By Tiffany Vail
Associate Conference Minister for Communications
Delegates to the Massachusetts Conference's 217th Annual Meeting this weekend (June 17 - 18) voted on welcoming immigrants and on a variety of matters related to clergy compensation and Conference finances.
Delegates voted unanimously in favor of sponsoring a General Synod resolution that will call on all settings of the United Church of Christ to enter into covenants promising to welcome immigrants.
The Annual Meeting voted in favor of a draft of the resolution, to be submitted to the biennial meeting of the denomination being held in 2017. It authorized the Board of Directors to vote to sponsor the final version of the resolution - which is still being drafted by representatives from a number of Conferences that also plan to sponsor it - once it is in its final form.
The draft resolution calls on Synod to "encourage the development of policies dedicated to facilitating the respectful welcome and inclusion of all immigrants into the United States and calls on congregations, associations and Conferences to become active 'Immigrant Welcoming Congregations and Communities.'"
"This resolution is different from past Synod actions," said The Rev. Dawn Adams of First Congregational Church in Brimfield. "Previous resolutions have called on the government for action. This resolution calls on us to do the work."
"The Scriptures call on us to love our neighbors, to welcome strangers ... not just in word, but in action," she said.
The draft resolution can be found on pages 28 and 29 of the Advance Materials. (Advance Materials PDF.)
Clergy Compensation Guidelines get overhaul
Delegates voted in favor of an overhauled version of Clergy Compensation Guidelines. In the past, every Annual Meeting has voted on guidelines, but with this vote, the guidelines will remain in place until such time when the Clergy Leadership Ministry Council sees a need to propose substantive changes beyond annual cost-of-living adjustments.
One major change to the compensation guidelines from previous years was to include salary ranges that are based not on church membership, but on weekly participation in the life of the church. Another change was to define "full-time" as being an average of 35 to 50 hours per week, rather than 40 to 50 hours per week. Quentin Chin, Interim Pastor of the First Congregational Church UCC of Dalton, who presented the guidelines, explained that the change in definition was in recognition that part-time pastors need to have enough hours in their week to also work another part-time job. The guidelines also recommend that if churches cannot provide health insurance for their pastors, as recommended, that they pay them am extra sum of money to cover the cost of insurance - pro-rated in the case of part-time clergy.
The guidelines can be found on pages 24 to 27 of the Advance Materials (Advance Materials PDF) with two corrections: that line 1 say the 217th Annual Meeting, instead of the 218th; and that line 41 state insurance WOULD be pro-rated based on number of hours (removing the word "not").
Contribution rate to national UCC to be reduced
Delegates took a number of votes related to Conference finances. They:
- Voted to reduce the percentage of Our Church's Wider Mission Basic Support that is passed on to the national setting of the church from 53 percent to 50 percent, and to reduce the percentage of United Church Mission passed on from 33 percent to 30 percent.
Assistant Treasurer Chip Hamblet, a member of the Pawtucket Congregational Church in Lowell, said that the proportion of local church giving passed on to the national setting has remained the same for the past five years even as total revenue has declined. The Conference, he said, has been able to do this by "consolidating staff positions, using new technologies, keeping a tight rein on costs, and maximizing other sources of income." But, he added "for 2017 we do not see a way to sustain current levels of engagement with our churches and clergy without changing the sharing ratio."
- Voted to increase Fellowship Dues from $18.55 to $19 per member. This increase is based on the increases in reported local church expenses, a formula that has been in place since 1993.
- Approved a budget with income of $2,195,900, expenses of $2,245,200 and a transfer from operating reserves of $49.300 in order to balance the budget.
"Although it is a common practice for your Board to propose a budget with a modest deficit, that deficit has seldom materialized at year-end," Hamblet said. " This is because of the generally conservative approach to both budgeting and spending practiced by your Board and staff."
- Approved a merger with the Massachusetts Congregational Fund, along with the establishment of a Conference investment committee. Most Congregational Fund money is invested through United Church Funds, so the Board of the Fund did not feel that it was providing any additional value to churches. Merging it allows the Conference to take over that investment function, under the guidance of the new committee.
- Approved a merger with the South Congregational Church of Lawrence. The church closed in 2015 and sold its building, and the remaining members elected to merge with the Conference rather than dissolve. Merging with the Conferences allows them to turn over their assets to the Conference, to be used to continue their ministry via the wider church.
The Treasurer's Report and detailed information about the budget can be found in the Advance Materials (Advance Materials PDF). Further information on the merger votes can be found in the Delegate Packet. (Delegate Packet PDF.)