More than 500 people attended the 211th Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference at the DCU Center in Worcester on Saturday, where they were encouraged to re-think what church is and what church does.
“This is church,” Moderator Cynthia Maybeck told delegates as the meeting began, explaining that a Conference meeting is not the same as a town meeting or a board meeting. “We need to leave room for awareness for God’s voice among us.”
In his address, Board of Directors Chair Alan Froggatt spoke of Author Phyllis Tickle’s prediction for the next great emergence of the church, where authority will be located “in individual churches, in communities of churches and in groups of church bodies like these.”
“We are what the emerging church might look like,” he said, holding up the Annual Meeting’s integration of worship and business as an example. “The business we do is worship, and worship is about doing God’s business.”
Later, Conference Minister and President Jim Antal called on the Christian church to develop a “new vocation” working for the environment “building by building, town by town, choice by choice, car by car — and especially legislative bill by legislative bill, and vote by vote.”
And during the closing worship, Old South Church in Boston's Associate Pastor Quinn Caldwell painted a captivating picture of what his church looks like – including “an assumed prostitute, a drag queen and a Republican.”
One of the most powerful things church does, Caldwell said, is to “make us leave our houses to spend time with people we did not choose.” And putting up with each other, even when it’s uncomfortable, makes us better people, he said.
“And if you do it enough, then your best behavior might turn into your only behavior and then your only behavior might turn into who you are and then you might find out you have turned into a disciple,” he said.
Other highlights of the meeting included:
- A greeting from Bishop Ulises Munoz of the Pentecostal Church of Chile. Munoz thanked the Massachusetts Conference for the $90,000 that has so far been raised for the Blessing Cabins being constructed by his church as temporary housing for earthquake victims.
“You are helping us to wipe away the tears of many children, women and men who have lost everything,” said Munoz, through intepretor Elena Huegel.
Munoz said his church has made the cabins its top priority, even though 23 churches were destroyed and 30 more need repair.
“Our priority has been the people of our church, the children of our church, the elderly of our church, the families of our church,” he said. “I am here to bless you, to thank you for your solidarity and to tell you the Lord is with us.”
- Delegates packed a hearing on a proposed resolution updating clergy compensation guidelines, and expressed several concerns about proposed changes. As a result, the resolution was not brought to the full body for a vote but instead was sent back to the Leadership Development Commission for more work.The compensation guidelines which were approved in 2010 will remain in effect.
One concern mentioned by several delegates was a proposal to change how the size of a congregation is calculated, from simple membership to a formula that also considers worship attendance. Recommended salaries are partially based on the size of a pastor’s congregation.
Doug Showalter, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Falmouth, UCC, warned that it would be setting a double standard to calculate the size of a church one way for Fellowship Dues, and another way for determining clergy compensation.
- After making a small language change, delegates overwhelmingly approved a resolution supporting the creation of a Massachusetts Innocence Commission – a proposal that was defeated at Annual Meeting two years ago. (See the final version that was approved here.)
Vernon Wright, pastor of the Second Congregational Church of Attleboro, spoke passionately in favor of the resolution, explaining his change of heart since the prior meeting. He said he initially felt that the proposal would make the job of law enforcement officials more difficult, but said after working with the proposal presenters for the past two years, he came to see that being involved in a wrongful conviction would be a much larger burden.
- Delegates also approved structural changes to the size and makeup of Conference program commissions, which had been shrunk to six official members at the last Annual Meeting.
Volunteer Development Commission Chair Marilyn Rossier explained that commissions at that time were encouraged to recruit adjunct members, but said since then the ambigious state of those members had caused the committee and Board of Directors to revisit last year's changes and to make further revisions.
As a result, the Meeting approved a clarification to the bylaws that states that adjunct members of commissions do not have voting privileges and may not constitute more than half the total commission membership exclusive of Conference staff. The meeting also voted to allow the Volunteer Development Commission to appoint anywhere from 6 to 12 voting members to each commission.
Esther Rendon-Thompson expressed concern that there were no Hispanic people being added to Conference commissions this year; Rossier asked that all Associations nominate people to serve on commissions to widen the pool of people available.
- Delegates voted to approve a 2011 Conference Budget of $2,606,700. To meet that budget, $43,500 will be transferred from a reserve fund. Delegates also voted that the Conference should continue to retain 45% of Our Church’s Wider Mission Basic Support within the Conference, sending the other 55% to the national setting; and delegates set the 2010 Fellowship Dues rate at $17.20 per church member.
Delegates expressed concern over cutbacks made to campus ministry, and over the salaries of Conference staff, which were kept flat in 2010, meaning they actually decreased due to increases in health insurance premiums.
- Delegates got a chance to attend forums on two resolutions that will be brought to Annual Meeting next year: a Resolution to Call for Action to Restore the Dream of Democracy (A Response to the U.S. Supreme Court Decision Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission) and a Resolution to End Homelessness Among Youth and Young Adults in Massachusetts.