So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.... II Corinthians 5:17 Theme of 2011 Annual meeting
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Having served for five years as your Conference Minister, I want you to know that every one of those days I have been immersed in gratitude. For the remarkable witness of our churches; the excellence of our pastors; the discernment and dedication of our Associations; the extraordinary opportunities offered by the Conference; the vision and wisdom of our Conference Board; and the creativity, commitment and competence of my Conference staff colleagues.
The lay and ordained leaders in our Conference are a beacon for the entire United Church of Christ. Nevertheless, as many of you experience every week in your local church, offering innovative leadership in the context of the changing landscape of ministry is a challenge. Together, over these five years, we have risen to face any number of challenges. Together, we have discerned, formed and engaged numerous adaptive and creative responses. Today, I want to share with you one more.
Since first hearing about the possibility of Dale Hempen’s decision to retire at year end (Dale serves as Associate Conference Minister in the Southeast), I've been in conversation with our Conference Board of Directors and our Conference staff. My goal was to develop a staffing plan that met the following four objectives:
- minimize the disruption occasioned by the transition of Dale’s retirement;
- face the reality of diminishing Conference financial resources;
- retain our superb Conference staff;
- create a staff structure that promises to be sustainable at least for several years.
On May 14, 2011 I presented a proposed plan to the Conference Board of Directors, and they accepted it. Now I am pleased to share this plan with the entire Conference.
Our planned response to Dale’s retirement involves rearranging the assignments of our current staff. While these new responsibilities take effect January 1, 2012, between now and then we will gradually effect a smooth transition. Here’s the plan. The Rev. Don Remick, now a half-time Associate Conference Minister (ACM), will become a full-time ACM. Don's focus as a regional ACM will shift from the 47 churches in the Northeast to the 75 churches in the Southeast. Don will take over from the Rev. Wendy Vander Hart her current responsibilities for planning the Conference Annual Meeting. Wendy, in addition to her work with the 72 churches in the Metropolitan Boston Association, will take over from Don his work with the 47 churches in the Northeast region (Andover and Essex Associations). This will give Wendy about the same number of churches as the Rev. Peter Wells has been working with for the past several years. Don will also take over many of the responsibilities currently overseen by the Rev. Dale Hempen, including coordinating search and call, helping coordinate interims, and coordinating Boundary Awareness Training. Don will also serve as the staff liaison to the Evangelism and Vitality Commission.
Two near-term reasons make this a compelling plan. First, imagine instead that we decide to retain the current structure of our Conference staff. We undertake a search, and if we're (very) lucky, the new ACM would start in January 2012. In February 2012, it is extremely likely that the projected financial realities of the Conference would compel us to announce further lay-offs that would take effect in January 2013. Thus, it would be very likely that the person we hire would have to be laid off within a year of their starting – and we would have to adopt a plan similar to the one detailed above. The second near-term reason is the cost savings to the Conference of not having a search. The total savings for not doing a search is just under $19,000 (staff cost + material costs) and just over 250 hours of volunteer time.
In addition, this proposal allows us to retain the best wider-church staff in the UCC in a reconfigured arrangement that has the promise of being sustainable for at least a few years. It's also the case that Don is very familiar with the Southeast and can hit the ground running with little (if any) loss of momentum. Furthermore, we can now begin to transition in each of these arenas, knowing who will be assuming responsibility.
I also wanted you to hear directly from Don, Wendy and Dale. First, from Don: “For over three decades I have ministered within our Conference back and forth between the north and south shores of Boston. In each changing chapter of that ministry I have grown closer to colleagues and church members as we have let God's Spirit and Scripture shape our ministries in the changing texture of culture's landscape around us. Each change has included the grief of 'goodbyes' and the joy of 'greetings' even as we all continue to serve together within our Conference. I am grateful that this moment allows us to continue that ministry to make Christ's realm of love and justice a little more real to those who most need that grace and compassion.”
And Dale adds, “What a gift and blessing for the entire Conference for Don to now be full-time as Associate Conference Minister as well as serving back in the Southeast Region where he is not only known but more importantly trusted! Personally, I couldn't be happier for both the Southeast Region and for Don! A match of the Spirit of skills, talents and needs! I can't wait to hear the joy and good news for the hopeful future in Massachusetts Conference and the Southeast Region.”
And from Wendy, “I have been blessed to serve in the Metropolitan Boston Association (MBA) all 22 years of my ordained ministry. For all of that time, I have relied on leadership based in relationship. Establishing new relationships will be my first order of action serving the churches and leaders in the Northeast region. Recognizing that I will be the fourth ACM to serve this region in the last five years makes it all the more important to begin with relationship. I look forward to bringing the experience and learning forged in the MBA and extending it into the Northeast as we together discern mission and purpose for our churches in these days. In the three and a half years that I have served as Associate Conference Minister I have relied heavily on covenantal connections. As we move forward in this transition I imagine that covenant will be even more crucial as we discern new ways to provoke local church vitality so that through us God's love and justice are more real and our mission is fulfilled. The times are challenging and provide us with an opportunity to practice what we preach - that God is in the midst of change, that the body of Christ is best when it works as a body and that the fresh winds of the Spirit will carry us forward. May it be so.”
As we live into God’s future together, I believe that we all recognize that the Conference can’t continue to do the same things we’ve always done. It’s not just because the Conference no longer has the resources we once had. It’s also because God is calling us to do new things, and to become a new creation. Our Conference is full of purposeful innovation, much of which is bearing fruit. The Conference Board shares my confidence that the staffing transition I have described here is one of those innovations.
Thank you for prayerfully receiving this news with an open mind and heart. Thank you for being a partner in ministry. Thank you for all that you do through your church and through the Conference.
The Rev. Dr. Jim Antal,
Conference Minister and President
Jim Antal is a denominational leader, activist and public theologian. He led the 360 churches of the Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ from 2006 to his retirement in 2018. An environmental activist from the first Earth Day in 1970, ...