Board Talks Over Challenge of Building a New Conference During a Liminal Time

Board Talks Over Challenge of Building a New Conference During a Liminal Time

The Southern New England Conference Board of Directors, meeting via Zoom on Saturday, Dec. 4, talked about how it’s not surprising that this new Conference – which came into being just two months before the pandemic shut everything down – is still working at formation.

Executive Conference Minister the Rev. Darrell Goodwin told the board there is still much work to be done to determine how the Conference lives into its mission and carries out its ministries.

“My commitment is to try to figure out how do we do this thing, so we’re accessible to our churches, to our pastors,” he said. “If we empower and equip our local churches to be the stars in their local settings, then we live out the mission of who we are supposed to be collectively as the Southern New England Conference.”

The Rev. Audrey Price, Executive Minister for Strategic Operations, agreed, saying the Conference is still very much in the process of “defining and forming.”

“We’re living into the Vision that was gifted and given to us,” she said.

Goodwin and Price said facilitators are being brought in to work with the staff in 2022, to help assess the ministry being carried out. In addition, the Board has appointed a new committee to think strategically about the Conferences properties in terms of their alignment with the Conference’s mission.

Board members were understanding about the work that still needs to be done.

“Local churches have had to scramble around and discern who we are in this world forever changed by COVID,” said the Rev. Timoth Sylvia, pastor of the Newman Congregational Church UCC in Rumford, RI. “It’s perfect for the Conference to make the same reflection ... It’s a vital process for us to be about as the Board.”

The Rev. Jocelyn Gardner Spencer, who was deeply involved in the planning process for the new Conference, agreed.

“This reimagining and reassessment is entirely consistent with the whole journey we’ve been on,” she said. “If you’ve named adaptive change as one of your core principles, then you’d better be ready to make some adaptive change.”

She encouraged Goodwin and Price to go ahead and make changes to the organization’s structure as it was originally mapped out, in response to current realities.

“It was never meant to be chiseled into stone – this wants to be a living organization,” she said.

The Rev. Alison Patton, pastor of the Saugatuck Congregational Church in Westport, CT, also said it should come as no surprise that the Conference – like local churches – is unsure of the path ahead. Quoting author Susan Beaumont, she said “we’re in a liminal time, and liminal moments are not the time to make strategic plans.”

“This is a moment when we’re not able to concretize what comes next, because that’s somewhere out there in the fog,” she said. “We want to respond, and not react. Whatever is unfolding around us – we’re going to be somewhere else down the river in a matter of moments.”

The Board has also appointed a stewardship committee, to look at ways to increase the financial resources available to the Conference. A continued decrease in giving from local churches, coupled with a drop in revenue from the Conference retreat centers due to the pandemic, means the Conference will need to once again draw on one-time expenditures of existing funds to cover a budget deficit in 2022.

Dawn Hammond, Executive Minister for Policy and Finance, said the executive staff believes going forward with a deficit budget for one more year makes sense.

“We’re asking for time,” she said. “Rather than cutting expenses in a hasty and reactive way, we want the Board and staff to spend time in 2022 finding our way through the fog that Alison mentioned.  How is God calling us to use our shared resources now?  We plan to come to you in January of 2023 with a budget that is more in line with resources.”


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Tiffany Vail

Tiffany Vail is the Director of Media & Communications for the Southern New England Conference.

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