In addition to passing the Climate Change Resolution (see separate article), the 210th Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference conducted other business.
Related to the Conference budget, the Meeting voted:
- To establish an Our Church’s Wider Mission Basic Support retention rate of 45% in 2010. That means that 45% of OCWM contributions from local churches will be retained by the Conference, and the other 55% will be forwarded on to the national setting of the United Church of Christ. This was an increase over the 2009 retention rate of 40%, and according to the Board of Directors will result in approximately $100,000 in additional funds being retained by the Conference.
During the budget hearing, several people voiced concern about the proposed OCWM rate. They were uncertain if retaining more money would be a break of the Conference's covenant with the national setting, disturbed about loss of staff at the national level, and worried that this loss of funds would be the ‘last snowflake that would break the branch.’ One attendee asked if the national setting had been notified of the Conference’s intentions; Minister and President Jim Antal said they were aware of the proposal and were already developing innovative ways to address the issue. A representative of the national setting had been invited to attend the meeting but had to cancel.
During plenary, Board of Directors Vice Chair Dick Harter said the change was necessary.
“It is clear to us that the continuity of our common ministries here requires this change, while substantially fulfilling our covenant with the national setting,” he said.
- To set the 2010 Fellowship Dues rate at $16.80 per church member. This is an increase of 40 cents per church member over the 2009 rate, in keeping with a policy voted by the Annual Meeting in 1993 linking Dues increases to increases in reported local church expenditures.
- To approve a 2010 Conference budget with income and expenses of $2,193,900.
More information related to the budget can be found in the Treasurer’s Report.
The Annual Meeting also approved 2010 Guidelines for clergy compensation and professional expense reimbursement. The guidelines include cash salary ranges which did not change from those recommended in the 2009 guidelines. The guidelines can be found online here.
Also, the Meeting approved revisions to the Conference bylaws, including changes that reduced the size of the Conference’s various committees. Those changes:
- Reduce the size of the Nominating Committee from 18 members to 10, and rename it the Volunteer Development Committee;
- Reduce the size of the Annual Meeting Planning Committee from 15 members to 10.
In a related action which did not require a bylaw change, the Meeting also voted to reduce the size of the Program Commissions to 6 (sizes previously varied from 6 to 16). This vote also encouraged commission members and Conference staff to recruit additional participants to the work of their Commissions at their discretion.
In addition to reducing the sizes of committees, the bylaw changes also eliminate stringent requirements for diversity, deleting language that said each group had to have people of different ages and races and had to have at least 40% of each gender and at least 50% lay persons. That language was replaced with a statement saying: “in developing the slate of nominees, the Volunteer Development Committee shall strive for a mix of lay and clergy nominees and for a diversity of nominees with regard to age, gender, race and ethnicity.”
Some delegates expressed concern that with the reduced numbers and less stringent requirements, diversity on the Conference’s committees would be lost. Others said there is not enough diversity in the Conference to ensure diversity on every committee. Dawn Hammond, Associate Conference Minister for Policy and Finance, explained that the changed wording would just depict the actual situation. “The Nominating Committee itself has been operating at half its theoretical size for years, and the reality is that commissions are already operating at a fraction of their supposed numbers,” she said. “This change is really just a reflection of what has already been happening.”
Other bylaw changes allow Conference commissions, committees and the Board of Directors to conduct meetings via real-time audio teleconferencing.
Other highlights of the Annual Meeting included the launching of the Pastoral Excellence Program (PEP) Sustainability Fund. Terry Martinson, pastor of the Old South Union Church in Weymouth, addressed the crowd and explained that the goal of the PEP is to create excellent pastors and excellent churches in the 21st century. “Donate to the PEP fund to send forth ripples of faith forever,” he said.
The offering from the Friday evening worship was dedicated to the Fund - $3,800 was collected.
The preacher on Friday evening was the Rev. Susan K. Smith, pastor of the Advent United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio. The Marching Band of the First Congregational Church of Somerville led a "Parade of Plenty" to start off the service, which also included the installation of three new Associate Conference Ministers: Jill Graham, Don Remick and Wendy Vander Hart.
Annual Meeting attendees had plenty of opportunities to visit with vendors from various organizations.
The importance of being part of a wider church -- the Conference, and the UCC -- was especially emphasized at this year’s gathering. “We are members of a wider church, so we are obligated to support our church with our hearts and wallets,” said one delegate. “Our local church is not the destination,” said another, “it’s part of the journey.”
Throughout the meeting, videos of people from throughout the United Church of Christ giving testimonies were projected on a giant screen. (Those vidoes, and more in the Changing Lives series, can be found online here.)
At a session on Discernment, attendees were asked to consider the question: “As we discern our local church budgets, to what extent are we obligated by our covenant with God and with one another to financially support the wider church?” Much thoughtful conversation followed. “Many churches working together can do bigger and better things to make better lives,” said one attendee. “Without relationships with other churches, the body shrivels and dies, so we must feed it,” said another.
The $4037 offering collected at Saturday’s worship was dedicated to the Conference’s new Annual Appeal, which raises funds for the Conference’s work of equipping congregations’ pastoral and lay leadership. Only 70% of the income needed to pay for the Conference’s programs and services comes from church giving (Our Church’s Wider Mission Basic Support and Fellowship Dues).
As usual, there were many Speak-Outs addressing everything from a women’s fellowship celebration, to a youth gathering, to joining task teams to support legislative work, to a request to give to American missionaries.
During the clergy luncheon, nine members were honored for their 50 years of Ordained Ministry: Mal Bertram, Tom Boates, Paul Clayton, Jim Eckels, Phil Hall, Roy Hanson, Don Overlook, Harry Petter, and Bill Tucker.
This year’s recipients of the Barnes Grant for Mission and Justice Ministries included: The United Church of Boxborough: “C4RJ Project;” Chaplains on the Way; Pilgrim United Church Interfaith Community Breakfast; Hispanic Community Church-Jamaica Plain: Immigrant Outreach; Hadwen Park Congregational, Worcester: LGBT Asylum Seekers; First Congregational, Reading: Reading Cares. Barnes Fund grants are intended to provide seed money for the startup of new mission and justice initiatives.
Haystack Awards were presented by the Conference’s Commission for Mission and Justice Ministries to Bob Bachelder, director of the Worcester Area Mission Society, for his extensive work in Mission and Justice programs, and to the team of Cesar and Lisa DePaz for their extraordinary church startup work within the Hispanic community.
The 25th Anniversary of the passing of the denomination's first Open and Affirming Resolution was celebrated with colorful flags and a slide presentation.
The final report of the Secretary, before adjournment, stated that there were 554 attendees at this year’s Annual Meeting, including 475 delegates.