United Church of Christ

March 2020

Dear Committee on Ministry Members,

Many of you find yourselves in a destabilizing time right now, with pressing work before you, increased responsibilities (and steep learning curves for many) in other arenas of life, and concern about the health and safety of so many. MESA offers these guidelines to Committees on Ministry to meet the continuing needs of the wider church in this moment. This resource will be updated as needed; you can find the most current version here.

First of all, and perhaps most critically: consider suspending your work temporarily, notifying appropriate stakeholders as soon as possible. The work of a Committee on Ministry is important, and often urgent, but in a crisis, even urgent things may need to be lain aside briefly. Second of all, check your bylaws, policies, and procedures to confirm that it is permissible to hold meetings electronically, consulting with state law as applicable; if needed, make the necessary amendments so that your groups can hold electronic meetings.

1. Committee on Ministry Meetings
         a. It is okay to temporarily suspend the work of a Committee
         on Ministry for a few weeks. Everyone serving is a volunteer
         and many have suddenly increased responsibilities that may
         need their priority in these first few weeks. COMs that choose
         this should reach out to those who were scheduled to meet with
         them to let them know their meeting will be rescheduled at the
         earliest possible date.

         b. If a COM decides to continue meeting, wherever possible,
         those meetings should be held via Zoom, Skype, conference
         call, or other electronic medium. (Please check policies and
         procedures to ensure that meetings can be held this way.) For
         now, MESA recommends suspending and postponing any in-
         person meeting until at least mid-April, and maintaining social
         distancing practices of at least 6 feet and no more than 10
         people gathered at a time if a COM simply HAS to meet in
         person during this time.

         c. MESA recommends NOT recording COM meetings if using
         technology, given the sensitive and confidential information
         shared in these meetings.

2. Fitness Reviews in process

         a. MESA has received several questions about Fitness Review
         processes. Our guidance for Fitness Reviews already in process
         includes several options. The first is that all work of a
         Committee on Ministry can be suspended for a month, including
         Fitness Reviews currently in process. That said, Fitness Reviews
         should not be delayed any longer than absolutely necessary.

         b. Interviews with the person raising the concern and any other
         individuals with relevant first hand information to share can be
         done over Zoom or other video technology. These interviews
         should NOT be done in person at this time. MESA recommends
         NOT recording these interviews, given the sensitive and
         confidential nature and consistent with current practices.

         c. While not ideal, interview summaries can be sent
         electronically or through the mail for review and signature
         before being mailed back to the Committee on Ministry.

         d. Interviews with the Minister in Question are more
         challenging. The Minister in Question has the right to read - but
         not retain - any copies of all interview summaries collected, so
         email is not an option for this situation. It is possible for
         Interview Teams to read the interview summaries to the MIQ at
         the time of the interview and permit the MIQ to take notes on
         those summaries.

         e. Adjudication meetings can be done electronically, or
         postponed briefly.

         f. Programs of growth that are currently in process may take
         some additional time to complete, and grace should be
         extended when good faith efforts to engage the process are
         being made to make progress on goals.

3. Fitness Reviews where a concern has just come to the
    COM’s attention
have their own challenges. It is recommended
    that a Committee on Ministry meet electronically to consider the
    redacted case. If the COM votes to begin a Fitness Review,   
    notification via telephone and mail are appropriate, with a note to
    indicate that interviews will proceed via technology (or in person
    when it is safe to do so).

4. Care for ministers in specialized settings - While most
    conferences and COMs have rightly directed considerable energy
    reaching out to local church pastors as they have triaged decisions
    about worship, funerals, and other events within the church
    building, it is important for COMs and conferences to check in with
    their ministers serving in specialized settings. Hospital, school,
    university, and military chaplains are under particular stress and
    as usual, depending on their contexts. A pastoral call or personal
    email from the COM is appropriate to discern the care needs of
    these ministers, with appropriate follow up as necessary (and
    possible).

5. Care for Members in Discernment - This is a disorienting time
    for many Members in Discernment, and a pastoral call or personal
    email from the COM sharing care and concern for MIDs would be
    welcomed. If COM meetings are going to be postponed, informing
    MIDs in a timely manner is important - and if there are upcoming
    deadlines for materials to be shared by the MID, consider
    extending them.

Know that the MESA team continues to stand ready to support your vital work in this destabilizing time. You are in our prayers, and we are grateful to you for all that you are doing in this time. Thank you for your continued faithfulness.

In peace,
The MESA Team

Some additional updates from MESA:
All work-related travel by the national setting has been halted until at least the end of April, and effective no later than tomorrow, March 20, 2020, the national setting will be working remotely until further notice. We are still working, however, and emails and calls will still reach us.

MESA’s administrative support has shifted slightly. Ms. Kathleen Sattler now serves as our Denominational Endorsement Secretary and Assistant to the Team Leader, and works three days a week (typically Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday). Effective March 16, 2020, MESA welcomed the Rev. Anissa Glaser-Bacon as a part-ime Program Assistant for the MESA Team, providing support in general administrative needs two days a week (generally Monday and Wednesday). Anissa’s email address is Glaser-Bacona@ucc.org and her office number is 216.736.3881.

The Member in Discernment Event, scheduled for June 18-19, 2020 has been cancelled. The uncertainty about whether it will be safe to travel by mid-June has forced this change. We do anticipate a gathering on October 14-15, 2021 in Cleveland, and in the meantime, the Rev. Dr. Renee Jackson, Minister for Ministerial Formation, is working on some strategies to connect MIDs across the denomination.


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