Transitions. Life is full of them – transitions big and small – so it’s no surprise that we find the Bible full of them as well. Creation, death and rebirth, journeys to places both familiar and new, exile and return, and in the midst of it, perhaps because of it, we sometimes experience transformation. During Advent, we prepare to celebrate the most transformative transition of them all – the birth of Jesus Christ!
Advent and Christmas is a season full of traditions, at church and at home. For most, it is a time of joy and of promise, a time for familiar rituals and celebrations with family and friends. For others, however, their own personal transitions mean that this joyous season has become, at least this year, a time of heightened awareness of the loss of loved ones. May we be aware of their pain and find ways to provide comfort.
Here in the conference, we are also at the beginning of a season of transition, or at least that is the hope of those of us who are serving on the Vision Team. The Vision Team, made up of representatives from each of the associations and from the conference board, has begun the planning and implementation phase outlined in the “Conference Structure Process” that was shared in October. The vision is to become “One nimble and responsive judicatory that is faithful in mission and responsible in stewardship.”
Three working groups have been formed: 1) Best Practices, 2) Structure, and 3) Finance and Stewardship. Each of these groups includes some members from the Vision Team, others with pertinent experience, and a staff person. Meetings are already scheduled with initial reports to be made at the next meeting of the full Vision Team on January 22, 2018.
The Vision Team is also scheduling listening sessions in numerous locations around the conference in order to hear your thoughts and to answer questions. We know there is a mixture of feelings about the prospect of change, feelings ranging from impatient enthusiasm to anxiety at what may be lost. These sessions are intended to provide a forum for these reactions to be shared. These Wider Church Visioning sessions will occur from January through mid-April, and will likely include some video conferences to supplement the in-person events. Watch for the publicity of these gatherings and plan to attend one. Consistent with its collaborative spirit, the Vision Team has deliberately selected some of these sites near association boundaries in the hopes that there will be attendees from more than a single association. Learnings from these sessions, along with updates from the working groups, will be shared at association meetings this spring.
In addition to this visioning work which may change the nature of the middle judicatory in Ohio, northern Kentucky, and West Virginia, there are many changes in association and conference staffing. Rita Root has completed her service in the Eastern Ohio and Western Reserve Associations and a special meeting has been held to elect the new Associations General Minister, Rev. Nayiri Karjian. There are several changes to conference staff. Nicole Havelka, Minister of Networking, Resourcing and Creativity, and Pam Brown, Conference Administrator, are both concluding their time with the conference in December. We deeply appreciate the contributions that each has made to the life and ministry of the conference.
Adam Sharp has been hired as the new Conference Administrator and is overlapping with Pam during December. That’s not nearly enough to time to transfer the seventeen years of knowledge and experience that has accumulated in Pam’s brain, of course, but it’s a start. Pam has graciously offered to be available to provide guidance even after her retirement on December 31. Please welcome Adam when you have the chance to interact with him, either in person or on the phone.
In the midst of these transitions that affect how we connect as the United Church of Christ here in the conference, Advent is upon us. The celebration and remembrance of Christ’s birth is drawing near. These days are familiar to us, and yet each year we are reminded of the potential for new transformation. May that be true for you and your family over the coming weeks.