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A Way Forward for Conferences

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A Proposed Partnership to Strengthen the Whole of the Wider Church Draft 6 – Revised: November 13, 2010 Developed by Jim Antal in conversation with Roddy Dunkerson, Rich Pleva and others

PREFACE: This is a work in process – a think piece -- that emerged from conversations when leaders of the wider church convened for Consultation in February 2009 and when we convened for Retreat in July 2010. I hope it will be reviewed and found useful in any number of conversations that are now ongoing. CONTEXT: Much could be said about the context of this proposal. First and foremost, the message of the UCC is more important in today’s world than it has ever been before. But the organizational and financial structures of the UCC (along with those of every denomination) are broken. We need a way forward that allows for institutional transformation in service of the Missio Dei. We need to envision all of the parts of the wider church as a whole, so that we can bring the resources of the wider church to bear – not on the world as it was in 1957 – but on the world as it is today and in the coming decades. Living as we are in a post-Christian age, the mission field has radically changed – the opportunity to make disciples is just beyond the front door of every church. Within a few miles of each of those front doors are hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people who would never imagine that a church like the UCC exists. This proposal seeks to initiate a transformational partnership between Conferences and the National Setting that will allow the resources of the wider church to be in more direct service of today’s mission field. BIG PICTURE OBJECTIVES: • To embrace the UCC more as a covenant, a movement and a network than as a denomination. • To direct more resources to the role played by the local church in living out the Missio Dei. • To give local churches greater access to the full resources of the entire wider church. • To strengthen the whole of the wider church by moving some of the parts of the wider church into a more holistic and scalable model that can be implemented incrementally. • To provide an incremental transition that moves from identifying as a denomination to claiming the values of our common mission. • To reengage the possibility of advancing our founding vision “that they may all be one” by advancing a common mission movement rather than by merging denominations. • To strengthen Conferences for the mission of the church. • To further concretize the affirmation that the wider church has a single staff, currently called by either Conferences or the National Setting. CONCRETE OBJECTIVES: • To develop a partnership that combines the respective strengths and expertise of 1) the National Setting and 2) one or more viable ongoing Conferences in service of the basic needs of local churches which happen to be located in a Conference that is (or soon will be) no longer financially viable. • To develop a scalable response to the imminent financial non-viability of multiple Conferences. • To address issues of authorization and standing that arise for those ministers and local churches whose authorization and standing is lodged in an Association which is part of a Conference that is no longer financially viable.


A Way Forward for Conferences

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A Proposed Partnership to Strengthen the Whole of the Wider Church Draft 6 – Revised: November 13, 2010 Developed by Jim Antal in conversation with Roddy Dunkerson, Rich Pleva and others

CONFERENCE CORE ESSENTIALS THAT MUST BE MAINTAINED NO MATTER WHAT WIDER CHURCH MODEL IS EMBRACED: • Retention of standing for Churches and Pastors in an Association whose standing is held by a viable Conference (see Constitution § 38) • Support from wider church staff for churches in time of search and call • Support from wider church staff for Church and Ministry Committees – particularly around authorization and fitness • Capacity to plan, convene and conduct an Annual Meeting for each/all Conference(s) (see Constitution § 51) • Capacity to plan, convene and conduct an Annual Meeting for each/all Association(s) (see Constitution § 45) • Relational connection with the wider church that strengthens UCC identity • Means of resourcing both pastors and churches • Means of keeping at least these records: o Pastors who have standing o Churches which have standing o Receipt of OCWM and/or fellowship dues and other gifts/collections o Other financial transactions o Official records pertaining to discussions and decisions around ministerial authorization and fitness for ministry CURRENT ADAPTATION OPTIONS FOR CONFERENCES QUESTIONING THEIR VIABILITY: • Expand the size of a “Conference” by combining two or more existing contiguous Conferences. o The problem is that this eventually creates a “Conference” which is so big that it is no longer able to function effectively as it attempts to meet the above listed core necessities. • Struggle to use increasingly limited resources more efficiently/effectively. The problem is that the increasingly limited resources eventually prohibit further down-sizing. Conferences are not infinitely scalable. Three conditions must be met for the current model of a conference to remain viable: o a minimum number of churches o those churches must be located within a limited radius (density) o those churches must be reasonably generous in sharing their resources A NEW APPROACH – “BIG PICTURE” DESIGN OBSERVATIONS: • The current option of merging two or more contiguous conferences will eventually create a situation where the three conditions named above will not all be met. • Recognizing that the above stated objectives cannot be achieved by current adaptation options, we need an “out of the box” response. • THE KEY CONCEPT is to develop a multi-partnership between a) the National Setting; and b) an ongoing viable Conference; and c) one or more additional Conferences without regard to the proximity of these Conferences one to another. o The National Setting would bring to this partnership expertise and resources which only the National Setting has.


A Way Forward for Conferences

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A Proposed Partnership to Strengthen the Whole of the Wider Church Draft 6 – Revised: November 13, 2010 Developed by Jim Antal in conversation with Roddy Dunkerson, Rich Pleva and others

The ongoing viable Conference would bring to this partnership Conference components that every church needs (to stay in covenant) and that the National Setting cannot provide because it’s not in the business of being a Conference. o The one or more additional partnering Conferences would bring to this partnership the history and hope of their churches along with the talent, gifts, energy and vision of their ministers This approach is, in part, made possible by current technology which now allows a substantial amount of what is required to maintain covenantal connections to take place regardless of geographic proximity. With that in mind, this model can be better understood by distinguishing what must be done “on the ground” (incarnationally and in person) from what can be done “in the cloud” (via the internet). o

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TWO ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES – OVERVIEW: • Alternative #1: Initiate an experimental partnership o The partners would include:  A viable, ongoing conference with appropriate resources  LCM  At least one other conference wanting to join the experiment (partnering conference) o While keeping within their respective constitutional and legal restrictions, the partners would begin to share resources in ways that would advance the objectives identified at the beginning of this proposal • Alternative #2: As a Conference becomes financially unsustainable, dissolve it and incorporate it into an existing Conference o This could be done regardless of geographical proximity o This would require Synod approval (see Constitution § 47) o This only “solves” the problem one Conference at a time. Each time a particular Conference is unable to go forward, a new negotiation with an ongoing viable conference would need to be voted and approved by both Conferences and by Synod. o This option is neither innovative nor is it scalable. THE REMAINDER OF THIS PROPOSAL WILL ONLY FOCUS ON ALTERNATIVE #1: INITIATE AN EXPERIMENTAL PARTNERSHIP DESIGN COMPONENTS: • Role of the ongoing Conference in the partnership o Identify a specific ongoing Conference which would commit to entering into a partnership.  The choice of a particular ongoing Conference is independent of geographical proximity to the other Conference(s) who would be partners.  The choice of a particular ongoing Conference would hinge on its ability to bring the following gifts to the partnership: o “Cloud” components which the ongoing Conference would bring to the partnership:


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A Proposed Partnership to Strengthen the Whole of the Wider Church Draft 6 – Revised: November 13, 2010 Developed by Jim Antal in conversation with Roddy Dunkerson, Rich Pleva and others

Database: The ongoing Conference would have to have its database already based in the cloud. Adding another 30 churches or even 300 churches to such a database is no problem, since such databases are scalable and fully accessible from anywhere • The ongoing Conference would also supply the staff expertise / support as needed for other partnering conferences / churches to use the database  Financial Management: Much of the needed financial management for a Conference can now be done (and is now being done) as part of a cloud-based financial system. Such a financial system can be integrated with a cloud-based database. Again, adding another 30 or 300 churches is only a matter of scaling up  Web presence: the ongoing Conference would have to have a web presence that could be relatively easily adapted to provide other partnering conferences with a web identity that is both unique and robust. • The ongoing Conference would also supply the staff expertise / support as needed for the partnering conference / churches to use the web presence. • It would be possible to have two (or more) distinct “front pages” of the ongoing Conference’s web site so that the front page could be unique for each Conference in the partnership. Then, these several front pages could each be linked to common resource pages, searchable directories (that are tethered to the same database), news feeds, etc.  Webinar meetings – this capability could be brought to the partnership from either the National Setting or the ongoing Conference o “On the ground” components which the ongoing Conference would bring to the partnership:  Staff support for and interface with the cloud components  Possible presence at the Annual Meetings of the partnering conferences  Support for the partnering conferences to participate in programs already taking place in the ongoing Conference: • For example, if MACUCC were the ongoing Conference , such support would include help organizing communities of practice among clergy of the partnering conferences Partnership with National Setting: o “Cloud” components which the National Setting would bring to the partnership:  Webinar meetings – this capability could be brought to the partnership from either the National Setting or the ongoing Conference  The partnership could be a setting in which PLL could do some experimentation because PLL could have a more direct engagement with the partnering conferences.  National could assist with some “back office” functions that are not specific to conferences such as generating payroll checks and W-2 forms.  There must be other things I’m not thinking of 


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A Proposed Partnership to Strengthen the Whole of the Wider Church Draft 6 – Revised: November 13, 2010 Developed by Jim Antal in conversation with Roddy Dunkerson, Rich Pleva and others

“On the ground” components which the National Setting would bring to the partnership:  PLL could provide expertise and some dedicated staff time. If this proposal is going to be scalable, it will be necessary to run the “on the ground” staff support of search and call and Committee on Ministry from the National Setting • Note that it would be essential to recognize that “one size does not fit all” in terms of how various churches approach search and call.  LCM would accept a new role. This new role (direct staffing of local churches’ search and call needs and Committee on Ministry) will: • Invite experimentation by PLL in what might be new models in both these areas • Position PLL so it is seen as being “closer to the churches” • Provide PLL with a kind of “proving ground” where a member(s) of the PLL team is directly engaged in the work of local search committees and Committee on Ministry  One benefit which this partnership would have is that it would be a natural (and expected) part of this proposal that the Annual Meeting(s) of partnering conferences could be addressed by a member of the National Staff  Consideration could be given to Cleveland hosting the Annual Meetings of the partnering conferences. This might be desirable if this proposal was engaged by more than one partnering Conference and those partnering Conferences were not near each other. (Obviously: travel might be prohibitive)  There must be additional “on the ground” needs of the partnering conferences that are not yet accounted for here Issues Related to the Partnering Conference’s Governance o Before any such proposed partnership could be initiated, it would be necessary to map out how the legally required governance functions of the partnering conference(s) would continue to be fulfilled.  The partnership would be designed with a phased approach. Each phase would have to identify the decisions that the Board of the partnering conference would have to make to move forward.  A key issue, perhaps essential, is to verify that partnering conferences have legal bylaws that allow their Board to be fully functional via conference call and/or internet connection Issues Related to the Partnering Conference’s Conference Minister and staff o Further thought needs to be given to how the responsibilities of CM would be fulfilled.  One solution is for the CM of the ongoing Conference to function as the CM for the partnering conference(s) also. • This may not be a scalable option…. If the number of partnering conferences grows, it could be challenging to offer leadership to a geographically disparate group of churches as well as to one’s “home base” Conference • It would also pose challenges in terms of representation… having one CM represent two or more Conferences o


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A Proposed Partnership to Strengthen the Whole of the Wider Church Draft 6 – Revised: November 13, 2010 Developed by Jim Antal in conversation with Roddy Dunkerson, Rich Pleva and others

It would also pose challenges for the CCM and how it assures the involvement of CMs in the work of the wider church.  But are there other alternatives? o Further thought needs to be given so that the talents and gifts of the CM currently serving the partnering Conference can be well utilized going forward. o Further thought needs to be given to how the staffing needs (other than the CM) of the partnering Conference would be filled.  Remotely (via internet) or in person?  By National staff or by staff serving in the ongoing Conference? Ongoing responsibilities of the Churches and Pastors whose authorization is in one of the partnering conferences o Financial  Some combination (possibly innovative) of OCWM, Fellowship Dues, and Fees for Service would be proposed.  Because this proposal would increase the financial burden of both the ongoing Conference and the National Setting, the proposal must include a funding plan that compensates both the ongoing Conference and the National Setting for services rendered. • A current analogy involves local churches which choose to pay no OCWM and no fellowship dues. When such churches request the assistance of the Conference for a pastoral search, in many Conferences it is normal practice to charge the congregation a flat fee of $2,000 or more (various estimates put the costs to the wider church for assisting in a search for a new pastor at $2,000 - $12,000). o Volunteers  More thought needs to be given to this  How would the Church and Ministry Committee(s) of the partnering conference(s) be organized? • See below for thoughts • How it would be populated relates to volunteers  It bears mentioning that as the number of vital churches in an Association decreases, the candidate pool for creating an effective Committee on Ministry diminishes, until the Committee’s capacity to function effectively can be called into question. Further considerations re. standing, authorization, and fitness reviews o Further thought needs to be given to this. o At least in the early phases of this partnership, it would be desirable to preserve status quo as much as possible  When an existing conference votes to partner in this way, that group of churches could continue to remain and function as an Association • If the partnering Conference is retaining its identity, the authorization of the Association would continue through that conference • If the partnering Conference is going to merge or otherwise give up its identity, the Association(s) would need to be authorized by the ongoing Conference


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A Proposed Partnership to Strengthen the Whole of the Wider Church Draft 6 – Revised: November 13, 2010 Developed by Jim Antal in conversation with Roddy Dunkerson, Rich Pleva and others

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On a more long-term basis, as this partnership evolves, the setting for authorization and fitness could be reexamined. The Unitarian Universalists (I believe) now carry out authorization and fitness through the national setting.  Note that some say that this may eventually be legally mandated.  Note that this approach is fully scalable.

IMPLEMENTATION POSSIBILITIES AND CONCERNS: • More thought needs to be given, but it if the Boards and lead staff of the ongoing conference, LCM and the partnering conference were all in agreement that this was worth pursuing for the reasons identified in the objectives, this proposal could be incrementally engaged by all three partners through a (yet to be outlined) process of phased implementation. • While much can be accomplished through several phases of such a partnership, attention needs to be given to when the approval of General Synod would be needed (in order to confirm a Conference’s change of boundaries) for further implementation. • One possible scenario is that an incumbent Conference Minister who is nearing retirement in a Conference that is struggling financially could lead his/her conference to move in this direction rather than initiate a search for a new CM. • Another possible scenario is that when the position of Conference Minister becomes vacant in a Conference that either lacks the financial resources to afford an interim CM or nearly lacks those resources, the Conference Board of Directors could choose to have an interim CM who is paid by (and named by) the National Setting and whose work would include facilitating the transition from the status quo to the partnership described herein. • Whatever may be advanced, it is essential that the overall organization of how churches and pastors currently have standing is not weakened, muddled or eroded. POTENTIAL OBSTACLES: •


Alternative Futures: A Way Forward for Conferences