregational Church vision. This vision, along with the entire village, has made quite a significant impact on the community–hopefully one that will last for generations to come.