What happens when a courageous local church and an inspired CHHSM member work together? In Bedford, Ohio, the answer is South Haven Woods, a UCC-related affordable housing community.
South Haven Woods opened Oct. 1, 1989, thanks to a partnership between United Church Homes (UCH) — a life plan, health care, and affordable housing organization based in Marion, Ohio — and South Haven UCC in Bedford. This past Nov. 17, they held a rededication worship service and ribbon cutting ceremony for South Haven Woods, following the completion of a remodeling of the community to add additional one-bedroom apartments.
“Today is a joyful opportunity to celebrate this wonderful ministry started by South Haven Church that has endured, and will endure for decades to come,” the Rev. Kenneth V. Daniel, president and CEO of United Church Homes, told congregants during the worship service.
As far back as 1968, the church had discussed opening older adult housing on its property. An excerpt from church council minutes in that year talked about “a proposed idea for Senior Citizen Housing on our back three acres. The thought was favorably accepted.” But it took more than two decades of work by the congregation for that initial idea to come to fruition.
“South Haven UCC always had a vision for creating a place for affordable housing on site,” says the Rev. Rachel McDonald, pastor. “It took several pastors, countless meetings, community lobbying, and endless government forms to even get approval for the project.”
In 1989, church member Carol Tevis reported for the Property Development Committee, “On the morning of May 31, the main hallway of the church was filled with approximately 30 people waiting to get an application [for South Haven Woods]. Ninety-five applications were given out during the two-day distribution. By August 24, the construction process had been completed … the building passed inspection … ALLELUIA! South Haven Woods had become a true reality. It was a dream that had come true.”
“I am proud of the vision South Haven UCC had for affordable housing,” McDonald says. “It is a joy to look back after 30 years and see how the Spirit has been at work. South Haven UCC had the original dream, but United Church Homes has continued and expanded on this dream in ways we never could have imagined.”
The rededication Sunday also included a small group presentation by Daniel and Cheryl L. Wickersham, UCH vice president of housing services. The presentation included information about the increasing need for affordable housing for older adults throughout the United States.
“We had worship together at South Haven UCC and then walked across the parking lot to have a reception and ribbon cutting at South Haven Woods,” says McDonald. “Residents of South Haven Woods and members of South Haven UCC all gathered together.”
One of those in attendance was the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, former UCC general minister and president who serves on the United Church Homes Board of Directors.
“Each time I attend worship and other activities at South Haven UCC — where I am a member — and look across the parking lot to see South Haven Woods, I am reminded of the dynamic relationship of our local church and the wider church that is replicated many times over by other local UCC churches and other CHHSM agencies throughout the nation,” says Black. “It is both heartening and inspiring to know that these ministries of compassionate care and justice advocacy are happening in ways that make a tangible difference in the lives of so many people. My current service as a board member with United Church Homes has made this relationship all the more apparent to me. It is both a joy and an honor for me to participate in the mission of the United Church of Christ in this way.”
Today, South Haven Woods provides apartments for persons aged 62 years or older, as well as for persons who are physically handicapped or mobility impaired. The community reaches out to people in the local community whose income does not exceed 30 percent of the area median income. Residents pay only 30 percent of their adjusted monthly income for rent, and all utilities except telephone and cable television, are included.
“Our best projects are possible through a strong partnership with a neighboring congregation,” Daniel says. “Our rededication service celebrated the joint mission of providing safe, affordable housing to meet a need in the community around the church. South Haven UCC has committed to being an engaged community partner and to meet the need for justice housing for people of limited incomes. South Haven Woods … is the best model, in my view, of a congregation enacting its call to discipleship and putting its faith into action.”
Or, as Daniel told the congregation during the rededication:
“We celebrate this partnership between United Church Homes and your congregation. What you have done is provide more than affordable housing or low-income housing … This is justice housing: safe, secure, and now a platform for people to live happier and healthier lives.
“This is what you have done as a courageous congregation. You have contributed to bending the arc of justice toward the vision of a just world, a beloved community in Christ.”