Written by Barb Powell and Jeff Woodard * April 23, 2012
More than 150 attendees including conference ministers, local church pastors and national staff gathered April 16-17 as the United Church of Christ’s Collegium of Officers presented its vision plan for the national settings –– including bold inspirational goals and some initial implementation strategies –– during the UCC’s Annual Consultation at Chicago Theological Seminary’s new LEED-Silver certified facility.
“In service of our Stillspeaking God, we extend an extravagant welcome, we listen for God’s ancient-yet-continuing testament, and we change lives in the process, others as well as our own,” said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of Local Church Ministries, in delineating the UCC’s core values. “The United Church of Christ is emerging, not dying. We have the best opportunity now to become the church that we first dared to be in 1957.”
The core values, said General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, are the foundation for the vision plan, whose inspirational goals provide a framework for viable ministry and mission.
While the strategies for these goals will be implemented immediately, the goals are long-term and require working toward the future, said the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries. “These goals must transform the United Church of Christ into a bold, effective and responsive servant of the Missio Dei, the mission of God.”
The four long-term strategic goals are:
1. The UCC is a bold, widely-known and respected public voice of Christianity in service of God’s ever-unfolding mission.
This goal has as its foundation sound theology and a confidence born in God’s continuing testament. “The United Church of Christ is a bold public voice of Christianity,” said the Rev. James Moos, executive minister of Wider Church Ministries.
2. There is a welcoming UCC community of faith that is accessible to all — no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey.
At its heart, this goal says that no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey –– in spirit, accessibility, culture, geography, sexuality, and all things that make each person unique –– the UCC extends extravagant welcome, using both technology and traditional approaches.
3. Every UCC person is well-equipped to be growing in faith, be theologically conversant, and be active in the global mission of the church.
This goal lifts up the importance of discipleship in all we do.
4. The UCC has a wealth of prepared, excellent leaders that reflect the diversity of God’s beloved community.
Through this goal, the vision plan lifts up the gifts of leaders –– lay and clergy –– and the importance of investing in our leaders.
To reach these goals, said W. Mark Clark, associate general minister, requires letting go of such “old church questions” as “How do I make my church grow?” or “How do we attract new members” to embrace new questions: “What is God doing in my neighborhood, in my community, in the world?” “How can I –– and my congregation –– join God in that ‘doing’?”
“These questions may sound simplistic, but this focal shift is a 180-degree turn in the church’s attention, away from self-preservation and toward discerning God,” Clark said.
Following a description of the goals, the Collegium outlined eight initial strategies for implementation. The strategies centered around three signature issues dictated by “our UCC legacy and our current realities,” said Black. The three overarching themes are the environment, education (especially literacy) and the building of beloved community.
The initial strategies, said Black, “will flesh out why and how the UCC is uniquely positioned to make a visible, public impact on these three fronts.” Through strategies incorporating the environment, literacy and building community, the UCC will take its first step toward achieving its bold, inspirational goals.
The Rev. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, kicked of the Consultation with a theological reflection and framework. Worship closed the first day, with the Rev. Kenneth Samuel, pastor of Victory UCC in Stone Mountain, Ga., preaching.
During day two of the Consultation, participants collectively processed the vision plan presentation in a “World Café” setting. The “World Café” method is an effective and flexible process for large-group discussion. The process was led by two facilitators –– Stacy Cusulos, a diversity and justice consultant, and Nancy Margulies, one of the original World Café practitioners.
Worship closed the Consultation, with the Rev. Penny Lowes, chair of the UCC’s Executive Council, preaching
Alongside the Annual Consultation, meeting time was set aside for the UCC’s Council of Conference Ministers, Senior Pastors Gathering, and Mission Planning Council.