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South Windham: A Ministry of Music

Small Church Grant Recipient

by Drew Page

SOUTH WINDHAM (11/19/2010) -- God is still speaking. In South Windham moreover, God is singing the blues, playing keyboards, drums, and guitars, and calling to a community that gathers each Wednesday to listen and share.

The Sacred Grounds Coffee House is held Wednesday evenings at 6:00 pm at the First Congregational Church UCC of South Windham. It began in October 2009 when member Carl Ternullo returned to his birthplace to say goodbye and heard God calling him to stay in Windham and create something new. Carl was headed to the Dominican Republic as a missionary when he realized there was work to be done right here in Connecticut.

“Music is a ministry,” says Carl. “I believe you can reach people through music.”

Pastor Martha Nilsen agreed with Carl. She had been looking to begin an alternative form of worship since arriving in South Windham. She believes the coffee house reaches out to “Christians who have fallen away from the church” as well as those who simply cannot attend Sunday morning worship. Some of the patrons come for the music. Others come to share their faith. Some come for help and healing. Despite the swaddling acoustics of the low ceiling in the church’s Christian Wing, many conversations carry on throughout the evening. Nilsen finds that these often focus on faith.

On September 15, the coffee house featured Rock Solid for Him, a five member Christian rhythm and blues band. Like all the musicians at the coffee house, they are unpaid, looking for a place to share their ministry of music. Before the band started, Carl addressed the gathered patrons. He thanked the volunteers, especially “John T”, a regular who contributes a special homemade dish each week – chicken cacciatore on that particular evening. Carl told the crowd he had no story that night. “Listen to the words,” he asked. “Listen to the song in prayer.” Carl offered a brief prayer, and the music began.

Rev. Nislen calls the coffee house a success. She says a new “diverse and deeply spiritual” community is forming. The coffee house was intended as an alternative form of worship, but Nilsen hopes to see some of the patrons join the church formally.

This has yet to happen, but the program is still growing. Once drawing only five attendees per night, the evening has grown to as many as twenty in recent months. With help from the Small Church Outreach Grant, Nilsen is working to make the coffee house more visible, both in the community by means of a new sign in front of the church, and more literally through additional outside lighting to make the parking area more hospitable and safe.

Nilsen’s optimism toward the Sacred Grounds Coffee House is hard to miss. She is amazed by the community that is building around the music, and the positive energy she has witnessed from church members toward the new ministry. With support from the church, a line-up of bands booked through November, and a growing patronage, the Sacred Ground Coffee House is indeed one place where God will undoubtedly keep speaking.

Drew Page is Media Assistant for the Connecticut Conference, UCC.

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The Connecticut Conference United Church of Christ
United Church Center
125 Sherman Street
Hartford, Connecticut 06105
(866) 367-2822
www.ctucc.org