Open & Affirming
Growing in faith and knowledge, commitment and support, unity and diversity, ministry and service.
WE CELEBRATE GOD’S GIFT OF LIFE.
Plymouth UCC is a local congregation of the United Church of Christ, a mainline, Protestant denomination of 1.5 million members, with a tradition of progressive involvement in issues which uphold the rights, dignity, and equality of all people under God.
We believe that this world and everything and everyone within it are God’s.
We believe in love. We are all children of God created with love — regardless of race, culture, religious belief, sexual orientation or identity, or where we come from.
Be you, be bold, be love!
We believe we are called to follow Jesus, who showed unconditional love and justice for all people.
We Are . . .
A Christian Church. We believe in the basic tenets of Christianity: one God, experienced and expressed as Creative power, Liberating and Redeeming Christ, and present/active Spirit. As a Christian Church, we see Jesus as our lens unto God, as well as our model for what it means to be a fully faithful human being.
A Non-Doctrinal Church. That means that we do not have a list of tenets to which people must agree. Offered guidance and education through the church, individuals are free to believe and act in doctrinal matters in accordance to their own insights and perceptions. People received into membership affirm or reaffirm the Baptism vows as they understand them.
A Progressive Church. The fact that we are a non-doctrinal church, as well as our history and current practice, puts us on the “progressive” end of the Christian theological spectrum.
A Democratically-Organized Church. All matters of policy, budget, or overall church direction are decided at the Annual Meeting of the members or at a specially-called congregational meeting.
Rev. Jo Bahr, Pastor
Pastor Jo began their journey with Plymouth UCC in August of 2018. Previously, they worked in youth and family ministry in Glen Ellyn, IL, and as an associate pastor in both Maine and Connecticut.
Their pastoral work includes pioneering a racial justice ministry, LGBTQIA+ ministry and a Family Promise ministry, developing a successful network of social media ministries including online Bible Studies, and building a youth & family ministry from a handful of kids to among the largest in the Chicagoland area.
Pastor Jo is married to Gabrielle M.W. Bychowski, Ph.D.. Together, Jo and Gabby raise two willful and creative children, Clementine and Elanora (Nora). With their family and in their downtime, Jo likes to laugh, think, and eat yummy food. Coffee is one of their closest friends. Among human friends, Jo prefers sitting and talking while a brisket smokes or sitting for hours together at a Thai restaurant.
Bill Bokhout, Director of Music
Bill became Plymouth UCC’s Director of Music in 2011. He has extensive church music experience and, for many years, has been involved in planning worship services, scheduling musicians, ensembles, worship teams, and technical staff. An operatic baritone, Bill has been the resident Baritone with Opera Grand Rapids for 26 seasons, performing as many as 35 different roles.
In 2003, Bill founded The 2nd Act Opera Company, a professional touring group dedicated to promoting Opera as an art form to young people, performing in many of the schools in the area as well as touring with his wife, Hollis, presenting Children's Opera Workshops in elementary schools across the country.
Kris Locker, Sunday Sessions Director
Kris Locker is an extroverted introvert, organizing aficionado, book and coffee nerd, crafting in various forms and an Enneagram 5. Kris adores her chosen family. Kris loves to give back to the community and is a strong advocate for gay rights, trans rights, womens rights and human rights as a whole.
Kris has a Bachelor Degree in Special Education and has worked with children and youth in various opportunities. Kris was a Special Education teacher, lead daycare teacher, Children’s large group leader, and was a small group leader of teens from 7th grade until graduation…just to name a few! Kris is very excited to hang out with your kiddos and get to see them flourish while at Plymouth!
During the week you will find Kris at work in the customer service industry hiring substitute teachers for school districts. You will also find her in Holland as is on the planning committee for Holland Pride.
Dr. Caleb Wenzel, Accompanist
Caleb became Plymouth UCC’s Accompanist in June 2022. Conductor, composer, and pianist Caleb R. Wenzel enjoys a creative profile equally at home with symphony orchestra, choral ensembles, new music, historical instrument ensemble, opera, and musical theater. He currently serves as Director of Choral and Vocal Activities at Grand Rapids Community College. Outside of GRCC, Dr. Wenzel serves as the Conducting Area Coordinator and Principal Conductor of the American Creators Ensemble at the Oregon Bach Festival, a position he has held since 2016, and as Program Director for Music Education at The Conducting Institute of Caminos del Inka in Fort Worth, Texas.
Rev. Peter Ross, Church Custodian & Media Department Lead
Rev. Peter Ross has served in ministry for over 30 years, the first 25 in the Assemblies of God church, where he also taught seminary to the next generation of pastors, and then transferring to the United Church of Christ in 2015 after departing the Assemblies of God over a crisis of conscience over the call to serve ALL of God's people. He then assisted in pastoring a small UCC Church in New Jersey through their Open & Affirming process before moving to Michigan in 2016, where he joined Plymouth United Church of Christ in Grand Rapids.
Currently he is serving as Church Custodian and lead of the Media Department. A long time student of Archaeology and ancient and classical cultures, Rev. Ross earned a Masters in Theological Studies, as well as spent 12 years doing field research in ancient cultures of the Ancient Near East.
A History of Progressive Involvement
Plymouth’s history shows how we hear and respond to the lessons of Jesus Christ to care for the environment, the community, and the least of us with practical action and monetary support.
The most important event in recent church history demonstrates leadership in advocacy, and our commitment to environmental stewardship. In 2013, the church was in need of a new roof. As the board of trustees gathered information, they also researched solar technology, site feasibility, solar panel installers, and financing options. At the Annual Meeting, the trustees proposed a motion to launch a two-year two-year capital campaign aimed at raising $150,000, which would fund replacing and upgrading the church roof to include the installation of a 10 kW solar panel array. The total ultimately pledged was more than $187,000, and in 2015, we practiced what we preach by installing a 10 kW solar panel array on our new church roof. The solar panel array produces approximately 25% of our electricity needs.
Supporting Our Neighbors with Mental Illness
In 1992, Plymouth provided property behind the church building for the construction of apartment housing for people with chronic mental illnesses. Overcoming the opposition of neighbors, lobbying the city to change its zoning restrictions, and gaining approval for the project from the City Commission took persistence and passion over a period of 5 years. Today, Birchgrove Apartment Facility, with 18 one-bedroom apartments, is part of Hope Network’s Affordable Housing Services. We continue to interact with the residents at Birchgrove with a Bingo Night and meal with them several times a year. Some worship with us on Sundays, and meet with the pastor on request.
Open & Affirming to LGBTQIA People
In 1998, Plymouth UCC was one of the first churches in Grand Rapids to become Open and Affirming (ONA), a designation from the United Church of Christ for congregations which make a public covenant of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. Plymouth UCC was also the first church in Michigan Conference to become ONA that was not a small predominantly “gay” church, but rather a mid-sized suburban church. During this time, Plymouth also piloted the new ONA process developed by the UCC, a 6-week study program with discussion questions, reading materials, and videos.
Learn more about what we stand for.
For more about denominational history, visit the UCC website.