With the goal of moving the church forward together, and the intention to be more transparent as an organization, the new United Church of Christ Board of Directors gathers for its first full meeting this week, Oct. 9-12, at UCC headquarters in Cleveland. During their three-plus days together, board members will form the foundations for their working relationship, while inviting the national leaders and members in the denomination to be part of that public process.
"I think transparency is not just an issue for the UCCB, it is an issue for our church and society," said the Rev. Bernard Wilson, the UCCB chairperson. "I come from a perspective that we are a public organization. Almost everything we do as a nonprofit organization is open to the public – with a few exceptions [such as personnel matters]. Our challenge is to share all, so that our members know who we are and what we're doing on their behalf and in their name. To that end, we will put all documents on the church's web site – again without compromising necessary confidentiality – so that members of the church will know what we are doing, and can make input if they choose."
Wilson worked with UCC national staff to create a webpage on ucc.org that lists the members of the board, as well as the agendas for both upcoming board and committee meetings.
The 52-member board governs the office of the UCC general minister and president, and each of the UCC’s three covenanted ministries, which previously had their own individual boards. The new board of directors first assembled following the final plenary session of General Synod 2013 in July, selecting Wilson as the chairperson, and Dale Bonds as vice-chairperson.
Asked what he and the new board hope to accomplish together, Wilson had several thoughts about his expectations for this upcoming meeting and the future of the denomination.
"I think the first is to impress upon this board the importance of serving the whole," Wilson said. "I want to challenge the UCCB to move beyond representation and look at what's best for the whole church. We do not sit on the UCCB representing any particular group. We are all charged with serving the interest of the whole church.
"Second, the board recognizes we are doing a new thing and therefore we are setting a standard and setting precedents for what is to come," Wilson continued. "I want to set a standard for a healthy relationship between the board and [church] executives, and cultivate generative leadership on the board as we move forward into the future God has in store for us. And third, I want the board members to feel blessed and fed by the work we do. We are, after all, doing God's work."
The biggest item the new board will be tackling at this first meeting will likely be voting on budgets for the upcoming year for the national covenanted ministries.
"I see as our biggest immediate challenge the fiscal health and sustainability of our financial platform for the missional ministry we are called to as a church," Wilson said. "We are now working on closing a $2.4 million debt, and this board is already committed to doing so in cooperation with our national executives. We will accomplish this in a transparent way while respecting issues of confidentiality."
Wilson said that the UCC’s current Bold Inspirational Goals — a bold public voice, reachable and welcoming congregations, engaged discipleship among the members, and excellent diverse leadership — are setting the right direction for the church. Wilson chaired the Unified Governance Task Force that crafted and negotiated the revised board structure that took effect at the conclusion of General Synod 2013. He previously was a chaplain in the U.S. Navy, and is the senior pastor at Norfield Congregational UCC in Weston, Conn.