Whatever my lot, you have taught me to say, it is well; it is well with my soul.
Some 200 United Church of Christ Conference and Association ministers took those words from the old hymn to heart during the Authorized Ministry in the 21st Century (AM21) gathering, Dec. 10-14 in San Diego.
Built around the theme "Wisdom for Well-Being," the biennial meeting examined 21st-century ministry in the context of change. The event modeled healthy systems and healthy ministry, emphasizing change management, and included times to share wisdom and breaks for well-being.
"It's an exciting time in the life of the UCC as ministry needs and mission continue to shape-shift in a rapidly-changing culture," said the Rev. Sue Artt, conference minister for the UCC's Rocky Mountain Conference. "As a calibrating event for the national setting and the conferences, the AM21 event provided an opportunity to continue improving our practices of ministry and enriching our community across the denomination."
Key to the meeting were a series of workshops divided into four tracks. Each track had three sessions and a wellness break.
"Rooted in scripture, we engaged in conversations on the health of our systems including four tracks related to search and call, ministry in local churches, ministries beyond the local church, and the ministry of Committees on Ministry," said the Rev. Holly MillerShank, team leader of the UCC's Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization ministry, which hosted AM21. "We celebrated together the completion of the 2018 Manual on Ministry and reminded ourselves that the new MoM is not a replacement for ministry itself — which is derived from the sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ — but provide[s] us common language and values to support the extravagant welcome so essential to the polity of the United Church of Christ."
AM21 was highlighted by meaningful worship services and regular "Table Talks," times for reflection of eight theme scriptures that pointed attendees toward the metaphor expressed by the rootedness and resilience of trees through change.
"The planners of AM21 have been attentive to the issues of the changing church," said the Rev. Kent Siladi, conference minister of the UCC's Connecticut Conference. "Rather than focusing on the technical aspects of the search process, the shift has been made to attend to the adaptive changes we face in the church today."
The meeting's scheduled wellness breaks included options for leisure, prayer and reflection, and spiritual guidance opportunities. The four days also included a Resource Fair and regular plenary sessions devoted to topics of importance to all attendees. UCC General Minister and President the Rev. John C. Dorhauer addressed the gathering Dec. 12. The final plenary on Dec. 13 included participation in a "World Café," a method of creating collaborative dialogue on important issues.
"The thoughtfulness in both planning and execution was obvious, and I am certain that everyone present joins me in deep appreciation to wellness and the spirit of excellence that permeated the entire gathering," said the Rev. Traci D. Blackmon executive minister of the UCC's Justice and Local Church Ministries, who delivered the sermon at the closing worship service.
AM21 participants — whether regulars or people attending for the first time — left feeling renewed and refreshed. For Siladi, the biggest takeaway was "a renewed sense of call and recognition that we are connected to one another."
The Rev. Nayiri Karjian, association general minister for the Living Water Association Ohio NorthEast, concurred. "This was my first AM21. The gathering provided me the opportunity to discuss conference ministry with colleagues who understand its unique issues, joys, and challenges; to remember and celebrate our covenantal relationship and common shared ministry," Karjian said, "and it was an excellent opportunity to connect with friends, old and new."
AM21 gathers in non-Synod years, and is "based on the belief that when the church gathers, the wisdom needed for our shared ministry is in the room. This year's AM21 was no exception," said MillerShank. "The spiritual gifts, conference experience, and best practices in ministerial authorization shared by the 200 judicatory and wider church leaders gathered in San Diego indeed provided deep wisdom for well-being. AM21 continually serves as a touchstone and launching point for our shared work supporting ministerial excellence in the UCC."