2nd Annual Meeting Sees New Conference Moving Forward

2nd Annual Meeting Sees New Conference Moving Forward

Virtual Conference Choir
More than 450 people attended the Second Annual Meeting of the Southern New England Conference online on May 8 for a day of joyous worship, building connections and looking forward with a focus on justice. 

"Living into the Fulfillment of God's Promises" was the theme of the event, which looked both at what the newly formed Conference has achieved since it officially came into being in 2020, and what work lies ahead.

Worship was interwoven through the day, and included an Annual Meeting anthem, Stir My Soul, which was composed by Thomas Cuffari specifically for the meeting. The song kicked off each segment of worship, which also included a reading, a reflection and additional music.

The chorus of the anthem reflected the excitement around the newness of the SNEUCC:
"Stir my soul
As I enter a reality
Of this world that's new to me
MORE: Recordings of the worship and a worship bulletin with credits can be found here. Recordings of the musical selections from the day will be made available separately for churches that wish to use them in their own worship services under their own licenses.

President's Address

Rev. Jocelyn Gardner Spencer, Conference President
Conference leaders addressing the plenary talked about the newness that is the Southern New England Conference, which was formed by the unification of the historic Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island conferences.

"In our first year of legally official and ecclesially sanctioned life, which was of course, 2020, we invested in building the foundations that would make possible the ministries to which we know ourselves to be called," said the Rev. Jocelyn Gardner Spencer, the Conference's first president. "The year 2020 was also of course, radically disrupted and reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic and by the ongoing reckoning in this nation with racism, white supremacy and police brutality against persons and communities of color.

"This year, in 2021, those challenges continue in full force and we are off and moving to meet them. I guess I'll have to change metaphors because foundations imply something static and stationary, and what we are building is anything but that. What we are building, what we are by the grace of God becoming, is something mobile, something agile, something active and adaptive and alive."

Gardner Spencer, who was one of the architects of the Conference's formation, talked about how about a dozen new staff members have joined the three dozen continuing staffers, and are now working to build relationships with one another and with an evolving Board of Directors.

"As these remarkable teams continue to build relationships with one another and figure out who we are together in this new configuration. both our staff and our board are also continuing to build relationships with all of you," she said. "With our Associations, with our congregations, with our members. From the Berkshires to the East Bay, from the North Shore to the Gold Coast, from the Pioneer Valley to the Quiet Corner from Metrowest to the Litchfield Hills, from Boston to Providence to Hartford, from the Quabbin Reservoir to Long Island Sound and beyond. It is a gift to discover just how much discipleship and how much delight, how much justice and how much joy become possible when we are together."
MORE: A recording of Rev. Gardner Spencer's address can be viewed here. Her written report to the meeting can be read here.

Executive Conference Minister's Address

Rev. Darrell Goodwin, Executive Conference Minister
Rev. Darrell Goodwin, the Conference's first Executive Conference Minister, delivered his address to the Conference from a rainbow striped hammock. 

"I thought about all of the myriad of ways I could do my report ... and I just decided to invite you to be with me in a way that many of you, I hope, will one day experience: just to come and be with me at my home and my backyard, and just get to know each other a little bit more," he said.

Echoing Gardner Spencer's thoughts, Rev. Goodwin said that when he arrived at the helm of the Conference Jan. 1 of 2021, "it became very clear to me in that first week that though the Southern New England Conference was legally an entity and though there had been a year of some preparation and some movement around staffing, the Southern New England Conference was not fully into being."

"We were, yet again, embarking on a journey together, a journey that would become more clear, a journey that will become more tangible over time," he said. "These few months have seemingly raced by, but not without a lot of change, not without a lot of challenge, but mostly with a lot of invitation to the spirit."

Rev. Goodwin talked about how his spending his time publicly "speaking truth to power" as a denominational leader who is a young gay, black man has created some backlash in the form of a Zoom bombing and challenging messages and emails.

"And yet my siblings in Christ, we are doing exactly what we purposed to do. We are building on the amazing work that your local churches have already been doing to shape who we are as the Southern New England Conference," he said. "And my friends, we are boldly moving forward, even more formatively. We are over 600 churches, over 1200 authorized ministers and about 120,000 members of God's faithful. And my friends, we will let more and more and more of God's children know there is a safe place for you,"

"When I began this work, I invited you to grow with me and to grow with us as a Southern New England conference," he said. "And I'll reiterate: I invite you to a spirit of generosity. I invite you also to a place of outreach like you've never seen before, and to a place of wonder. The more we stay in a place of wonder, the more we stay committed to this beautiful work that God is calling us towards."
MORE: A recording of Rev. Goodwin's address can be viewed here. Find out more about him here.  

Justice Commitments

Rev. James D. Ross II
Delegates were invited to help shape what the new Conference's commitment to justice will look like over the coming years, by taking part in justice engagement sessions around their vision for what the environmental justice, immigration, Open and Affirming, racial justice and other justice ministries might look like going forward.  They brought up issues like the connections between environmental and economic justice, and increasing understanding about systems of power as they relate to race and privilege. They talked about how to support congregations assisting people seeking asylum, and how to support churches attempting to become and to live into being Open and Affirming. And they talked about how to work on legislative advocacy in all of these areas.

The Rev. James D. Ross II, the newly called Minister for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, reflected back to the plenary what had been brought up as priorities in those groups.

"One of my favorite scripture texts is at the ascension, when Jesus prepares to leave earth and ascend to heaven. Jesus says 'Greater works than these shall you do,'" he said. "Now I take that seriously, and I believe that we as a Conference are in a 'greater works than these' moment. And I believe that the work that we committed to do together, and the ways we envisioned doing that work together, will live into and fulfill that."

Synod Resolution Endorsed; Board Installed

Ian Tosh
Ian Tosh, Moderator
Delegates also tackled two pieces of business: they overwhelmingly approved the election of the Board of Directors and officers and Synod delegates, and they endorsed a resolution going to the United Church of Christ General Synod in July. The resolution calls for the Alliance of Associate Conference Ministers of the United Church of Christ to be recognized as a formal group by the UCC.

Area Conference Minister the Rev. Terry Yasuko Ogawa, who sits on the Alliance's Cabinet, said she came to New England from the Southern Conference, where Associate Conference Ministers are only paid for 10 hours of work a week.

"Not every Conference has the same resources that we do," she said. "Some of the ACMs are really isolated, or don't have the ability to network with each other." She said when the group first came together, they tried to get a list of ACMs from the national setting, simply to allow them to network, but they could not because they are not a recognized group in the UCC bylaws.

"This resolution would create an opportunity to get more support from MESA (the UCC's Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization team)," she said.

"The ACMs represent what seems to be the most diverse body in the United Church of Christ. Our empowerment is in the interest of breaking down oppressive structures and moving toward greater equity and justice," she added, "So it's not only for infrastructure, but it's also for justice."
MORE: Watch a video of the Board of Directors installation here.  Background materials, coverage and links to all of the recordings can be found at: sneucc.org/2021AMLook under Delegate Materials for information on the two votes.


tiffany vail cropped.jpg
Tiffany Vail

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

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