Commentary: A ‘New Thing’ for the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference of the UCC
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? (Isaiah 43:19)
Those who know me know I am generally not the person who goes around quoting scripture! But God doing a new thing is an apt image as I think of the recent actions of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference Council regarding the conference office building. At the recommendation of the Finance and Asset Commission, the Conference Council voted unanimously to give the conference office to Pilgrim Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Wichita, Kan., to support their continuing ministry in the community. Give the building away, why? Here’s the background:
In 1982, leaders at the annual meeting approved a proposal calling for the construction of a conference office. The property identified for this purpose was at 1245 Fabrique Street in Wichita and was part of the original campus of Pilgrim Church when it was started in the early 1950s. The office was built and was dedicated in on May 3, 1987.
At the time, the staffing of the conference included a full-time conference minister, a full-time and a part-time associate conference minister, two full-time administrative staff members, plus the staff at the Camp. The building worked quite well; it was the hub for a fairly busy office with all-church mailings, a resource center, meetings of many committee bodies and the Conference Council. The building supported the ministry of the conference.
Life has changed at the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference: a solo conference minister, no other full- or part-time staff. Many people have neither the time nor the inclination to drive 4-6 hours for a meeting that lasts at the most five hours when technology can be used to accomplish the needed work, saving both time and dollars. All-church mailings are a thing of the past, as electronic communication saves dollars and trees. The building that supported ministry throughout the conference is no longer serving the conference well and, in fact, is not a good use of the dollars entrusted to us for ministry.
Given this reality, in January 2014, the Finance and Asset Commission and the Conference Council moved to sell the building, and it has been on the market. There has been minimal traffic and interest – realtors tell us it is not the price, but the few parties who have looked at the building were concerned about the size (too small) the parking (too little) and easily found other options. A huge concern is the zoning, as any business other than a church-related ministry would have to go through a rezoning process, which could be costly and meet resistance in the neighborhood. Even with this knowledge, the building remained on the market with the expectation that at some point, it would sell.
But then the New Beginnings work began in 14 of our congregations, including Pilgrim, and in a serendipitous conversation, the use for the building became very clear. Through the conversations in New Beginnings, a UCC program to help congregations discern, discover and decide on a new mission, Pilgrim has renewed its commitment to ministry in the community and the conference office can be used in any number of ways to support that ministry. Maybe an expansion of the food pantry, a place for those who need assistance to find clothing, perhaps some educational offering in the community, maybe working with the elementary school for some support – who knows what other dreams and ideas might be realized as Pilgrim thinks more about using the space for ministry in the community in new, exciting ways.
I have been one of those who has constantly beat the drum of being open to the future, to not only accepting but embracing a new future. I wonder why that what now seems an obvious use of the building didn’t occur to me. I was focused on what we usually do – a building not being used? Sell it and use the dollars to support the work of the conference. But isn’t “the work of the conference” to support and enable the ministry of our local congregations? Isn’t Pilgrim’s ministry “our ministry?” Isn’t the ministry done in all of our congregations on behalf of us all? Here is an opportunity to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. And it’s really a bonus that Pilgrim gave the property to the conference when it was needed for ministry and now the conference can give the building to Pilgrim when it too is needed for ministry.
We can bemoan the changes in the church and maybe even grieve the loss of something – or in this case someplace – that served us well. We can see it as downsizing because of the challenging financial realities. Maybe all of that is true. But we can also celebrate the many ways that this place served as a place of ministry, and look forward to how this place will continue to touch and transform lives in ways we never imagined in 1987.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
Edith Guffey is conference minister of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference of the UCC.
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