Written by Barb Powell
The UCC's Parish Life and Leadership office (PLL) today (Jan. 11) was restructured into a new collaborative ministry with a central focus on resourcing and supporting authorized ministers in the United Church of Christ.
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of Local Church Ministries, announced the formation of the newly named Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization Ministry Team (MESA) to the UCC’s national and conference staffs.
The result of more than two years of conversations across the church, organizational plans for the new ministry team was vetted by several Conference Ministers, endorsed by the UCC's Collegium of Officers, and implemented after consultation with LCM Board Chair Carol Williams-Swoope, said Guess.
"MESA's central focus will be on the needs of authorized ministers, be they ordained, commissioned or licensed, during all aspects of a minister’s vocational life –– through discernment, preparation, authorization, placement, transitions, and retirement," Guess said. "In the similar way, the UCC's Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team (CVD) will place its central focus on the needs and concerns of congregations."
MESA will accomplish its mission through five newly-created positions, said the Rev. Holly MillerShank, minister and team leader.
• The Minister for Members in Discernment will concentrate on those exploring a call to authorized ministry in the UCC.
• The Minister for Ministers in Local Churches will focus on continuing education, sharpened skills, and strengthening covenants of mutual accountability between authorized ministers, local churches, associations and conferences.
• The Minister for Chaplains and Specialized Ministers will support and resource those called to serve the church in specialized ministry, including military, college, hospital/hospice, and prison chaplaincy.
• The Minister for Ministers in Transition will assess trends in leadership transition and resource authorized ministers as they move between calls, as interims or during their transition into retirement.
• Relating to all these will be the Minister for Committee on Ministry Resources and Conference Support, tasked with creation of resources (including Manual on Ministry revisions), regional/national events, training materials for Committees on Ministry, and supporting the work of conference staff as they work with COMs and authorized ministers.
As a result of the new plan, five PLL staff member were notified that their positions have been eliminated. All five will be offered severance packages, and each will have the opportunity to apply for one of the new positions, or other open positions within the UCC.
"We do not anticipate any delays in profile or employment opportunities processing as a result of this restructure," said MillerShank.
The new positions are open to all. Interested persons are encouraged to apply.
The move toward the new direction was hastened by several factors, including the economic realities forcing many UCC conference staff to work with fewer persons over large geographic regions, said MillerShank. Changes in the UCC's ministerial authorization process also was a factor, she said.
"The transition into unified governance at the national setting of the United Church of Christ encourages new models of collaboration and integration that were not possible a decade ago," said MillerShank.
To that end, MESA team members will work closely with other ministries of the national settings, as well as with conference staffs, Committees on Ministry and other UCC ministries to more fully support authorized ministers and members in discernment, MillerShank said.
Several ministries that were part of PLL now will be housed in other parts of the national setting:
• The scholarships/grants portfolio will be administered and supervised within the Office of General Ministries, although funded by Local Church Ministries.
• The staff liaison role with UCC Disabilities Ministries will move to Justice and Witness Ministries, yet with continued financial support from Local Church Ministries.
• Responsibility for resourcing and responding to inquiries about local church governance and structure and lay leadership development will move to Congregational Vitality and Discipleship.
• Fulfillment of orders for various ordination/anniversary certificates will move to UCC Resources in Berea, Ohio.
In notifying national staff, Guess said, "This has been a difficult, laborious decision, and I regret the angst that this change represents for several of our cherished colleagues and friends. However, we do feel this is the fairest way to ensure a transparent transition to this new model of staffing. Your prayers and support are requested for all of those impacted."