Questions & Comments Leading Up to the Vote

Questions & Comments Leading Up to the Vote


Prior to Saturday's votes in separate plenary sessions in favor of proceeding with plans to create a unified Conference, those attending the Tri-Conference Annual Meeting had a chance to make comments and ask questions of the Conference Ministers and Board of Directors members. Some questions were asked at the microphones, others on submitted cards. Here is a sampling.

Amanda Ostrove, Congregational Church of Easton, CT:
"How do you foresee this coming together, this combining of talents and gifts and resources, helping the small struggling church?"

Response by Corey Sanderson, Massachusetts Conference Board:
"Our local communities are obviously the most important thing, and reaching  out in terms of resources and connecting each other is supremely important. We all believe that God gives specific gifts and talents to each individual local church, and many times what we need in one church is found in the next church next door. And so part of what we are hoping to envision is connecting local congregations that are encountering difficulties or struggles or unique situations, and being able to pair them so they can be a resource with one another. This is not leaving struggling local churches in the dust, this is trying to allocate our resources more effectively to make sure the ministry and the mission of the local congregation stays strong."
Ron Brown asks his question during the joint plenary session.
Ron Brown, of First Congregational Church in Southington, CT:
"Where does this fit in the larger family of the United Church of Christ? We are talking about consolidating a lot of resources in a relatively small geographic area. We have Conferences that are much, much larger geographically with many fewer resources. How would this new understanding of a Conference benefit the wider UCC family?"
Response by Kent Siladi, Connecticut Conference Minister:
"Across the United Church of Christ, and with my Conference Minister colleagues, the question about what’s new is ever present before us. The Kansas-Oklahoma and the Missouri Mid-South Conference just in the last few days agreed to explore new partnerships together. The South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska Conferences have agreed to share a single Conference Minister as a way to address some of the staffing realities. It is my understanding that Pennsylvania Northeast and Southeast are having similar conversations. We would be assembling our ministries together in a new way, and we would be demonstrating to the church that these historic Conferences, which are operating not out of a sense of diminishment but out of sense of strength, can use assets in a viable way."

Peter Johnston, Quincy Point Congregational Church, Quincy MA: 
"I think that I would rather have this conversation now, while we still have conferences and assets and things like that, rather than what happens in some situations, where we come to a moment of desperation and we have to make these decisions."

Sam Smith, First Congregational Church, UCC, Williamstown, MA
"How will the new Conference effect the ethos of autonomy and create a deeper oneness with our wider church and earth community?"

Response by Jocelyn Gardner Spencer, Connecticut Conference Board:
I hope that this will effect our ethos of autonomy because I believe autonomy is not serving us well. I cannot do it myself nor should I have to, you cannot do it by yourself, nor should you have to. Kent (Siladi) is fond of saying interdependence is a pre-existing condition. I believe that to be true and I hope that through this ongoing discernment and evolution that we are in we will have a chance to grow in our relationships and to let go of the myth of autonomy that keeps us separate from each other, and rather, connect more deeply with each other within our congregations, across our congregations, across our associations and conferences and the wider United Church of Christ, and as you mentioned with the earth itself and all of its inhabitants. So it is my deep hope that this will be one more way of us growing away from autonomy and toward the truth of our connection."
Paul Meoni, First Congregational UCC, Randolph, MA:
"There is a political revolution going on in our country. How will the new Conference engage in this revolution?"
Response by Corey Sanderson, Massachusetts Conference Board:
"The values we have as a denomination are exactly what the world is looking for – and part of what we need to do as a congregation, an association and a conference is to enact these and push them out into the world. We’ve been so long in our bubbles and in our silos and in our local church autonomy mindset that we’ve forgotten that our calling is to go out and minister to people in the world. They are actually waiting for us, but they don’t know that we believe what they believe, and our job is to communicate that. "

Michelle Georgevich, First Church of Christ in New Haven, CT:
"If we say yes, what are you plans for soliciting feedback from those who have concerns about resources at the association and state level?

Response by Dale Azevedo, Rhode Island Conference Board:
"One of the things that we have done the last 18 months is try to get input from people. We have held listening sessions, we’ve held the webinars. I think we’re going to try to continue to do that. We really, truly need to have input from each and every one of you and each and every one of our churches, to hear what it is you need from the Conference, and what it is that you can give to the Conference. One of the things we’re talking about in this proposal is how churches can give and share with one another and to one another and we need to figure out how we can do that going forward."

Laura Westby, Congregational Church of New Fairfield, CT
"I want to urge all of you and all of us to be bold. If what we end up with is a hybrid of what we have now, I will be deeply disappointed and I think all of us will be. As a transitional pastor, I know none of us like change - including transitional pastors. Please do not allow our anxieties and fears keep you from doing something brand new."

Response by Jocelyn Gardner Spencer, Connecticut Conference Board:
"It is my hope that this is a moment for us to dream and to dream with God. It has been 60 yeas since the United Church of Christ was formed, and since 1957 Conference boundaries have not changed. Think about how the world has changed in 60 years! Think about how the church has changed, think about how the world has changed -- our movement, our mobility, our connectedness, our technology -- so many things are different than they were in 1957. Why would we think that the same structures that served us well then will serve us well for the next 60 years?  Couldn’t we come up with something new?"
Liza Neal asks a question about staffing
Liza Neal, South Congregational Church, UCC Amherst, MA and Chaplain at Hampshire College:
"I am wondering about the impact of merger on Conference staff - about how you equalize salary without cutting staff and winding up with fewer people with more responsibilities, when those staff are already overburdened."

Response by Barbara Libby, Interim Conference Minister, Rhode Island Conference:
"We don’t have answers to those kinds of questions yet. Many of the questions that were submitted had many detailed questions about how we’re going to work this thing out. We’ve been quite clear from the get-go that we weren’t going to make any of those decisions until after the vote today. We want to be fully supported by the vote of each of our Conferences today so we can put flesh on the bones of this new idea."

Jane Mccord, First Congregational Church UCC in Reading, MA, and former Massachusetts board member:
"I’m concerned about the unified board offering fewer opportunities for lay and clergy participation at this level."

Response by Jim Antal, Massachusetts Conference Minister and President:
"That is one of the biggest challenges. If we are reducing the number of leaders who have responsibility for overseeing all the churches and members in our three conferences, aren’t we reducing the volunteer pool of energy and expertise which is providing guidance for the whole of our three conferences?  My response is that an essential feature of the coming year will be to figure out if we have a single board of directors (whose membership will not be 50, which is the number we currently have serving) what other kinds of leadership roles can we create as we go forward that can engage the kind of leadership and quality of leadership that we’ve seen last night and this morning, and I give you my pledge, that will happen."

Elizabeth McNab, Kingston Congregational UCC, RI:
"How will this effect our representation at General Synod?"

Response from Barbara Libby, Interim Conference Minister, Rhode Island Conference:
"Representation is based on number of members, so it will not change."
Kent Siladi responds to a question.
Jonathan Tetherley, First Congregational Church, UCC, Chicopee, MA
I chair a criminal justice task team of the Massachusetts Conference. In order to do that we have to work with other secular organizations that work with government in Mass. exclusively. I’m wondering about the implications for this in terms of the larger conference.
Response by Kent Siladi, Connecticut Conference Minister:
"One of the hallmarks of the United Church of Christ is our commitment to God's justice. I cannot imagine that, in pulling together a new Conference, that we would have that commitment diminish. Think about the impact we might make together on the region of New England where there are similar justice concerns. And, it’s not an either-or proposition. There would be regional issues that we might attend to and talk to our legislators about together, and local issues that we would continue to want to address."

Priscilla Morrison, The Federated Church of Orleans, MA:
"This is about respect. These people have been working since 2009, and they voted unanimously to go along with this plan. So, why don’t we?"

 Angelo Mendillo, Kingston Congregational UCC, RI:
"One of the few specific things in the proposal involves creating a single board. I would like to suggest that board be one-third, one-third, one-third from each Conference. We (Rhode Island) have only 4% of the 138,000 or 150,000 people. If we get 4 percent of the board, you’ve have to have a 100-member board.

"The time is now – I enthusiastically agree, we’e got to do this." 

Jamie Rude, The First United Church of Christ Congregational UCC in Milford, CT:
"I wonder if the associations can rise and adapt to new responsibilities that may be placed on them in lieu of forecasted staffing and board level changes. And I hear our still speaking God calling us to be grateful for the service of the people who have worked so hard. I came here thinking this was a rushed deal. I hear something completely different now. I hear that still speaking God reminding me that churches adapt to change at two speeds, slow and stop. I pray that we can consider moving forward at the preferred speed."
Response by George Peterson Rhode Island Conference President:
"I know one association that will rise up, that’s the Rhode Island Association. We have a lot of experience being an Association. The Holy Spirit has been working among us. I can testify to that myself. And each of you has to respond to this question as the Holy Spirit speaks to you."

Walter Stitt, Seekonk Congregational UCC, MA (RI Conference):
"We have all these assets, bylaws, corporate bodies that have existed forever – it’s going to take some good legal talent to untangle all that. Congregational bodies are probably different than a lot of other bodies – who is going to be our lawyer?

Response by Jim Antal, Massachusetts Conference Minister and President:
"Early on, we were also concerned. We consulted Heather Kimmel, the national general counsel for the United Church of Christ, and she provided us with some guidance. One of the reasons why what we are proposing today is to retain the three Conference corporations and to create a fourth corporate body is so there is continuity of legal corporations going forward. That is the case in the national setting, which now has a unified board of 52 members. That board has in front of it four different hats representing the four corporations that single board oversees. When they make a legal decision regarding local church endowment funds, for example, they take the Local Church Ministries hat and put it on and function as the Local Church Ministries board. A single board would from time to time function as the board of the Massachusetts Conference, Rhode Island Conference, Connecticut Conference."
Elizabeth Alletto, United Parish of Upton, MA:
"Why wouldn’t we do this?"

Questions and answers compiled by Tiffany Vail, Associate Conference Minister for Communications.
Photographs by Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane.
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