UCC Conference collaboration under discernment in Southern New England

Revs. Jim Antal, Kent Siladi, and Barbara Libby in communion, June 2015 at Mass. Conf. Annual Meeting

“What would we do if we were brave and faithful?” In Southern New England, three United Church of Christ Conferences are answering that question by joining together to examine a future of shared ministry.

The Boards of Directors of the Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island Conferences of the United Church of Christ have all unanimously passed a resolution, championed by the board chairs and their conference ministers, to spend a year considering ways to embrace their interdependence in ways that advance the mission of the United Church of Christ.

Under the resolution, “Awakening: A Season of Discernment for a Future of Shared Ministry”, the leadership of the three conferences will call their pastors and congregations to use the 2015-2016 program year as a “season of discernment” to consider how God may be calling the three conferences create and pursue a partnership that “increase{s} the likelihood that 15 years from now, a vital expression of the progressive church movement will be alive and well in America.”

“I am moved that this initiative to ground ourselves in prayer and discernment has been unanimously approved by the Boards of our three respective Conferences,” said the Rev. Kent Siladi, Connecticut conference minister. “As we attune ourselves to the Spirit’s voice and movement in our conversations I pray that we might be open to wherever the Spirit may lead us.”

The result of that prayer and discernment may lead to a federation or a merger in 2017.

“I just love imagining where God might lead us,” said the Rev. Barbara J. Libby, Rhode Island Conference’s interim conference minister, “as we enter together into intentional conversations about the possibilities: of working interdependently, of working more collaboratively, of sharing resources, gifts, and skills across three conferences with over 150,000 United Church of Christ people of faith.”

This is the next step in a collaborative relationship that began in Southern New England in 2010, when the Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island Conferences partnered around search and call, and teamed up on fitness reviews and Environmental Ministries programing for more than 600 churches in the region.

Recognizing the economic benefits of sharing staff and technology, there have been several conversations between the conferences over the course of the last few years that led to a meeting in August that resulted in a draft of the resolution.

The Rev. Jim Antal, Massachusetts conference minister and president, said the exploratory conversations helped identify numerous ways to “be better together.” “The Holy Spirit has guided us thus far in this conversation, and I can’t wait to experience how she will continue to guide us as we enter this process,” Antal said. “Making our boundaries more permeable facilitates sharing best practices –– and it also allows us to share ownership of and champion more missional initiatives and congregational resources.”

This partnership in New England is just one experiment in collaboration continuing between conferences across the wider church. The Ohio and Indiana-Kentucky Conferences of the United Church of Christ are sharing a conference minister for the second half of this year to see if combining resources around leadership is a workable idea. One of the first tangible steps taken at the conference level to deal with issues of sustainability, Ohio Conference Minister the Rev. Phil Hart is dedicating about one-fourth of his work time to Indiana-Kentucky from June through December. He said a covenant committee, with representatives from each conference and the national setting, is evaluating the process along the way.

UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer firmly supports these types of initiatives. As conference minister of the Southwest Conference UCC, he helped author the 2013 General Synod resolution asking the wider church to open a discussion around the current conference structure.

“I am pleased to see the commitment that the Southern New England Conferences are making,” Dorhauer said. “The time they have committed to be in discernment signals: that new ways of operating are open to us all; that we should approach these moments with prayer and deliberation; that pathways to collaboration can and will enhance our missional output; and that these decisions can be made long before the health of the organization is in doubt. I hope and pray that the example that they are setting inspires others to ask questions about what new, collaborative efforts can be examined by them for the sake of our shared mission.”

Read more about the Southern New England collaboration.


Categories: United Church of Christ News

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