It's a journey in uncharted waters for the United Church of Christ's new board of directors, which just wrapped up its first business session together at the denomination's national headquarters in Cleveland. The UCCB's 52 members spent three days becoming acclimated to the work of the national offices, and learning about each other. As a group living into a new governance structure, the unified board is looking forward to help lead the denomination into the future with a spirit of devotion and cooperation.
"I sense a feeling of genuine enthusiasm and commitment to the entire church that was sometimes lacking under the old structure because we were frequently asked to see just part of the church's work," said the Rev. Ron Patterson, a returning board member and pastor from Naples, Fla. "This is a fuller vision of the whole work of the church, and that all of our mission includes a concentration on justice, an interest in preserving what's best about who we are as God's people."
The UCCB, which met from Oct. 9-12, left the fall business session with several of the board members expressing enthusiasm about the collaborative effort of the work the group is involved with.
"I would encourage [board members] to communicate our enthusiasm for what we are doing here when we return home," said the Rev. Kim Wood, a new board member and pastor from Ottawa, Ill. "I want us to be enthusiastic about what we are doing."
The 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 in July following the final plenary session of General Synod 2013.
Heading into the weekend, and again during the first business session on Thursday, Oct. 9, board chair the Rev. Bernard R. Wilson expressed his goal of being as transparent as possible with the church's activities. He echoed that sentiment, and what he wants the board to accomplish in the next biennium, during his remarks.
"It is a delight to address you as chair of this United Church of Christ Board," Wilson said Thursday night. "We have come a long way to be here friends. Each of you has been called to this board with very particular strengths, gifts, and diversities that amplify our service for the whole United Church of Christ."
The major topic for discussion and deliberation involved the 2014 budget for the UCC national offices. The UCCB approved $25.3 million in expenses, a figure that leaves a $2.3 million shortfall for the 2014 fiscal year. The national officers said, in their commitment to being as transparent as possible, they would invite national staff for a discussion on Oct. 15 to share thoughts and ideas on how to proceed.
"Much has changed since [the last restructure of the church in 2000] across our settings, and in the economic, cultural and environmental context of our increasingly global and too often polarized society," Wilson said.
"My charge is twofold: First to achieve sustainability in fiscal issues and second to achieve solid relationships between board and executives," Wilson continued. "I charge us as a board, together, with developing strong and good working relationships with our Collegium as we live into, and define, the new model that the governance work brings us."
There are already two UCCB meetings scheduled for the 2014 calendar year. The first is from March 13 through March 15, and the second is from Oct. 16 through Oct. 18 – both of which are in Cleveland.