Just before Thanksgiving, as I was working in the church building, the doorbell rang. At the front door was a community member I recognized from the food bank line. In her English and Spanish mix, she thanked me for the church being in the community, and she told me that she prays for our church every day. She went on to tell me that she is not the only one, but many are praying for us. She stopped by just to encourage me. I was humbled.
I am grateful for each and every one of you. Your participation in the faith life of the United University Church is critical in our commitment to being the Hope on Union; without you, we would not be a Church. Your love for Jesus and being God's people in every place at every time brings the Bible's truth to life. Messengers of the good news are the message. You are the Gospel.
We will meet on Christmas Eve at 5:30 pm for our annual service of singing carols and reading Christmas stories, followed by cookies and cider. We will close the service with the lighting of candles and singing of Silent Night. Those whose native languages are other than English are invited to lead us in singing them in your heart language. So far, we have Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Tagalog, French, Spanish, and Mandarin.
On Christmas Day, we will worship at 10:30 am for our Sunday worship; however, on New Year's Day, you are invited to worship privately or join other congregations. With many members having other commitments, leadership felt it was most prudent to make alternative plans.
In 2022 we saw some changes. We celebrated Banny and Aurea's wedding, Michael started a new job, Jane received her visa and bought a house in Chicago, and Sarah retired. Olabisi was in a movie and stage production. Some changes were painful as Snow moved to Chicago, Marika graduated and moved to Texas and later to Iowa, and Shirley started a new job as the Presbytery Administrator.
2022 began with the pandemic easing, but inflation deteriorated the hope of the economically fragile families of our community with new anxieties and fear. The demand at our food bank grew once again, and we are providing food for more than 350 families, which translates to more than 1200 individuals a week. In 2022 we served more than 75,000 people.
We also continued to handle the warehousing and delivery for the Presbytery of the Pacific Food Bank Collective with Tracey as its Coordinator. We serve Westminster, a historic African American congregation in southern California, Bethesda, a Spanish language congregation, and Calvary in Hawthorne, a racially diverse congregation. In 2022, our partnership served more than 150,000 people. In 2023, we will also start serving Bel Vue, an African American congregation, and St. Mark's, whose food ministry focuses on homeless encampments and recently housed families.
An exciting development in 2022 was the partnership with Vegans of LA to create a Vegan Food Bank on the 3rd Thursday of each month to encourage a healthy plant-based lifestyle. The partnership has provided us with incredible resources that enabled Tracey to broaden the food we provide for Sunday breakfast and lunches for our vegan and vegetarian members.
Our campus ministry, Progressive Christians @ USC, also grew significantly in 2022 under the leadership of Kristina, Melody, and Sarah. Our Bible study had more than six students meet faithfully, with more than 15 different students attending. The group also started a Sunday night worship on campus with more than 25 different students checking it out, and a steady group of eight meets regularly. We also sponsored an overnight retreat in Ojai with Interfaith Coalition, which 12 students attended. We also developed a new partnership with Holman United Methodist Church for our campus ministry, and Rev. Louis Tillman, the Associate Pastor for young adult ministries, joined us as a Religious Director.
In January, with a grant from the Presbytery of the Pacific and USC Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, we opened Jubilee Vegan Café to serve free vegan lunches to students and staff on campus. We hired a professional vegan chef to get us started, and in September, Tracey took over the program and won over the hearts and stomachs of the students. We served more than 4200 meals, with more than 150 attending each week, and the Jubilee Café was featured by USC's newspaper, radio station, and TV news.
The pandemic severely hampered our apartment building plans, and we pivoted to explore new options with LA Voice. In the next couple of months, we will review a land lease plan to build a 60-unit low-income apartment building and a separate church building with a café, office and ministry spaces, and student housing.
We are excited about what God will do through and among us in 2023. While the future is uncertain, one thing we do know for certain, God is with us. Although the "kings" and the "powerful" scheme, we also know that the future is in God's hands. When fear arises within us, we will turn to love because love overcomes all fear. Let us celebrate the love that comes down at Christmas.