New Trails and Webs of Connection…
I have discovered that sometimes going off the trail either intentionally or accidentally can lead to discoveries that I might never have experienced. About two years ago I was on one of those trails that suddenly disappeared and left me forging my own path. Not too long after that, I came across the web that you see pictured here. The sun was shining in just the right way to reflect the various strands of the web and awaken in me awe and wonder.
This image has been coming to mind for me in this season of our life together. Certainly, there are well-worn paths of ministry with which we are all familiar. But there are other dimensions of our journey together where that path seems to disappear into an opportunity to discern new directions for the journey and discover new expressions of God’s beautiful and strong web of love that shapes our common life.
On February 2nd, the executive committees of each our Association Councils and the executive committee of the Conference met in a day-long gathering to both savor the paths we are currently traveling and also make commitments about concrete next steps that can extend our journey by building new ministry trails that will strengthen the web of love that God is already forming in our life together. It seemed time to build on the work of our vision team (aka scouts) and begin to clarify new paths.
Our shared hope was that we would get to know each other better as leaders throughout the conference; develop a deepened understanding of our whole ministry in its various settings; experience collaboration and open sharing; cultivate a sense of positive energy about what is possible together; and come away with some clarity about concrete next steps for collaboration. I believe we met those hopes for our time together.
The conversation and time together were rich. Here are some of the common themes that were identified: Faith formation is key to us all; identity – helping churches with shared mission focus know each other better across the conference for mutual encouragement and upbuilding (things like ONA or climate justice were examples); discernment with congregations at the threshold (what is the viability of ministry in a particular location and how can the history and legacy of those congregations be intentionally named, celebrated and released for new ministry and mission); stewardship/generosity training in every setting of our life together.
Additionally there were some key action areas that were identified around which new paths can begin to get formed this year: Standardization of processes for search and call across the conference; Standardization and collaboration around schools of ministry; committee on ministry collaboration (with special attention to MID processes, alternative paths to ordination, and the utilization of the new Manual on Ministry); Communications Integration – recognizing that if we do not communicate well across the full spectrum of our life, all of our other efforts will suffer (a communications position has been posted and a new part-time communications person will soon be part of our life, in addition to our collaborating with the national setting as they retool denomination-wide communication strategies from the ground up. You may notice that each of these areas has to do with strengthening the web of our life together.
While there were many other things we discussed, I would like to highlight three other items:
1. Renaming the Conference as an expression of our moving into a new reality and as a living out of our commitment to be inclusive in ways that our current name “Ohio Conference” is not. Names shape a sense of reality and relationship and so they matter. 2. Engage a process of clarifying the conference vision, mission and values (to be taken up by the Conference Board of Directors). 3. Consider the idea of reshaping of the Conference Board of Directors to consist of members of the Association Executive Teams so that the kind of collaborative thinking and dreaming we have begun may continue.
Next Steps: In March, there will be a gathering of all the staff of the associations and the conference to engage them around these themes and others that are of importance to our shared work. Together with Conference Moderator, Cathy Green, and Vice-Moderator, David Plant, and the association ministers we will develop objectives and actions plans for the areas named above. I will facilitate this process.
I am excited about how the trail is beginning to unfold before us. I am glad for your input and welcome it. Please feel free to offer your ideas either by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 614-309-2150. My prayer is that together we may begin to notice more and more the beautiful web which God is constantly seeking to form and strengthen in our life together.
Blessings on you all and on those whom you serve! Your fellow servant, Dave.