The Lasting Power of the Community for Interfaith Celebration:
An Oral History
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, many house churches formed around the country. The members wanted to explore the myriad paths of what spirituality and living in the world meant. Very few of these faith communities remain active today. The Community for Interfaith Celebration (CIC) is one of them. Because a few of us were curious about CIC’s longevity, we formed an Oral History project to interview and record long-term members to find out why CIC is still alive and thriving.
The story beings in 1972 with what was then the Community for Christian Celebration (CCC). Jim Symons, an off-beat, inspirational, rabble-rousing Presbyterian minister was called to Olympia, Washington from California by a committee formed from the yoked church of United Churches (Presbyterian and United Church of Christ). The group gathered support to start a spiritual learning community, meeting in people’s homes and intending to unofficially serve The Evergreen State College, a new public four-year alternative liberal arts institution. Initially, CCC was sponsored by the Presbyterian Church with some members who chose to affiliate with the Presbytery and others who affiliated with the United Church of Christ (UCC). Today the CIC is self supporting, although we continue to enjoy a favorable status with the United Church of Olympia and attend the UCC annual conferences. Many members still carry a formal affiliation with UCC. The CCC’s central intentions were – and remain today – respect for the spiritual quest of each individual, learning and growing together as a community, and providing a base for social action and spiritual exploration.
What have those core beliefs looked like? Standing in solidarity with Native Americans in the 1970s over fishing rights. Officially becoming an open and affirming congregation in the 1980s, before it was popular to support gay rights. Evolving into a community of many faith traditions in the 1990s – not just Christian – by changing our name to the Community for Interfaith Celebration and expanding the nature of our worship services (“celebrations”) to reflect our members. Helping staff a soup kitchen since the 1970s and an overflow shelter since the 1990s. Family retreats at the ocean. Singing. Dancing for universal peace.
Like any community we have had our challenges. From them, we’ve learned that raising money for local, national and international organizations dedicated to helping make the world a better place is more important to us than owning a building. That our ministers can come from within – and resume their place with us in the community when they have finished serving. That our decision-making process of consensus needs clear and ongoing supporting structures.
We offer the Oral History project to our members old and new, as well as other faith communities and grassroots community organizations as one blueprint for how a group that views the world a little differently might form, grow, thrive – and remain relevant.
The Oral History Team – Genne Beach, Virginia Brian, Evie Fagergren, Dick Hauser, Suzanne Simons
The CIC Oral History team interviewed founding minister Jim Symons and subsequent ministers Patricia Hamilton Jo Curtz and Kathleen Peppard on their own faith journeys, the founding, evolution, milestones and challenges of the community, and what keeps us vibrant.
Jim Symons, 1972-1981, on founding the Community for Christian Celebration. Interviewed via Skype from California.
Patricia Hamilton, began serving late in 1983.
Videographer note. To their credit, Patricia and Evie (the interviewer) gave us permission to use this video in spite of the terrible framing.
Jo Curtz, 1986-2001, on congregation milestones, such as the first passing of a member and the name change to interfaith.
Kathleen Peppard, 2001-2015, on stepping into the ministerial post as part of the congregation, and the process of considering buying a building.