Written by J. Bennett Guess
'There is evidence that greater cooperation is taking place between the Covenanted Ministries and the Conferences.'—the Rev. Nancy Taylor Mass. Conference Minister
Many say 'Covenanted Ministries' need more 'covenant'
The UCC's national restructure—implemented in July 2000—has yet to yield anticipated levels of "coordination, strategic planning and visioning" among the UCC's Covenanted Ministries, according to preliminary findings of the Restructure Evaluation Oversight Committee.
In its interim report to the Covenanted Ministries' boards of directors, meeting April 22-25 in Atlanta, the seven-member committee said "early returns" indicate widespread support for the restructure in theory but most respondents feel that the UCC's hope of creating a truly united, covenanted national setting has not been realized.
"There were more negative comments about the hope that in the new structure there would be coordination of the Covenanted Ministries, strategic planning and visioning as a national setting than any other area of evaluation," said the Rev. Nancy Taylor, Massachusetts Conference Minister, who presented the committee's document.
"Most participants who addressed this issue believe there has been a failure in this regard and the verbatim comments indicate that there is enormous frustration and disappointment that this has not happened," said Taylor.
The in-depth evaluation—conducted by an independent, professional interviewing firm—relied upon personal/group interviews and written responses involving more than 500 church leaders and constituents, including agency executives, national staff, board members, seminary presidents, historically under-represented groups, Conference and Association personnel, among others. About half of the transcriptions have been completed to date, and a final report is expected in October.
Nearly ten years in the making, the 2000 restructure collapsed 12 autonomous units into four Covenanted Ministries (Local Church Ministries, Wider Church Ministries, Justice and Witness Ministries, and the Office of General Ministries), one Associated Ministry (United Church Foundation), and one Affiliated Ministry (The Pension Boards).
Using an election-night metaphor, Taylor emphasized that the interim report provides "early returns" only.
"Certain precincts, with particular personalities and perspectives, have reported in so far," she said. "When all the returns are in and everything has been tallied, it is possible that these general/emerging themes will change."
First, the good news
The committee reported that, "in spite of structure," many national staff are working across Covenanted Ministry lines to form "tables" of concern on issues important to the church's life and ministry. Financial reporting has been streamlined, and national entities now share uniform personnel policies.
Many reported that the national setting was living out the UCC's commitment to being multi-racial, multicultural, open and affirming, and accessible to all—and the staff's diverse composition reflects this goal.
"There is also greater evidence that greater cooperation is taking place between the Covenanted Ministries and the Conferences," Taylor said, "and the UCC's strong commitment to ecumenical partner- ships have also continued in the new structure, although financial issues are a concern."
Now, the bad news
The model of consensus leadership among the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers is considered "inefficient and time-consuming."
Although respondents generally held the UCC's five officers in high regard as persons, the Collegium model was cited again and again as a disappointment. Similarly, many expressed frustration that the Office of General Minister and President had been weakened by the Collegium's shared leadership model, instead of strengthened as many felt the UCC's constitutional change had intended.
"It is important to emphasize that respondents do not blame the individual members of the Collegium," Taylor said. "Rather, it is the Ômodel' of the Collegium that is perceived to be at fault." She said Collegium members are asked to serve "two masters"—their respective Covenanted Ministry board of directors and the whole Church. "[This] interferes with their ability to craft a common vision and action plan for the church," she said.
"Many believe the structure of four autonomous, incorporated bodies makes such coordination virtually impossible, and where it has occurred, many respondents believe it has been due to the initiative of individuals É in spite of structure," Taylor said.
Moreover, the newly-created Mission Planning Council—which was created to coordinate, strategize and prioritize national mission programs—was viewed to be "an absolute failure."
A mixed bag
Other early findings of the Restructure Evaluation Oversight Committee include the following:
"The assessment of connections between local churches and the Covenanted Ministries is far more mixed" with some perceiving "greater cooperation" and "many believing there has been no change in these relationships."
The Still Speaking Initiative is involving the whole church, but is relying too heavily on a handful of individuals.
Staff redundancy, an issue that has been addressed to some degree, is still a concern, while others feel that new staff positions are needed to meet emerging programs and priorities.