Southern New England Conference Annual Meeting

Southern New England Conference Annual Meeting

When
Saturday, September 26, 2020 at 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM
First Virtual Annual Meeting a Success; New Executive Conference Minister Called
9/28/2020
The pandemic may have kept members of the Southern New England Conference, UCC, from gathering in person for their first official Annual Meeting, but there was no impediment to the Holy Spirit. The Meeting was conducted virtually via Zoom, which was accessed through a phone, tablet or computer by approximately 600 people. Like most Annual Meetings, it was filled with beautiful music, vibrant worship, lots of chat during the sessions, speak-outs, a celebration of 25 and 50 Year Ordinands, several votes, and the election of its first Executive Conference Minister, The Rev. Darrell Goodwin. (Read more about the election here.)

- View an unedited recording of the entire meeting here

- View the worship segments and major addresses here


When Moderator Ian Tosh called the meeting to order, he warned that attendees might see glitches, or “happy accidents,” as everyone shared in this experience, but the event went off smoothly, with just a few flaws. Folks got to practice the technology by voting for their favorite pie: pumpkin or apple. (Apple won by a landslide.)

“How good it is to gather together today as a conference!!!” Claudia Demick from Central Congregational Church in Providence commented on the chat screen.  Deborah Ringen of First Church of Christ in Saybrook, CT wrote: “The power of God can be felt through this worship, jumping out of the computer screen.  Feeling so blessed!”

And MaryAnn Hermance of First Trinitarian Congregational Church, UCC, in Scituate, MA, saw the upside of a virtual meeting and joked on the chat screen that there was no waiting line for the rest rooms during break.
 
The Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer
The Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer (President of the Southern New England Conference and Senior Minister, United Church on the Green, New Haven CT) ​gave the Board President's Report (see video and written report here), and assured everyone that the work of the Conference has been continuing during the past tumultuous year. She rejoiced over the Conference accomplishments, including the legal finalization of the Conference and the building of its infrastructure and staffing model, the ongoing work around racial justice, a successful RIP Medical Debt campaign, and the discernment of the Executive Conference Minister Search Committee. “We knew what we were doing was new, but never imagined how new it would be,” she said, referring to the shifts in ministry brought on by the pandemic.

Calvin Price gave the Treasurer’s Report (see video and written report here) and explained how the actual income and expenses have diverged from the budget in several key ways. Positives included the receipt of the Paycheck Protection loan and cost savings realized due to the pandemic; negatives included the loss of income from camps, conferences and retreats. Still undetermined is what the final impact will be of the new proportional giving process and general economic uncertainty.

“Assuming that most churches are able to keep their Proportional Giving commitments, we believe that the Conference resources will be sufficient to support our shared ministries for the remainder of the year,” he summarized.  “I speak for the whole Board in thanking each of you, and your congregations, for your Proportional Giving contributions that make our Conference ministry possible.  Your Board is profoundly grateful to be with you in this new journey as we seek to live the love and justice of Jesus.”

During the meeting, The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, thanked the members of the Conference for their generosity, with contributions of $800,000 given in gifts to support the work of the wider church.

Other business conducted included the Adoption of Behavioral Covenant and Rules of Procedure for the meeting, action on the Nomination of Directors and Officers, Action on the Nomination of the Executive Conference Minister, and Release of the Executive Conference Minister Search Committee.

Commenting on the Behavioral Covenant, Amanda Ostrove of Congregational Church of Easton, CT, wrote: “These guidelines should be adopted in all areas of life and governance as a way to allow for discussion and respect. It is often missing in life.” The guidelines call for attendees to speak to motions by leading with "I pray", "I wonder" or "I believe" rather than stating they are in favor or opposed. 

The most eagerly awaited moment of the Meeting was the introduction of the Executive Conference Minister candidate. Before a vote was taken, the Rev. Goodwin spoke about his family, upbringing, and how he would help serve within the vision for the Conference.  (Read more and watch the recordings here.)

Attendees were encouraged to submit questions for him before voting. One question in particular brought many reactions in the chat.  When asked “What new ways do you see God revealing himself in the SNEUCC?” he answered that he thought God brought an interpretative vision.

“My moniker for this tenure, would be ‘Grow with Us’,” Goodwin said, and then explained that he did not mean just by numbers counted in the pews, but by reaching beyond the four walls of the churches.  “It will be articulating the ministry of generosity, within the context of each and every one of our local communities.  So much so, that when people think about the heartbeat of that town, or city, or neighborhood, they’re thinking about the Southern New England Conference embodied in the local church ministries.” He invited members to think about revitalization, partnership, and outreach to those that we have failed to see in the past and to wonder what God is calling us to do, “through us, with us, and in us.”

"Think about revitalization. What areas is God calling us to revitalize, for outreach, where we are told it is dying, but we know are not spiritually.  Who is the Holy spirit inviting us to be that we could not have imagined?  And lastly wonder, what is God telling us to do, with us.”

Many attendees commented on how powerful the worship segments of the meeting were. The sessions were sprinkled throughout the meeting with music and reflections inviting worshippers to focus on facing the past with honesty, the present with heart and the future with hope. Preachers and reflectors, all reflecting diversity in age, skin color and background, challenged worshippers to dare to dream about what future may come under the new Conference's new Vision.  (Videos of the worship are available here.)

Words of thanks to the Bridge Conference Ministers, staff and planning teams filled the chat screen, especially to those who were involved in the worship, programming, music, and technology.  Susan Tarolli of Second Congregational Church UCC in Greenfield, MA, gave abundant gratitude to all who contributed to the day’s experience. Dawn Adams of First Congregational Church in Brimfield, MA, wrote: “The combination of those readings and music are just beautifully overwhelming and inspiring…A welcome injection of hope.  Blessings to all who had a hand in putting this together.”

Most of the attendees agreed that the online meeting was a success.  “I didn't know what to expect as a first-time delegate,” wrote Audra Holmes of First Congregational Church of Lebanon, CT.  “Was such a great meeting.  Excited to join one in person next year!!”

“I have never cried as much as I have cried today during an annual meeting -- from the worship to the spirit that is literally leaping through the screen,” said Goodwin.  “If we can do this virtually, my God, what can happen when we are all able to gather again together?”

Susan Grim of UCC Congregational Church of Norwell, MA wrote: “With all that is happening in this nation, it was good to have this boost.  May we all do God’s work.  God bless us all.”
 
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