Chewelah church keeps its Advent message
Each year, Chewelah United Church of Christ (UCC) celebrates the themes of the four Sundays in Advent—Hope, Peace, Joy, Love—by hanging a small, themed banner near the altar and lighting candles in the Advent wreath.
Hymns and scripture also reflect each Sunday's theme. This has been a long-standing tradition at the church and one that is meaningful to the congregation, said Holly Peterson, a long-time member.
As Advent approached in 2016, the country experienced a presidential election that left many people feeling hopeless and despondent.
"We, at Chewelah UCC, were hoping the Advent season could bring some light to our melancholy," said Holly. "As some of us were discussing this one day, we realized the entire community needed to be uplifted, not just those in Sunday morning worship."
That's when the idea of setting up a Hope sign emerged.
The 50-member church sits on a corner lot on Highway 395, which is the main route from Spokane to the Canadian border. Many people drive by the church every day.
"As one of the few progressive churches in the Colville Valley, we wanted to show the world that hope was still possible," she said.
The family of Jennifer Bell-Towne found a large metal grid used for fencing.
They worked with other church members, purchasing blue Christmas lights and inserting them to spell the word "Hope" in four-foot letters on the grid.
They needed a string of large blue lights for each letter. The lights are on a timer to turn on and off when the sun sets and rises.
They mounted the "Hope" sign on the side of the building to remain through the Advent and Christmas seasons.
"Many community members commented on this positive message, a light in the darkness of winter, with the message of Hope," said Holly, who has attended the church for nearly 50 years, since she moved to Chewelah from Montana when her husband came to teach there.
Maybe it was too cold or there was too much snow, but the sign did not come down as planned after Christmas.
"The feeling was that we needed the message of Hope for a little bit longer," Holly said.
For more than five years, the Hope sign is still on the side of the building. Its blue letters glow in the dark for the world to see every day.
Through these years, Chewelah UCC has become known as the "Hope Church" in their small town.
"In the last few weeks we have felt hopeless watching and hearing of the current situation in Ukraine," Holly said. "Our Hope sign is still there to remind us that God always gives us hope. Chewelah UCC is pleased to share this message with our community and the world."
For the first Advent, church members planned to put up signs for Love, Joy and Peace, too.
Several other members made a Love sign with red lights and put it up on the bell tower that's on the church's front lawn. They took it down last year after all the lights went out.
During the five years the Hope sign has been up, Susan has replaced the lights several times.
"The HOPE sign has also become a reference point when people give directions," she added.
Beyond the sign, people in the community know what the church stands for, because its actions also speak of hope.
"During the first Women's March, we stood along the highway in front of the church wearing pink hats and holding signs," Holly said. "We also stood on the highway holding Black Lives Matter signs and offering a Black Lives Matter Vigil in the summer of 2020. On the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection, we stood there with signs."
"Now to express hope, the church has painted poster boards blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, and hung them along the highway in solidarity with Ukraine," said Holly. "We also hung Ukranian flags inside and outside the building.
"When we have done the marches and vigils, a lot of those who stand with us are community members who share our church's values," she said.
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