BRIDGEPORT - The United Congregational Church of Bridgeport announced their decision to sell the church building and property to the Bridgeport Islamic Community Center (BICC) on Monday at a press conference in Bridgeport. The church will temporarily relocate in May and begin searching for a new home.
"As an active, vibrant, 321-year-old congregation, this is our opportunity to preserve this beautiful building, see it maintained and used as a House of Prayer, and move forward as partners in serving the community," said the Rev. Sara Smith, pastor of United Congregational. "We are especially grateful that where there is fear and uncertainty in some places, this sacred building with its steeple, is still the beacon of hope for people of all faiths, all races, all backgrounds."
Rev. Smith was referring to a stipulation in the agreement that creates a partnership between United and BICC that will continue to offer the services currently provided by the Norma Pfriem Urban Outreach Initiatives, Inc.(NPUOI), a non-profit organization currently operating out of the church building. These services include a food pantry, a soup kitchen, coat giveaways, and winter shelter. The current Board of Directors of NPUOI will expand to include members of BICC, creating a unique interfaith partnership.
Dr. Ahmed Ebrahim, leader of the BICC, said his organization has been looking for a home in the community for years where they can gather for education, recreational, and cultural purpose and worship. "We are looking forward to achieving all those goals and more. We are eager to partner with the United Congregational Church in providing meals, food, education, shelter, and other resources to our new neighbors," said Dr. Ebrahim.
The decision to sell the property was a result of several years of discernment, according the Senior Regioanl Minister the Rev. Dr. Michael Ciba. "This decision was made… in consultation with church members, clergy and lay leaders, members of the interfaith community, and the leaders of the Bridgeport Islamic Community Center. It reflects their commitment to working together to love God by caring for their neighbors."
Rev. Smith announced that part of the motivation for the sale was the increased maintenance costs of the property, a financial burden that the current membership was unable to sustain.
United's Moderator Kimberly Martinez Cordoba said parting with the property sparked a range of emotions. "It is certainly difficult to let go of a building that has a century of fond memories, a building that we have all grown to love so much, but it’s refreshing to know that we are doing our part to build bridges in Bridgeport and fostering world peace right here on this very corner."
Connecticut Conference Minister the Rev. Kent J. Siladi praised the church's efforts in making this difficult decision in a prayerful and inclusive way. "We celebrate the decision of United Congregational Church in Bridgeport to continue its mission and ministry in a new and creative way. The decision of this historic congregation to relocate AND to continue their witness and impact in the City of Bridgeport is one that we applaud. Rev. Sara Smith and the leaders of the church have made this decision prayerfully and thoughtfully and have demonstrated both flexibility and adaptability to the times in which we live. In providing a new home to another faith community and partnering with Muslim brothers and sisters, they demonstrate the UCC’s commitment to radical hospitality."
The announcement drew quite a lot of press coverage from the mainstream media: