A Letter to the Conference from Ohio Designated Conference Minister R. Phillip Hart
Over two years ago I returned to the Ohio Conference to serve as the Designated Conference Minister. I knew that we had several major issues that needed to be addressed. Because of the financial crisis related to our Outdoor Ministries program, we have spent the last couple years responding by developing a plan that would create a sustainable future for that ministry.
It appears that we are on that path. We will have gone from 6-9 months of resources for the Conference and outdoor ministry to a 20-30 year sustainable future. We have gone through many prayerful and tearful moments over these two years, but the outcome will grant us the stability to create a vision for ministry for many years to come.
The larger issue remains in front of us. That issue is the ministry and structure of the Wider Church (Associations, Conference and National setting) in the Ohio Conference. We now must turn our attention to this matter in order to determine what kinds of ministries we will accomplish together.
Last week I sent a proposal to the Ohio Conference Board, and because it impacts all of us in some way or another, I am sharing this proposal and my thoughts with you. I am referring to it as the “Mission First” approach. The Mission First approach is just simply that: determining the meaning and mission of the wider church in the Ohio Conference first, then begin discussing the right structure. The proposal I am offering has four stages:
Stage One- Listening: Turning to the local churches, authorized ministers and other ministries in the Ohio Conference for guidance and direction on what we could/should be doing as the Wider Church in our Conference.
Stage Two- Request for Proposals: After this evaluation and assessment is completed, I am suggesting that we request proposals on how the structure and staffing of the Ohio Conference should look. Any person, local church or entity of the Ohio Conference will be able to share their proposals, and thereby we have the opportunity to gain new insights and new visions of our future.
Stage Three- Discernment and Decision: These proposals will be presented to the churches and voting members of the Ohio Conference for the final decision on how the Wider Church will be structured in the Ohio Conference.
Stage Four- Implementation: Implementing this plan will require a cooperative effort among all the various settings of the wider church in the Conference, including the Associations, Conference and the National Setting of the United Church of Christ
Let me share a few reflections on why I believe this is the right approach:
1. Local churches must be in this conversation.
The wider church is a covenantal expression of our local churches that enables and extends the ministry as a whole.
2. Our polity necessitates a deep level of discernment and a “ground up” approach to major decisions like this.
This would be the most significant change in the UCC in the Ohio Conference since our founding. That type of change requires significant input and support.
3. This approach allows for wide input of ideas and suggestions, which will only improve the result and increase investment in the process and outcome, while creating a common vision for the Wider Church here in the Conference.
“What” we become is certainly important, but “How” we go about the process to discern and create our future together is equally important. The Wider Church is our common work together. We can work together to change the world and impact the lives of God’s children in ways that we could never do on our own. This is a great opportunity for us. I ask your prayers and participation as we move forward together.
Rev. R. Philip Hart
Designated Conference Minister
Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ