Report to the church from the United Church of Christ Board, October 2022
The Rev. Cameron Barr, chair of the United Church of Christ Board, has issued the following report on the board’s recent meeting. He is senior pastor of United Church of Chapel Hill, a bilingual and multicultural UCC congregation in North Carolina.
To all members of the Body of Christ:
The United Church of Christ Board met over Zoom for its fall business meeting on Oct. 21, 2022. The board’s vice-chair, Julia Gaughan, served as chair and convener of the meeting. The Rev. Shernell Edney-Stilley, the board’s chaplain, led us in worship.
The board took note of the successful move of the UCC national staff into the AECOM building, not just because an adequate workspace is needed but also because our investment in this space seems to be moving forward a dramatic shift in culture on our staff that is recognized as a longstanding need. The Rev. John Dorhauer’s vision for “one staff” functioning through collaborative and intersectional means regardless of title or position is coming to fruition in our new space. We recognize the many individuals and teams that have contributed to this major project and shift in culture, especially the leadership provided by the Rev. Traci Blackmon and the staff design team that attended to the many details of building out a new space that will be an inspiring place for the staff to work and for the church to meet.
Another major note of celebration included the board’s unanimous decision to act on the recommendation of the Associate General Minister Renomination Committee to forward the Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson’s reelection to her position at General Synod next summer. Said Julia Gaughan, chair of the renomination committee: “Rev. Thompson’s work demonstrates how we live into ecumenism and interfaith acceptance as a church body while simultaneously caring deeply for individual souls. And, how we do this as people of the 21st Century, through the experience of a global pandemic. It is an incredible honor to have her as a leader in our denomination, and a joy to recommend her renomination.”
The board voted to recommend changes to the Bylaws of the United Church of Christ that, if approved by the 2023 General Synod, would result in a change in the Synod’s frequency: After 2025, the Synod would meet every three years instead of biennially. The frequency of General Synod has been a subject of discussion for many years because of the significant cost associated with the event and a growing perception that our conventional ways of gathering as a church are no longer meeting our spiritual needs. While this subject has arisen on numerous occasions in the past, the pandemic experience has convinced us that new possibilities are emerging. The greatest hurdle was not reaching agreement that this was the right path forward — board members and the Council of Conference Members were all in general agreement that now is the time to seek a new rhythm and pattern for our national meetings. But the devil was in the details. What would this mean for terms of service? How would this affect the resolution process? What unexpected consequences should we think about?
The General Synod Frequency Task Force led by former board chair Yvette Wynn and the board’s Governance Committee led by Marsha Williams worked closely with General Counsel Heather Kimmel to find the right solutions to these questions. In the end, there seems to be universal agreement that the hurdles to a new pattern of General Synod meetings can be overcome. We hope that the General Synod will prayerful consider this proposal next summer. It reflects prayerful and painstaking work, and we truly believe it’s in service to our mission to gather as the Body of Christ. More about these proposed bylaw changes can be found here.
The board also undertook routine business normal to a fall season preceding General Synod. We approved the General Synod budget, appointed committees and teams to participate in Synod process, and received other details from the General Synod Administrator and the Program and Planning Committee. The fall also involves action on the National Setting budget. The board approved a budget for next year that includes additions to our philanthropy team. We had previously received recommendations from our Financial Sustainability Task Force that included hiring regional gift officers as a strategy to make up for declining revenues through Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM). The board has now taken action on those recommendations and we expect to see multiple new gift officers deployed in 2023.
Our meeting also included other routine business such as reports from the Audit and Ministry Committees. We also heard an update from the chair of the General Minister and President Search Committee, and entertained reflections on how best to plan for the GMP transition. We expect to approve the search committee’s nominee for General Minister and President at our March meeting.
I wish to close with a note of recognition for our current General Minister and President. In receiving his annual evaluation, the board offers thanksgiving for his continued ministry and service. Wrote one of his evaluators: “A consistent mark of John’s tenure has been change. He has born the responsibility of living into a new governance structure within the church, a new socio-political climate that intensified distinctions within church and society amplified through both a pandemic and an insurrection, a global health crisis that robbed the world of 6.5 million lives, and the largest physical move of the denomination in more than 30 years. In the midst of it all, he has formed and led an incredible staff in managing change and moving mission.”
Thanks be to God for the executive ministers of the United Church of Christ — John, Karen Georgia, and Traci — and heartfelt prayers for all who carry the mission of Stillspeaking church forward into tomorrow.
In faith, hope, and love,
The Rev. Cameron Barr, Chair United Church of Christ Board
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