A Brief History of Archwood UCC
Founded in 1819, Archwood is the oldest congregation of the United Church of Christ in the city of Cleveland. We are also the result of a merger of Archwood Congregational Church and Fourth Evangelical and Reformed Church in 1967, which followed the national merger of those two denominations in 1957.
In the 1950s the membership of Archwood Church was over 1,000 people, most of whom lived in our Brooklyn Centre neighborhood on Cleveland's Near West Side. When the freeways were built in the 1960s, as many as 5,000 homes and businesses in our immediate area were torn down, causing an outward migration. Busing in the 1970s also caused some families to move to nearby suburbs. These changes contributed to the decline of the church, to such an extent that in the early 1990s there were only 30 people in worship on an average Sunday, most of whom were over 75 years of age.
This struggling congregation found it difficult to find a pastor, and for three years, while actively searching, was served by an interim pastor. The regional UCC executive that assists congregations to find pastors suggested that they look at the candidacy of openly gay pastors, many of whom have difficulty finding placement, even though the UCC was the first denomination in the United States to ordain an openly gay man in 1972.
(The UCC, through one of its predecessor bodies, the Congregational Church, was also the first in the U.S. to ordain a person of African descent, in the late 1700s, and the first to ordain a woman, in 1853.)
In 1992 the search committee came to a conclusion about the best qualified candidate and extended an invitation to David Bahr to preach a "call sermon," after which the congregation would vote. A two-thirds majority was required to extend a call, and the margin was exactly two-thirds. Most, but not all, of those persons who voted against his call left the church immediately. Cleveland's daily newspaper, The Plain Dealer, carried the news that the church had called an openly gay man as its pastor. Visitors, gay and non-gay, started coming to the church and becoming members. The long-time members who remained were exceptionally loving and welcoming.
An Open and Affirming Covenant was developed to make explicit the church's welcome of all people and which expressed its commitment to be intentional in growing as a multicultural, multiracial congregation. A few years later our diversity further developed as we began providing interpretation for deaf and hearing impaired individuals.
In 2001 we began to consider an explicit statement of our commitment to justice and peace. From that we developed a Just Peace Covenant, similar to those of other UCC congregations.
The Rev. David Bahr concluded his ministry at Archwood in the fall of 2007 upon receving a call from a UCC congregation in Denver, Colo.There followed a period of search and call during which the church was served successively by three interim ministers: the Rev. Joan Salmon-Campbell, the Rev. Stephen Adams and the Rev. Ruth Garwood.
The Rev. Sara Ross (now known as the Rev. Sara Rossigg) was called as Archwood's pastor in December 2010 and served from Jan. 1, 2011, to June 30, 2015, when she relocated to Connecticut to be reunited with her family and pursue other callings in ministry.
Since then, we have had a variety of worship styles and have settled on a "worship leader" model. The worship leader leads every Sunday morning service, while the congregation takes care of the business of the church.
Our worship services are led by several people. Currently, George Graham, Jonathan Cahill, and Sarah Koch, serve as worship leaders. George will complete his service at the end of 2023. We are searching for an additional worship leader.