Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
Job 38: 1-11
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Master! The tempest is raging!
Oh! The billows are tossing high!
The sky is o’ershadowed with blackness!
Oh! No shelter or help is nigh!
Carest thou not that we perish?
How canst thou lie asleep,
When each moment so madly is threatening
A grave in the angry deep?
- Rev. James Cleveland
Last week, in this space, I began to tell you about the 2018 Central Atlantic Conference Annual Meeting, which Nancy and I attended in Bethesda, Maryland on Friday and Saturday, June 8 and 9. Our Friday sessions concluded with serious, candid conversations about budgets and how to keep our congregations— and our Conference— alive and growing.
Our Conference employs a Conference Minister (currently, Rev. Dr. Roddy Dunkerson, serving as an interim) and three Associate Conference Ministers, plus two or three office staffers. The Conference gives money toward the meetings of the national Synods of the UCC, which gather every second year; we give $8,000 to the Lancaster Seminary in Pennsylvania; we support meetings of Conference committees and boards; and we pay for educational programs for our staff, clergy, and congregations. The Conference budget for 2019 totals $1,135,001.55. This year, our Board of Directors asked for $30,000 more than last year for programming, which will go to a new program to help our Authorized Ministers (like me) form “Communities of Practice.” These “communities” will be gatherings of pastors to encourage, counsel, and challenge one another to more effective ministry. Of course, the point of strengthening us ministers is to strengthen the churches.
I may be asked to lead one such “community” of our ministers in this area. I applied for the role, but I won’t know until mid-Summer whether the Conference will call upon me to do it.
On Saturday of Annual Meeting, we voted to approve the proposed budget. Now, it is up to the churches of the Conference to give to Our Church’s Wider Mission (“OCWM”), the annual offering which funds almost the entire Conference budget.
Our Conference Board of Directors decided, this year, to cut the percentage of our Conference’s OCWM giving that is passed on to the national setting of the UCC, from 30% down to 15%.
Many of you know, before I became pastor here, our Bethel’s leadership voted to stop regular support for OCWM. In recent years, we have held special, freewill offerings for OCWM.
Like many of our fellow churches, we would have a tough time raising additional money to help support the Conference. Lots of our UCC congregations still raise this support, every year; lots of others don’t. We are a free association of congregations. We each have a choice.
On Saturday morning of Annual Meeting, a seminary professor led us in some serious self-examination. Dr. Barbara Fears of Howard University Divinity School got us working on the question, “Who is my neighbor?” (think of Luke, chapter 10). Dr. Fears presented the story from the book of Nehemiah, set in the period after the Babylonian exile ended, when some Judeans came from Babylon and started re-building the walls of Jerusalem. She challenged us to think about Nehemiah’s wall-building project as Christians: to question how it was, to be the local residents who for many years had been living near the ruins of Jerusalem, suddenly having to deal with the presumptuous attitudes of the Judeans who were constructing walls to keep out the local people. Around our tables, we shared stories of our churches: the people inside and the people outside, and how we separate ourselves from each other— or, on a good day, how we come together.
After Saturday’s first Bible study, we went to different workshops that were offered. I attended one led by Marge Royle, on “Emerging Churches.” Although I had become aware of the “emerging church” movement in the course of my seminary studies, this program was a strong reminder, that the way many of us grew up with church— thinking about it, worshiping with it, taking part in its leadership— is not the only way to “do” church, and that the future of church will be quite different from its past.
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: ....
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding!” - Job 38: 1, 4