To further align the national setting of the United Church of Christ into a unified structure, the UCC Board of Directors approved a proposed change to the denomination's constitution that would alter the leadership of the church and eliminate the exclusive designation of executive ministers for three covenanted ministries.
The change, which was at times tensely debated by the members of the board on Friday, March 20, would mean a shift from the current collegium structure to an accountability system, with the general minister and president leading the national setting, and the other officers of the church accountable to the general minister and president.
"As we are merging together, we've had times where that separation of covenanted ministries interferes with us working as one church," said Elizabeth Walker, chair of the board’s Governance Committee. "It makes more sense to have one specific person—a general minister and president—for accountability to the board."
Despite the debate, a large majority of the board voted in favor of the proposed changes. If approved by two-thirds of delegates to the 30th General Synod, meeting June 26-30 in Cleveland, the constitutional revision would then need approval from two-thirds of the 38 conferences of the UCC.
Instead of specifying an executive minister each for Local Church Ministries, Wider Church Ministries and Justice and Witness Ministries, the change, if approved, would leave the determination on the number of officers to the General Synod.
The change also includes specific language to define the roles of the officers, who would, under the leadership of the general minister and president be responsible for “providing leadership for the mission programming of the [UCC] and for the proper implementation of General Synod actions.” The officers are also responsible for researching, planning, evaluating and reporting on the church’s ongoing programming.
Board member the Rev. Lynda Bigler said the changes "should have been brought forward in some other way, so that we could have discerned them over time, because it took time to create this entity."
The Rev. Kim Wood, pastor of First Congregational UCC in Ottawa, Ill., responded, "We have been living into this for almost the last two years, of being a unified board and working in a unified structure."
The Rev. Dwayne Royster, pastor of Living Waters UCC in Philadelphia, voiced a concern about the lack of input from the current officers of the church. During the vote, all four officers of the church voted in favor of the proposed change.
While the rewritten language would not specify the number of national officers, the consolidation idea has been brought up in the past by the church leadership. The current officers of the church raised the idea of reducing their numbers in October 2013 as they worked to eliminate a $2.3-million deficit for the national offices.
As recently as 2013, the church leadership had five officers—a general minister and president, three executive ministers and an associate general minister. The position of associate general minister was reshaped into the position of chief administrative officer, which took effect at the conclusion of General Synod 2013 in Long Beach, Calif., reducing the number of national officers to four.
The fall meeting of the board is scheduled for Oct. 15-17 in Cleveland.