Good things can happen when people come together. That's what several United Church of Christ Conferences, in two regions of the country are working toward as they look for ways to combine their talents and resources for a common good. Conferences in the south and the southwest have discussed the possibilities of sharing staff and teaming together to increase the awareness of the UCC and its churches in those regions.
Four conferences in the south are already working to make the UCC brand and values a priority in that part of the country, and up to eight conferences in the southwest are continuing conversations in the near future with that goal in mind.
"We meet once a year, and we set aside some time to talk about shared resources," Southwest Conference Minister the Rev. John C. Dorhauer said. "It's still informal — there's no board representation from any of the conferences — but we were exploring the possibility."
And just how can the conferences share resources effectively? For example, if one conference has a part-time webmaster, that person's talents could be used by another conference in need of web services, especially since that type of work can be done remotely and doesn't require travel. Another example includes one conference's part-time accountant picking up more hours doing similar work for another conference.
The key to making such an arrangement work, Dorhauer says, is dialogue between the conferences to minimize the costs and maximize their resources. "The critical piece is communication strategy," he adds.
"We all realize for this to be less informal [our boards] have to buy in, and the boards won't make that commitment unless they have the logistical pieces in place – what's the cost, and how do we maintain accountability of someone in Idaho when we're in Phoenix," Dorhauer said.
The west-coast conferences first discussed the idea almost a year ago, bringing together leaders from the Northern California-Nevada, Southern California-Nevada, Pacific Northwest and Southwest conferences for informal conversation to explore potential possibilities. A much larger conversation took place at a regional gathering mid-November in San Francisco. Conference ministers from the first discussion were joined by ministers from the Rocky Mountain, Montana-Northern Wyoming, Central Pacific and Hawaii conferences (though because of a two- to three-hour time zone difference, Hawaii may not be practical). The conferences were specific about forming a committee for fitness review in the western region.
Next week at Authorizing Ministry in the 21st Century event in New Orleans, the western conferences will sit down and try to define the first formal steps for working together in certain areas, and if needed will speak with their boards about the needs for resources in accounting or communications.
"The southern region is further along [than we are in this process]," Dorhauer said. "We're utilizing some of their documents they have to guide us."
In early November, the four UCC conferences in the south – the Southern, South Central, Southeast and Florida Conferences -- met in Orlando, bringing together leaders from the conference boards and national staff to brainstorm new ways of cooperation and collaboration. Among the topics the group discussed: the possibilities of sharing staff, technology, new church development and congregational vitality, ministerial topics (such as search and call, and authorization) online learning and financial development.
"It was a very full plate," Florida Conference Minister the Rev. Kent Siladi said.
The region has already created a new Facebook page, The UCC in the South, and the conferences will be bringing a proposal to their respective boards to move forward, and developing a process for an ongoing conversation among the key principles from that meeting.
"We also know that technology is key, and so we will search for resources and ‘best minds' to help us achieve our goals," Siladi added.