The four national officers of the United Church of Christ are joining conference ministers from all 38 conferences of the UCC to explore a shared vision for the church in times of economic austerity. Together, for three days from Feb. 24 through 26 in Orlando, Fla., they’ll discuss ways the national setting of the church and conferences can collaborate to fund that vision of the future for the UCC.
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president of the UCC, believes the dialogue between the national officers and conference leaders can produce wisdom and insight to benefit all members of the church.
"This retreat is about our work toward our shared goal of being a vital church engaged in 21st Century ministry and mission," Black said. "I hope that our time together will be a prayerful time — a time of deep listening and authentic sharing to enhance our ability to reach that goal."
The four officers — Black, the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, the Rev. James A. Moos, executive minister of Wider Church Ministries, and the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of Local Church Ministries — are working together to address $2.3 million in cuts for the 2014 budget.
"This retreat will be an important opportunity for conference ministers and national officers to strengthen our collaboration and planning, especially around the essential functions of each of our settings and the well-being of the whole church," said Guess. "I am hoping this might be a culture-changing conversation that leads to new ways of working together."
The Rev. Kent Siladi, who chairs the council and is conference minister for the Connecticut Conference, welcomes prayers from the whole church as the leaders gather in Florida. "We seek the Spirit's presence and leading as we confer and consult with each other around the blessings and challenges we face," he said. "We recognize this is a time of great urgency and we will, with care, find ways to communicate with the church the essence of our work together."
In addition to the officers of the church and the 38 conference ministers, two organizational consultants have been invited to attend the retreat. Joyce Dudley and Cari Jackson, of Dudley Hamilton Associates, will gather data and information during the meeting, and facilitate some parts of the conversations on how the conferences and the national setting can work together more efficiently. Dudley and Jackson’s work covers four areas: a vision process, financial analysis, national office operations and implementation. At the upcoming United Church of Christ Board Meeting (March 13-15 in Cleveland), the board will be presented a draft vision plan and preliminary financial analysis from the consultants for review.
During the last UCCB meeting in October, the board approved a financial stability plan created by the UCC national leadership, part of which included this consultation with the conference ministers to seek new ways to creatively work together.
Jaramillo looks forward to the gathering as the officers and conference ministers "explore opportunities for working toward a common vision for the United Church of Christ, which are limitless and guided by our ability to imagine together," she said. "This retreat is a special time in the life of the church as it is unfolding in today’s cultural reality within our congregations and beyond into the world that we are called to serve. I am confident that God’s Holy Spirit will be in the mix of our prayers, conversations, and connections."
"Both the Collegium and Conference Ministers are committed to deep collaboration as we discern God's new callings across the life of the church," said Moos.