The United Church of Christ and the Connecticut Conference have been part of my life for all but my first four years. I was baptized, confirmed, married and ordained in a UCC congregation. My call to ministry came into focus as I went to conferences at Silver Lake. I have been present for more Annul Meetings and Association Committee on Ministry meetings that I can count. For 36 years I pastored in Connecticut Conference churches.
Throughout all of these life experiences, I would say that I knew our Conference and its staff pretty well. I knew that our Conference staff has monthly meetings together, provides resources and support to local churches and authorized ministers, and plans special events from time to time. All of this, I have assumed, is fairly routine and typical of the functioning of an “ecclesiastical bureaucracy” (a term I heard a denominational leader use to describe a UCC Conference about 25 years ago). I suspect that my perspective on the life of a Conference staff person would be shared by the vast majority of local church clergy and lay leaders.
From the first moment I began serving our Conference as Interim Eastern Regional Minister, though, I was struck by how wrong I was. Like the disciples who broke bread with the risen Christ after the long walk along the Emmaus Road, I felt like my eyes were opened as I sat at the table with my colleagues at my first Regional Ministers’ meeting. I was not in the presence of church bureaucrats; I was in the presence of devoted Christian servants whose hearts and souls overflowed with creativity, compassion, humility, and perhaps most especially, faith. As a team, we share the joys and challenges of the local churches of our Conference when we gather, celebrating transitions and accomplishments, and seeking one another’s wisdom in a mutual effort to help a congregation through a difficult time. There is an easy, sometimes playful energy of collegiality among us that can escalate into laughter or occasionally bring forth a tear. There is a respect for the traditions and history of our Conference, balanced by an unbridled enthusiasm for what God might yet have in store for us to pursue as sisters and brothers in our Christian family. This atmosphere of spiritually-centered ministry and visioning is what gives me such great hope now as we are poised to join with the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Conferences as a united conference. The new conference will not represent a mere bureaucratic reorganization, but rather a Spirit-guided, faithfully grounded, new creation of the living Body of Christ among us.
Apart from monthly meetings, I have also learned that the life of a Regional Minister is equally diverse and demanding – and probably 90% of it is never seen. A Regional Minister can sometimes receive 30 or more emails a day, some of which can be answered with a single sentence, and others which call for an extensive response concerning issues like the requirements for a Member in Discernment. When a crisis happens in the life of a congregation or authorized minister, you can be certain that a Regional Minister is directly involved on the phone, on the road, or on the spot helping to coordinate a response that will bring reassurance and hope. When an matter arises about an authorized minister’s standing, it is the Regional Minister who helps to interpret what our UCC Manual on Ministry states, often with “behind the scenes” conversations with our national Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA) colleagues, and cohorts in other Conferences.
So, yes, your Regional Ministers do much more than attend association meetings, assist at installations and ordinations, show up at midday clergy lunch gatherings and preach in local churches. Our Conference Registrar likewise provides an incredible ministry as she responds to inquiries, makes vital connections between local church leaders and the resources they need, and supports the work of the Regional Ministers in countless ways with her characteristic warmth, grace and professionalism. And you may have thought she just collected all of your church data each year in early March!
It is both an honor and a joy for me to serve for this interim time alongside Michael, Tamara, Mary, and Jill. And while I have focused on the Regional Ministry Team, everything I have written applies to the entire Conference staff, as well. Dedicated and gifted servants all, not a bureaucrat among them, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, following our call to do what Conference Minister Kent Siladi reminds us is simply “living the love and justice of Jesus.”
Rev. Chuck Ericson is the Interim Eastern Regional Minister for the CT Conference, UCC.
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