Living Into a Collaborative Future
At the Conference Annual Gathering on September 28 & 29, considerable time was spent engaging with members of the Vision Team regarding their proposal for the associations and the conference to gradually integrate into a single judicatory. After the presentations and discussions, attendees were invited to provide feedback, choosing from five options: Opposed, Anxious, Neutral, Hopeful, and Enthusiastic. Of the 114 forms that were submitted, 90% had a positive reaction to the plans. 40 (35%) were Enthusiastic and 63 (55%) were Hopeful. Only 1 was Opposed, 4 Anxious, and 6 Neutral.
It’s encouraging to see the work of the Vision Team receive such a positive reception. Of course, this feedback comes from people that chose to attend the Annual Gathering and reaction by other groups may well be different. Even so, this feedback is consistent with what the Vision Team heard at each of the listening sessions that were held in the associations in the early summer.
The Vision Team will be gathering soon to determine next steps as we begin to move toward a unified future and I’m sure that all of us are doing even more dreaming about what an integrated structure will mean, each of us with our own points of view about the priorities and benefits of the proposal. Personally, I am most excited about the ways that a collaborative approach can free up resources for specialized ministries by eliminating redundancies. I believe that these specialized ministries will increase our impact on the communities of which we are part.
Two ministries that I am passionate about are launching new churches and revitalizing existing ones. There was a time when the Ohio Conference bought land and helped new churches with expenses as they got off the ground. In fact, Westerville Community UCC where we held the Annual Gathering was launched by the conference in the 1980’s. I know this first hand because I joined Westerville Community in its early years. Not all such new churches survived, of course, and there were times that those of us at WCUCC wondered whether we would make it. Today, however, it is one of the strongest churches in the conference, but without the early investment by the conference it would likely not exist.
Supporting existing churches that wish to revitalize their ministries is also important work – I would say essential work – for middle judicatories. Some of our associations have vitality programs in place but I imagine that there is more that might be done to assist churches in reaching new vitality.
I certainly don’t know the answers and do appreciate that successful tactics today are going to look different from what worked thirty years ago. However, we won’t figure it out without starting somewhere and learning from both our successes and failures.
Each year, we have fewer churches, and many that remain have smaller and older congregations. I accept that there is a “life cycle” for churches, especially as communities and populations shift over time, and that some churches are near the end of their natural life. However, there are also churches where changes would help them reach a new generation of members. My dream is that a unified judicatory will find a way to assist these churches in sustaining their ministries. I fear that unless we make these investments, we will have less and less impact on this geographic region.
Despite my passion about this direction, I want to be clear that no decisions have been made about which specialized ministries will be selected for attention. There are other ministry options, each with its own compelling rationale. Even with an integrated structure, we won’t have the capacity to fund them all, at least not all simultaneously.
However, I am excited at the prospect where an integrated structure gives us the ability to introduce and expand ministries. I hope you share my excitement and will help figure out this new, shared future.
Blessings and peace,
Moderator, Ohio Conference