Participating in 'radical hospitality'
With autumn upon us, it's time again for the Meridian United Church of Christ's annual Fall Music Festival. Benefitting the historic building — known colloquially as Frog Pond Church — the event will feature Portland-based vocal artists Michael Allen Harrison, Julianne Johnson and Bernie Sims. Organizers promise that the event will be a night of contemporary and jazz music, food, community and inclusion to lift the spirits and celebrate the season.
Founded in what was then known as Boone's Landing in 1878, the historic Frog Pond Church was built two years before the city was renamed Wilsonville after the town's first postmaster, Charles Wilson.
As in past years, the event is designed to raise funds for maintaining the church as well as supporting its outreach programs, including the support for two orphanages in Mexico. But with a new pastor at the helm of the church, funds will also be focused toward revitalizing community outreach.
"As we are raising funds for our church this time, we're continuing a legacy of presence in the community of Wilsonville while we are revitalizing our mission and reach within the community," Reverend Catherine Allard said.
Allard — fondly known as "Pastor Cat" — is fairly new to the church and community, having celebrated her one-year anniversary in Wilsonville in October. Hailing from New Hampshire, Allard came to Meridian after an extensive recruitment and interview process.
"I wasn't willing to go anywhere in the country, but I was willing to go outside of my comfort zone because I didn't want to not be open to going to wherever God was calling me," Allard said. "It was clear in every step of the way that this is the place that God was calling me to use my gifts for ministry and that it was the right place for me to grow as a pastor."
Since arriving in Wilsonville, Allard has settled into not only her congregation but also Wilsonville, having recently graduated from the 2017 Citizen's Academy. Allard was also recently joined by her partner, Jillian, in August.
"She's amazing and also very much a person of faith, so it's like having a partner in faith and ministry because our whole relationship and lives are grounded in that sense of God and a call to serve," Allard said.
Having just passed the one-year mark with becoming the lead pastor at Meridian, the Fall Music Festival holds a special place in Allard's heart.
"The week that I arrived was the week before last year's Fall Music Festival, so really, last year was my first real experience with the church," she said. "It was so powerful. These musicians are amazing. I mean, the spirit in the room just the way that the whole church comes together to offer this event to the community, and I think that it illustrates the commitment to hospitality that this church has. There is definately a desire here to express that very Christian principle of radical hospitality."
It's that radical hospitality that Allard hopes will draw the community to the festival, particularly after a year of country-wide political division and social tension. One of the ways that Meridian has done this was a vigil for the victims of the mass shooting last month in Las Vegas.
"The voice of progressive Christianity is something that we can take into the community," Allard said. "There's a lot of despair and fear and a sense of increased violence. I think that in these times, it's even more important to have places to go and creating space and holding space for people to bring all of who they are and all of what they carry and really be transformative in the way that we share our lives together.
"We're telling an ancient story here, but one that is so relevant for every age because there is still a need and a yearning for a revolutionary love and a transformative way of being together in the world."