Charles L. Wildman,
Interim Conference Minister
Pastoral Letter Index
March 11, 2004
To: The Authorized Ministers and Moderators
From: Davida Foy Crabtree, Conference Minister
Greetings in this Lenten season, a time of reflection, repentance and renewal, in the name of Jesus Christ, our living Savior!
In my first years as your Conference Minister, I sent periodic pastoral letters to the ministers and moderators of the Conference. For the past two and a half years, I have sent very few, but we have begun to hear that many of you are missing them. So I am restarting the tradition. I will try to send five to six a year, depending on the need.
Usually in these letters, I raise some matters to our consciousness and prayerfulness. Since it has been so long since the last letter, and I have been using the clergy FIDO listserv to post prayer concerns, I will not include those concerns this time. However, beginning with the next pastoral letter, I will resume the inclusion of the prayer listing.
Since we are all facing significant budget worries, I hope you will be willing to participate in a new way of our communicating. We are sending this letter through the mail, and we will continue to do so for those who do not have email. We would like, however, to send it via email henceforth whenever possible. It is not only a better use of Christ’s dollars, but also has a lighter impact on the environment. It also means that you can excerpt and save portions of it, or enclosures, to disk if you wish.
Thus, we would appreciate your sending Diane Ciba the email address to which you would wish pastoral letters or emergency communications to be sent. We will use this form of communication sparingly and will not send general broadcast flyers, etc. to your personal email address. If there were to be an urgent situation, however, having your email would make a difference for all of us.
In mid-February, you received a letter from me about some changes in staffing anticipated to begin in early 2005 (More Information). Some of you have inquired about various aspects of that change. The enclosed Question and Answer piece will be responsive to all the questions that have been brought to our attention. Don’t hesitate to speak to any of our Associate Conference Ministers or Regional Ministers or me if you have more questions. We will have this document up on our web page, and if new questions come to our attention, we will add them as we go. There has been a lot of change in Conference life over these past ten years. For some this is disconcerting, especially in this “land of steady habits.” Yet change is not only inevitable but desirable, since stagnation rarely yields faithfulness. God calls us to be resilient and responsive, renewed and vigorous. We, your staff and board, believe this change in staffing will enable us to be that for the sake of the whole Church of Jesus Christ.
A reminder of the Conference wide event on March 27 called “Spring Plantings”. We gather at First Church in Newington from 8:30 to 3:00 for workshops, a Bible Study led by yours truly, and a keynote by Rev. Allie Perry. Brochures have been out for many weeks; bring the leaders of your church for a great opportunity for learning about life in both church and world!
Registrations are flowing in strongly for Silver Lake for the summer, but as of today there is still room in many conferences! [Summer Conference listings] The spirit of the Lake is strong, and Tim and Anne Hughes are a wonderful addition to our staff as Co-Directors. Summer staff still has a few openings for young people 16+. Counselors are always needed at your conference center – I hope your church will send at least one adult to counsel!
The new Health and Welcome Center will be delivered in early May, and more cabins will be built this spring by some of our churches. We are bringing buildings up to today’s codes, and spiffing them up, thanks to contributions from numerous churches and people. New bathrooms in the Pines and a new floor in its main room, new drapes in the Lodge, the Cedars and the Pines are being donated. Be sure to come visit. If you would like to see the mission statement and policy that guide Silver Lake, log onto our web site and go to its page.
In planning for Annual Meeting this fall, a decision has been made to shift to a two day format, followed by a one day meeting in the spring of 2005. So we will gather on Friday, October 15 and Saturday, October 16 at Suffield High School. Friday afternoon will include the traditional clergy lunch and seminar, workshops, resolution hearings and the first plenary session in late afternoon. My address and opening festival worship will be Friday evening. Our keynoter, the internationally known Rev. Dr. Park Jong Wha of our Korean partnership, will speak Saturday morning, and business will proceed through the day. We anticipate a dinner with New Samaritan Corporation that evening following concluding worship. Please note these changes on your calendar and inform your delegates. Remember, we hope that Moderators will be delegates.
I would note that we happen to be in a time of unusually few transitions in parish ministry, and that means that a number of our faithful intentional interim ministers are, or will soon be, without ministry settings. This is one of the challenges for those who are called to this specialized ministry. There are times when we barely have enough interims to fill the need, and then times like this. We praise God for the relationships among so many new pastors and their churches. At the same time, we would do well to hold our interim ministers in prayer, giving thanks for all they give and for the risks they take for this calling.
Most of you are aware that Judy Hjorth announced her retirement from her position as Northern Regional Minister effective June 11, 2004. We invite you to hold the date of June 5 at the Wapping Community Church in South Windsor in mid-afternoon for her farewell event. She has served the five associations stretching between Farmington Valley and Windham since the summer of 1997. Prior to that she had served in the same role in central New York for 18 years after serving in two parishes in Massachusetts for many years. If you or your church would like to contribute to a gift for her, simply send a check made out to the Missionary Society of Connecticut and send it to Peggy Wright at our office, marked “Hjorth gift” on the memo line.
Last fall, one of our churches presented a resolution on same gender marriage at our Conference Annual Meeting. Good dialogue of many viewpoints took place and the body voted to defer action until this coming October so that our churches and members would have an opportunity to deepen their understanding. Much has happened since then across the country. One opportunity for learning is an event on Sunday, March 28 from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm at Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford. Entitled “Side By Side”, this will be an important time of learning for us all. We are grateful to AHCC for all the energy and effort they are putting into this event. Please call 860 525-5696 if you plan to attend.
To help us all with the learning we need to do, Cecile Gilson and Gordon Bates of our Justice and Witness ministry are putting together a bibliography and “webiography” of resources on this subject from a variety of viewpoints. We anticipate having it on www.ctucc.org (our Conference website) soon. We understand that a number of helpful documents will be posted to www.ucc.org very shortly as well.
Across the country a number of our churches have identified a new evangelism strategy that focuses on those who have been alienated by their experience with more authoritarian churches. These individuals are often hungry for a lively spiritual experience, but have been hurt or have felt rejected. In keeping with that awareness, the Connecticut Conference is joining with other Conferences and the national covenanted ministries in investing in (using invested funds, not your mission dollars) a new UCC Identity program that includes television commercials and print ads. You have probably seen the articles in United Church News.
The ads are currently running in several test markets around the country and will be shown 100 times in each market. Some members of our churches may well see them if they are traveling; so may others from your community. I’d encourage you to go to www.ucc.org to learn about the ads and the campaign. Most importantly, I urge you to work on your hospitality. We know that in most cases, we only have one opportunity to overcome the hurt and rejection many have felt. When visitors arrive at your church, how will they be welcomed and what will their experience in worship be like?
We have received reports that some of our churches are having a difficult year with their budgets despite the upturn in the market. Unemployment is still relatively high, and people seem to be giving according to their fear more than their faith. [Budgets are always faith barometers!]
In that context, I think you will welcome an initiative being undertaken by the Conferences and the national setting in collaboration. This will build on the identity campaign referred to above. At the last General Synod, our General Minister and President, the Rev. John Thomas, challenged us to increase the giving to all settings of the church to $1 billion a year by our 50th anniversary in 2007. The idea is to move with great intentionality to invite and challenge our members to increase their giving, and to provide resources to the local churches to support that challenge. Among those resources will be education and training events, regional staffing, and media pieces. Though the plans are not all final yet, I wanted you to know about this now. I believe it is a great opportunity to move our members out of the 2% bracket and closer to the half-tithe we so often recommend.
I invite you to think about what UCC member you know who has a strong record in marketing kinds of work and has a heart and mind for the work of the United Church of Christ. There will be five or six regional people who will be called to do the visiting, education and training with local churches. The reason I use the marketing word is that people who have been in sales often are excellent at the stewardship task of “making the ask”, and we in the UCC are often shy about doing that. These coaches and trainers will work with all of us, clergy and laity alike, to deepen our understanding of stewardship and our belonging to Christ, and to encourage us in our conviction about the importance of our church in this time. Seems to me that this is an opportunity to put forward some of our best and brightest members, perhaps someone who is vocationally restless and has the right skills for this work. [We don’t have a position description yet, but I will let you know as soon as we do…and how I’ve described this is subject to all sorts of changes!]
May God guide you through this season when Christ’s suffering is made real through our global neighbors. We walk in his footsteps on the Way of Sorrows, yet we have the privilege of knowing that Easter follows abandonment, betrayal and crucifixion. We are called to be a people of hope and joy, a people of trust and conviction about our faith. May it be so among us!