UCC national staff and their families at All-Staff Day
Almost 100 United Church of Christ national staff members gathered in retreat the first Monday and Tuesday in June, in an effort to get to know each other better, and to learn each other's roles and strengths. The idea, to give all the staffers, based in Cleveland, working in Washington, D.C., and deployed around the country a chance to meet, and interact – as the denomination's organizational team restructured under a General Minister and President and two Executive Ministers.
The National Setting is seven months into a new way of functioning – living into a Bylaws change, which, after three years of processing, revision, and review, rearranges the way the leaders of this denomination govern.
"Responding both to the call to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us and to the mission priorities articulated by our Board of Directors, the National Setting is moving through change that we believe better positions us for future health and vitality," said the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president. "None of this change comes without some stress and anxiety, and we covet your prayers as we live through the transitions. At the same time, rays of new life and health are emerging that excite us and remind us that we are a people of possibility and hope."
The two-day retreat, organized by the Human Resources team, was a dynamic gathering involving personality assessment, facilitated interaction and a family picnic – coordinated to bring the people of the National Setting together as a group that is going forward as a realigned workforce with defined goals and priorities, to better serve the local church.
One transformation joins together two vital ministries, Justice and Witness and Local Church Ministries under an Executive Minister for better cohesiveness among program staff, with a goal of more common understanding around mission, and an opportunity to work more strategically as one team.
"I am mindful of Paul's words to the church in Rome when he reminds them, 'there are many of us but we each are a part of the body of Christ, as well as part of one another,'" said the Rev. Traci Blackmon, Justice and Local Church Ministries executive minister. "It is in this ethos that I celebrate the opportunity for LCM and JWM to live more fully into our connectedness. The reality is as powerful and dynamic as the witness for justice in the United Church of Christ has always been, that witness is only made manifest through the lived experiences of our Local Churches and Conferences. And as strong and committed as our congregations are to the faithful witness of Jesus in the world, that witness is only strengthened by the work and the amplification of the justice witness of the Church. We are connected. We are a part of one another."
In addition, the ministry has been strengthened by the addition of several new program staff positions.
"It is the voice of our Local Churches and Conferences that illuminated the need to add a minister of youth and young adults, and a minister to represent persons living with disabilities and mental health concerns, and someone focused on strengthening congregations of color," Blackmon continued. "The restructuring of the Faith Formation Team, MESA, CASA, CBLF, and JWM is all about being connected and serving well. This new level of interconnectedness has helped us to imagine helpful ways of curating and telling the story."
In the past several months, all of those Local Church Ministries teams – Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA), Congregational Assessment, Support and Advancement (CASA) and Church Building and Loan Fund (CBLF), consolidated with Justice and Witness – have been reimagining ministry in changing denominational, social, and political contexts, adding or changing positions, to as Blackmon said, "realign themselves with the voice of a Still Speaking God." JLCM has welcomed a minister for Congregational and Community Engagement, a program associate for Congregations of Color, a minister for Disability and Mental Health Justice, and a managing editor for Faith Forming Publications and the Pilgrim Press.
In the Office of Global Engagement and Operations, under Executive Minister the Rev. James Moos, there is a new Events Management Team. Led by Valerie Smith, this consolidates services and the organization of events within the church both large and small in one central location, with expertise and expected cost savings. An associate for event management and an additional program associate have been added to support this team.
Under Global Engagement, the Global Sharing of Resources team, led by the Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss, has been renamed Humanitarian and Development Ministries, a more descriptive title that defines the ministry, which also encompasses disaster recovery and refugee resettlement. It's a ministry that does more than just sharing resources around the world.
"Our local churches and the world in which we are called to live and serve are rapidly changing, and the National Setting of the United Church of Christ needs to be responsive to the shifting landscape," Moos said. "This means having a more nimble structure and offering the necessary support in mission critical areas. There are, for example, more refugees and displaced persons in the world than at any time in history. In order to better equip our churches and people to respond, we have increased our capacity in this area."
The Global Engagement and Operations team added a program associate for Disaster and Refugee Ministries, and a part-time communications specialist as part of that increased capacity. In addition, UCC Ecumenical Officer the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, and UCC staff archivist Ed Cade are now part of this ministry.
In the Office of General Minister and President, there have been shifts in the General Counsel's office, with the elimination of the roles of Associate General Counsel, and secretary, creating one paralegal position to support General Counsel Heather Kimmel.
Chief Strategy Officer Cheryl Williams now oversees the Center for Analytics Research and Data (CARD) and the Office of Philanthropy, Technology, Identity & Communications (OPTIC), which created one department with the merger of the Offices of Philanthropy and Stewardship and communications, formerly known as Publishing, Identity and Communications (PIC).
OPTIC works to advance the UCC's mission and brand by functioning as an integrated marketing, communications, and fund development operation. Under Director Cynthia Bailie, OPTIC will be implementing agreed upon strategies and goals for shaping the UCC's future and amplifying the UCC's voice, through news, public relations, and marketing, to deliver unified messages that are grounded in UCC denominational identity.
"We have maintained throughout a deep awareness of our need to serve as instruments serving and supporting the work of the local churches that make up the United Church of Christ," Dorhauer said. "As we live through this transition, we are completing an asset map of the services we currently provide in support to our churches; engaging the wider church in a survey to see how well we are doing in meeting the needs of our churches; trying hard to discern what we no longer have the capacity to do; and evaluating over and over again how our commitments to these transitions are or are not consistent with the priorities of the denomination and the needs of our churches."
The National Setting will continue to protect/establish the brand of the United Church of Christ, to ensure the church's collective narrative articulates the denomination's purpose, mission and vision that set it apart from our ecumenical and interfaith partners. It will also support the Local Church with resources for congregational vitality, leadership development, and curriculum development to enable commitments to build a just world for all. It will also enable networking, acting as the connector of congregations that will empower themselves to do the work of love and justice.
"Change is hard. But change is also necessary," said Blackmon. "Anything that does not change dies. I am exceedingly grateful that our ministries are vibrantly alive."
Here is the survey – Send us your feedback on the work of the new national setting.