Whether they are responding to COVID-19 or taking action against racism, this is a year of innovation for people across the United Church of Christ. Now the leaders of the UCC’s 36 Conferences are piloting a series of webinars to share what congregations are learning in this time of change.
Promoted via Conference websites and e-newsletters, the webinars are designed to help churches and members discover, together, “new ways of being God’s presence in the world,” said the Rev. Don Remick, a bridge Conference minister in the Southern New England Conference. He belongs to a task group of the Council of Conference Ministers working on the webinars.
“Phasing Forward” was the topic of the first webinar, led by Remick on July 1, with a panel discussing approaches to deciding when and how to return to in-person worship. It was recorded and can be viewed at this Zoom link or by clicking on the image at right. Future webinars, like the first, will feature three to five panelists from around the UCC. The schedule so far is as follows, with these members of the Council of Conference Ministers as hosts:
- Thursday, July 9, at 3 p.m. EDT: “Holding Congregational Meetings Online.” Host: the Rev. Bonnie Bates, Penn Northeast Conference.
- Wednesday, July 15, at 3 p.m. EDT: “Bridging the Cultural Divide.” Host: the Rev. Marc Stewart, Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference.
- Wednesday, July 22, at 3 p.m. EDT: “Racism and While Privilege.” Host: the Rev. Shana Johnson, Illinois South Conference.
- Wednesday, Aug. 12, at 3 p.m. EDT: “Digital Social Justice and Missions.” Host: the Rev. Ginny Brown Daniel, Missouri Mid-South Conference.
People interested in tuning in can visit each host’s Conference website or Facebook page. All Conferences are also being encouraged to promote the entire series via their social media and e-newsletters. Each webinar will be recorded and eventually made available online, and more may be added as the Conference ministers assess the series.
Diverse viewpoints, approaches
The hour-long opening webinar on “Phasing Forward” featured lay leaders and pastors of some churches that have not yet returned to in-person worship, some that have, some that soon will and one that won’t till next year. Discussing their decision-making processes and such factors as singing, communion, Bible study and children’s programs were people from Lakewood (Ohio) Congregational UCC; Emmanuel UCC, Sebring, Fla.; Quentin (Pa.) UCC; United Congregational Church, UCC, Middletown, R.I.; and Evangelical Reformed UCC, Frederick, Md.
“What I greatly appreciate about this experimental project is it shows the creativity and collaboration which has arisen in this moment,” Johnson said. “It started organically from a conversation about how we as Conference ministers might come together to support our pastors and churches. Offering these webinars on different topics with panelists through the UCC seemed like a good first step in resourcing our churches.”
“This is an extraordinary time,” Remick said in an online description of the first webinar. “The COVID pandemic has profoundly reshaped our lives, our world and our ministries, … and we are learning, surviving, adapting, creating. … And as we were just beginning to learn how to accommodate to the pandemic, the killing of George Floyd triggered a renewed emergence of the cry to unmask, dismantle, oppose and eradicate racism in all its forms.”
‘Be inspired, warned and guided’
Remick said Conference ministers from across the UCC “realized that there is a lot of experimentation and innovation happening in our churches across this country for a time such as this.”
“And, as is the case with such things, some are brilliant, some we won’t have to try again,” he said. “There is a saying: ‘there is no failure, only feedback.’ ... There is wisdom and experience out there among our churches, clergy and laity that is worth amplifying. Panelists will share what they did, how they decided to do it and what they learned. You’ll have the unique opportunity to be inspired, warned, and guided. You’ll have ideas to bring back and modify, adapt or use as is.
“This is an extraordinary time for the communities of faith to discover new ways of being God’s presence in the world.”