Board Looks to Future for SNEUCC Churches

Board Looks to Future for SNEUCC Churches


Board members engage in a community building.
The Southern New England Conference Board of Directors held their final meeting of the program year on April 29, and spent the day together at Edwards House Meeting & Retreat Center pondering various aspects of what the future might look like for the churches of the Conference. 

Among the topics they discussed:

Clergy & Local Church Wellness

The Rev. Liz Garrigan-Byerly, Executive Minister for Area Conference Ministry, led a conversation about the work the Area Conference Minister team is doing around clergy and congregational wellness. Referencing the study by Rev. Dr. Jerry Streets, she said that while 52 percent of clergy reported experiencing burnout in the last month, overall, clergy have higher levels of self-care and wellness practices than the general public. The Conference is committed, she said, to nurturing an eco-system of wellness so that authorized ministers can create and maintain supportive networks and protective practices. Specifically, the Conference is providing clergy with retreats and other opportunities for rest and renewal, encouraging churches to grant two weeks of renewal leave to their pastors, centering boundary training on health and wellness, and planning upcoming Pension Board retreats in each region, so clergy can get to know colleagues who are geographically close, to help build networks.

"Clergy who are well and rested manage to lead from a deeper well," she said.

Rev. Garrigan-Byerly said the team is now turning more attention to local church wellness.

"We need to resource the church leadership and body as much as we do the pastors. This is a challenge. All of our churches have experienced significant stress over the last few years, and many have deferred institutional maintenance, which impacts the health and wellness of the whole system,” she said. "How do we equip our local churches to tend to these things so they are better able to live the love and justice of Jesus?"

Application for compelling preaching grant

The Rev. Dr. Chris Davies, Executive Minister for Programs and Initiatives, told the board about a grant proposal she is working on related to compelling preaching. The 5-year-grant would provide training for current preachers who want to take proclamation to the next level, working with coaches and acting teachers to increase their skills. It would also provide training for lay people who wish to learn to become preachers, and it would include a preaching camp and a preaching revival toward the end of the program. 

"This can be about the way we show up in the world," she said. "People will find clergy saying: here's what matters to us."

Board members engage in community building.

Looking at the Future

The Board heard a presentation on the Old Colony Association by Rev. Ruth Shaver and Rev. Virginia Child about that ministry conducted by the 18 churches there. They described the Association as "small but mighty," and said the ministries that go on there have tremendous impact in their communities.

That led into a later conversation in which the Board looked at data from the UCC Cornerstone Fund that acknowledged the difficult economic realities that so many churches are facing, including inflation and rising interest rates, aging core donors, a shortage of volunteers and an overall decline in the amount of giving to religious institutions.

Drawing on information from the Pew Research Center, however, the Cornerstone Fund predicted that a revival of the church is possible if the church can learn how to unite justice and righteousness, if it can learn how to speak compellingly to non-Christian people, and if it can embrace the multiethnic character of Christianity today. 

The Board had a lively discussion about the findings, and about the need for the church to think about their ministries in new ways. Some pointed out that even in the face of difficult economic realities, there is still faithful giving going on in our churches. They talked about the need for churches to enter into more partnerships: with one another, with colleges, and with other organizations in their communities. And they talked about how there are many community programs in need of space, and many churches with space to spare - they just need to connect.

Executive Conference Minister the Rev. Darrell Goodwin said the ongoing regional gatherings have been energized by church leaders sharing with one another what they are doing in their ministries, and brainstorming how they can collaborate.

"The generative energy about cross pollination has been significant," he said. "Every one of our churches doesn’t have to be doing every single ministry."

Rev. Goodwin also said an important focus for the Conference recently has been to shift the language around churches that find themselves merging or even closing. He said discussions with these churches now center around resurrection: "if this phase of your ministry is coming to a close, how would you like to be resurrected? I am seeing life in those conversations."

Board members engage in community building.

Conference Global Partnerships

The Board had a lively discussion about the global partnerships of the historic Conferences, including ones in Korea, Colombia, Chile and Haiti. Those partnerships have played out in various ways, including church-to-church partnerships, but in many cases the energy for and interest in them has waned over the years. On top of that, there are incompatibilities between the theologies of some of those partner churches and the SNEUCC.

Rev. Goodwin was recently contacted by an executive from Sri Lanka, looking to reestablish a connection with the historic Massachusetts Conference, which founded churches in that country. Clergy of color there, he said, are facing challenges and would like to connect with clergy of color here. 

Rev. Davies will convene a discussion at Annual Meeting about these various partnerships, and what the future for them might look like.


Among other business, the Board:
  • Voted to allow delegates to participate remotely in Annual Meetings. Delegates to this year's Annual Meeting, on June 17, can participate either in person or online.
  • Determined that, beginning in 2024, the SNEUCC Annual Meeting will take place online in any year in which the UCC hold its General Synod in person.  Board members agreed that this would both ease the organizational challenges for the Conference staff, who are convening Annual Meeting just weeks before bringing a delegation of 99 to Synod; and will be easier for the Conference financially.  General Synod has traditionally been held every other year, but this year's Synod will consider changing that to every three years.
  • Established the Bennie E. Whiten, Jr. GROW fund to receive legacy and other gifts restricted for SNEUCC marketing and communications initiatives to support local congregations. Bennie Whiten, who recently passed away, was a Conference Minister in Massachusetts. The Board also reallocated a long-unused balance of approximately $20,700 from the MA Area Minister’s Fund as seed money for the Bennie Whiten GROW fund.
  • The Board approved a gift of $10,000 to the Pension Boards to sponsor the development of a UCC credit union. 


tiffany vail cropped.jpg
Tiffany Vail

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

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