Honoring the past, starting anew
Reflections from some current UCC national staff members not continuing in the new structure.
By Robert D. Witham
Executive Coordinator for Structural Transition
For the past four years I've been coordinating the restructure of the UCC's national organization. Affirmed by General Synod 20 in 1995, the restructure plan called for four new and two continuing, yet related, structural bodies to work together as covenant partners. Now, on July 1, this new structure will be launched.
The question most often posed to me is this: Will it work? Only through living in the new forms will we know. However, as one intimately involved in the complex shaping to bring together proud and historic entities in ways that will both honor their past yet release their future, I am willing to risk a qualified "yes" to the question.
Structures are simply forms to be filled with the energy, behavior, and plans which spirit-filled leadership brings to them. The future is ultimately shaped by those whom we choose to occupy those seats. I believe that the delicate balances among the four new structures allow and encourage our leaders to link arms to enhance the tasks of the individual parts while also complementing the whole.
I am encouraged that the five officers and the members of the governing bodies elected at the last General Synod are intentionally working together while preserving a rigor for their particular responsibilities. I am encouraged by the commitment to empowering different settings of the UCC to be active around the tables of the national setting, with the presence of historically under-represented constituencies and every conference on every national board.
I am encouraged that as staff are named to new positions they exhibit an excitement and investment when asked to "go the extra mile" in the final shaping of plans for the new.
I am encouraged that the work done in the national setting will press other settings of the United Church of Christ to look at their own structures and how they can relate to other settings in more productive and faithful ways.
In the final analysis, the goal of any structures must be to enable our faithfulness to God's mission. Truman Douglas, the first Executive Vice President of what is now the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, said at the dawning of the United Church of Christ in 1957: Our great hope in this union is not that we and our churches shall be confirmed and established in our ways, but that we shall be shaken and thrust out into new ways ... not mainly that our history and traditions shall be preserved and perpetuated but that by God's mercy we and our churches may be made "a new creation first for the service of his will and purpose in our day."
Ultimately the question is whether what we build and how we engage will be energizing for that ongoing new creation. For me, the signs are good.
The Rev. Robert D. Witham has served the church in local, conference and national settings. He will retire on Oct. 31.
By Félix Carrión
Office for Church in Society, Commission for Racial Justice
When I first went away to college, and later to seminary, I had not anticipated how much I would come to love the art of being a student, but I did. Now, after 10 years in the United Church of Christ national setting, I have decided to pursue further academic studies. But I leave with deep gratitude for service with the United Church of Christ.
My gratefulness begins with the opportunity I was given to have served in three instrumentalities of the departing structure: the Office for Church Life and Leadership my first four years, and then the Office for Church in Society and the Commission for Racial Justice together. I know very well that in each instrumentality I was a part of a company of gifted and committed leaders who have served the church with devotion and courage. Indeed, the powerful mandates of these agencies have helped transform the church, the world, and me.
My gratefulness continues with the opportunity to have been surrounded and supported by a community of faith of African Americans, European Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and Latinas, Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans. This has been my "daily bread" and my Pentecost. In prayer, I give thanks for how they enriched my life and witness.
When I joined the Office for Church in Society and the Commission for Racial Justice, I did not know I would have the honor to staff the 19th General Synod pronouncement, "Calling the UCC to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church." I could not believe I was being given this task. Yet, this wonderful vision of diversity, of worship, of justice, of peace, of education, of transformation, of growth, of witness, of mission, informed and inspired my partnerships with our churches and conferences. To have been a spokesperson and organizer of this unity for all races and cultures makes my heart glad.
The joy is that all this continues in the United Church of Christ, for at heart, the legacy and relationships of the departing structure are being born anew in the new structure and in us all. The new structure will bring more than portfolios together; it will bring people together to partake of life and ministry together through shared service in Christ. Let us continue to partake of this bread!
The Rev. Félix Carrión will remain in the Cleveland area as a consultant while pursuing a Ph.D. program.
By Dorothy Lester
Office for Church Life and Leadership
In 1974, I accompanied my mother, Emily Lester, to meetings of the UCC Council for Lay Life and Work (CLLW) in New York City. Each time we went to the Belmont Plaza Hotel, we found a new sign at the dining room: the dining room was closed; reopened under new management; had a new name; offered a new menu. But the coffee shop was always open, and it never changed.
In that hotel in June 1974, we celebrated the close of CLLW, an innovative attempt at combining lay men's work and women's work. On July 1, 1974, the Office for Church Life and Leadership (OCLL) began, incorporating the work of CLLW, the Council for Church and Ministry and three commissions.
The chemotheraphy that had weakened Mother so that she needed a traveling companion failed, and in the fall of 1975, Mother died. She had begun work 15 years earlier for the National Fellowship of Congregational Christian Women. She had been on the Joint Negotiations Committee set up in 1956 with representatives from the men's and women's organizations going into the UCC that established CLLW. She was the only person who served the full life of that organization (1963-1974), and she served on the OCLL staff until her death. Emily Lester had been part of the changing dining room of the denomination's national organizations, and she grew with each change.
On my first trip to NYC following Mother's death, I was stunned to find the hotel coffee shop closed. My first thought was, "Wait 'til Mother hears this!"
During the 25 years I have served in OCLL, various parts of the national organization have been in flux, but we counted on the overall structure to remain the same, with established and recognized instrumentalities clearly delineated. On July 1, 2000, new UCC Constitution and Bylaws provisions offer us covenanted ministries, a collegium, and teams replacing the structure we've counted on.
It's time for the coffee shop to close, a new table to be offered, and us to grow through those changes. Wait 'til Mother hears this!
Dorothy M. Lester is completing 40 years of Lester laywomen's service in the national setting of the UCC. She and her husband, the Rev. Bob Alpers, will move to Lana'i City, Hawaii, in September.
By Arthur Charles Finmann
United Church Board for World Ministries
June of 2000
In the mystery of Time,
There is a pause.
Many moments crowd our minds
As we think back with fondness,
And forward with faith.
Change comes, at once slowly and quickly.
And as the clock ticks,
We find ourselves in the present!
And the future is now!
Memory moves us forward through our past.
When we win the race of life,
We find ourselves at the starting line.
And our endings are beginnings.
Arthur Charles Finmann wrote this on the occasion of the last Staff Appreciation Day Luncheon before the closing of the New York office of the United Church Board for World Ministries. He has been a World Board support staff member for more than 20 years and will not be moving to Cleveland.