This week I spoke with my friends David and John, the Interim Conference Minister for South Dakota and the Conference Minister for Indiana-Kentucky respectively, as they were headed to their Conferences’ Annual Meetings.
On Facebook, I am seeing UCCers in New York heading to Tarrytown for their Conference Annual Meeting — at which I offer video greetings on the occasion of their 50th Anniversary.
Beth W., Dave R., Gerry, Priscilla, Rich and I will be at the Pennsylvania Southeast’s Spring Meeting on Saturday.
People often think of June as the wedding month. Well, in the United Church of Christ, one could also say that it’s the season of Conference Annual Meetings. And yet, I’d guess, many, if not most of the folks in our pews do not even know what a Conference in the UCC is all about. Even fewer ever attend a Conference event.
Familiarity with your denomination and its structure is not a requirement of Christian faithfulness. It doesn’t promise to add much spiritual lives. Though, certainly, the life of the wider church add dimensions and depth to what local churches can accomplish.
In the UCC, we insist the local church is the most basic entity in the life of the whole church — “where it’s at,” if you will. I like that: it means that we believe deeply in the difference that a congregation can make in individuals’ lives, in its community and for how the whole church ministers to the world.
That said, there are important ministries and mission that can be better accomplished beyond the local church or by groupings of congregations and their leaders.
Therefore, the United Church is comprised of different settings beyond the local church — associations, conferences and the national setting… not to mention various mission partnership that stretch around the world. They are all fairly autonomous entitites, each free to follow God’s will as they understand it. What holds all this together then? The Holy Spirit and our sense of covenant accountability: we’ve been called together for work greater than any of us can accomplish on our own.
In light of the freedoms guaranteed in our ecclesiastical system, people joke sometimes that UCC stands for Uncoordinated Christians for Christ. But the UCC’s constitution sets out some clear functions. For example, Associations, through their Committees on Ministry are responsible for the authorization and oversight of ministers. Conferences are responsible for search and call, the process by which local churches choose ministers to serve as their pastors.
I’m not unbiased, having served for eight and a half years on the NYConference staff, but I believe that Associations, Conferences and the national setting offer local churches perspectives and views that are often hard to grasp from the ground in one specific corner of God’s vineyard. We’re so busy keeping the lights on, people cared for and worship fresh and enlivening each week, it’s nice to be able to rely on others who have a bit of breathing room to support, even lead us, in how the church needs to be adaptive in a changing world. Those other settings often point towards where there might be new opportunities for ministry.
They also provide capacities that local church’s often don’t have. Organizing or administration or national or international relationships.
I told Jackie this year that there were enough of us going to the Conference meeting, and she could take her turn off (so she’s doing something else with another member from church). But she’s a regular. She has had the experience of the wider church, how it’s different from Old First, and how it compliments and adds to what we do here at Old First.
But maybe some of you who have never experienced the wider United Church of Christ… maybe you’d like to attend an Association or Conference meeting, or even the General Synod?
Here, I’ll make my challenge easier! Technically, my installation as Old First’s thirtieth pastor and teacher isn’t a service of this local church, but, instead, it’s a celebration of the Philadelphia Association (because the covenant by which we are in ministry together is not just between this congregation and its pastor, but also the Association in which I am authorized to do ministry in the name of the UCC).
Hopefully, you will all come out on the 23rd at 3 p.m. You can meet my friend, Geoffrey Black, who is also the denomination’s General Minister and President. We will be hosting others from around the UCC and from other faith communities here in Philly.
And, afterwards, you can also so that you’ve been at an Association event. Ok, you’ll still have a Conference event to attend, but it’s a start towards better knowing the whole church…
See you in church,
(this week is Sunday School Sunday, and the Sunday we celebrate graduates, and communion… with the kids leading worship),
P.S. We have tried to send the invitations to the installation to everyone we can think of. But if we forgot someone, please extend it for us. (There are invitations in the literature rack in the lower narthex.) Or give us the name and address ASAP.