211th Annual Meeting Focused on Proposed New Conference

211th Annual Meeting Focused on Proposed New Conference

By Tiffany Vail
Associate Conference Minister for Communications

HARTFORD, CT - The 211th Annual Meeting of the Rhode Island Conference was held as part of the first-ever Tri-Conference Annual Meeting with the Massachusetts and Connecticut Conferences, and most of the two-hour session was dedicated to discussion about whether to move forward toward joining the other two, larger neighboring Conferences.

The 120 delegates and clergy in attendance voted decisively in favor of the resolution, but not until after a sometimes emotional discussion during which several people expressed concern that the interests of the Rhode Island Conference - with just 30 of the 625 churches that would make up the new Conference - would be overlooked by their larger counterparts.

Rhode Island Conference President George Peters at the lecturn during the discussion on the Resolution to move toward forming a New Conference.
"I am concerned about the disappearance of the Rhode Island Conference with no real investigation of other possibilities," said Ruth Hainsworth, pastor of the United Congregational Church of Westerly, in Pawcatuck. "As a member of my congregation said, the Westerly Church often feels like a flyspeck on the windshield of the Rhode Island Conference. He asked the question: what will happen to the Westerly Church if we are a part of an even bigger entity?"

"As the pastor of a small church, let me iterate from the bottom of my heart: bigger is not always better," she said.

Angelo Mendillo of the Kingston Congregational UCC proposed an amendment requiring that the new unified Board of the new Conference have one-third representation from each Conference. Otherwise, he said, Rhode Island, will be at a disadvantage.

"If this new Board decides to sell Irons Homestead, and Rhode Island doesn't want that, we won't be able to stop it," he said.

But the proposed amendment was defeated, and others argued that it was too soon in the process to focus on such details.

Alicia McCormick, from the Moosup Valley Church, said she was a doubting Thomas when she arrived at the meeting, but that she was convinced that it was time to go forward.

"What I was missing was that this is really about hope. This is really about trying to decide where we're going to go from here and what it's going to look like and so I'm really glad nobody has the details yet," she said. "There is still time to say 'no, this is not worth doing.' When we come up with the details, we can say that we're not satisfied with our role. So there is no risk. There is only a risk in stagnancy. We can say 'no' later, but right now, it's about hope."

Abby Ashley, of the Barrington Congregational Church, said since moving to Rhode Island, she has found it to be a "feisty little state."

"We're not going to stop, we're going to keep moving ahead," she said. "We're going to keep doing the things that we do best - that's to be feisty, to love and to pray," she said. "We need to change the way we do business and combining these Conferences is exactly the right start."

Several speakers said that the Rhode Island Conference - which has been operating with a $75,000-deficit budget and has had interim Conference Ministers for five years - has to make a change.

"If we vote yes, we are going to change. If we vote no, we are going to change. Change has to happen," said Jennifer Geary, Director of the Irons Homestead. "It's time for Rhode Island to choose a future of some sort, so we can really start doing ministry together."

In other business, delegates overwhelmingly agreed to sign on to an emergency resolution which has been submitted to General Synod in response to the Trump Administration's decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord.  The resolution, initially submitted by the Southern California-Nevada Conference, can be seen here. 
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