Last-of-its-Kind Special Meeting Held in West Hartford

5/21/2019
By Drew Page

One of the dancers of Friendz World Music
In what will be the last gathering of its kind, delegates, guests, and clergy of the Connecticut Conference gathered together on May 18 to worship, receive reports from the Board and staff, consider resolutions, and celebrate the Living Waters award.

The Special Meeting will likely be the last stand-alone meeting of the Connecticut Conference: if approved by General Synod in June, the conference will join with the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Conferences to form a new united conference that will come into being Jan. 1, 2020. The three conferences will have a joint Annual Meeting Nov. 1 - 2 in Worcester, MA.
 
The meeting, at at First Church of Christ in West Hartford, began with a rousing worship featuring musical performances by the combined choirs of Immanuel Congregational Chancel Choir and Faith Congregational Church choir, song leader the Rev. Mia Douglas, pianist Wayne Dixon and Michael Korman, Conductor Mark Singleton, and drumming and dancing by Friendz World Music.
 
In her sermon, the Rev. Kari Nicewander, senior pastor of Immanuel Congregational Church in Hartford, shared the history of this particular church, explaining that Immanuel was formed by a group of white people who left Center Church in Hartford only 5 years after a group of black parishioners from the same church left to form what would later become Faith Congregational Church. Now, Immanuel and Faith are working together, determined to tell the truth about their history and seize the chance to work together, to “truly be the Body of Christ,” an opportunity that was once lost, says Nicewander.

 
The Rev. Kari Nicewander
“And so we are called to do this work, this work of truth and reconciliation and justice, for the Body of Christ is aching, and we can only heal together,” she said.
 
Nicewander then turned to the formation of a new conference, and the work that is imperative for the future.
 
"As we gather together today, we are very aware that we will soon gather with colleagues from Massachusetts and Rhode Island, to build a new conference together," she said. "And in this building, in this creating of a new body of Christ, we must be vigilant. We must be determined. We must be dedicated. We must not waver. We will work against oppression and racism. We will be founded in our commitment to justice. We will be rooted in our duty to address our own bias and bigotry. For we can transform the world. We can transform ourselves ... So let’s get going, together."  (Read the full sermon here.)
 
The keynote speaker, Bryan Nurnburger, founder and President of Simply Smiles Inc., gave a moving example of what churches can do when they do it together.  He shared the story of how he founded the organization that works to better the lives of children in Mexico and on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota. That story involved several UCC churches in Connecticut, where Bryan shared his story of traveling in Mexico, and coming home transformed by the children he met and worked with in an orphanage there. He began by passing a collection basket at local churches where he shared his experience. Now, 17 years later, the organization is expanding its impact, with the continued help from volunteers and donors, and UCC churches in particular.  (Watch a video of Kent Siladi and Bryan Nurnburger discussing Simply Smiles prior to the meeting.)
 
The 2019 Living Waters Award was presented to Steve Lane, a member of First Church of Christ in Mansfield Center and co-founder of Quiet Corner Refugee Resettlement. In a ceremonial pouring of the cleansing waters over Lane’s hands, Conference Minister the Rev. Kent Siladi, Board Chair the Rev. Bridget Fidler, and Mansfield Center pastor the Rev. Joe Blotz, presented Lane with a plaque recognizing his accomplishments for an outstanding ministry, life, and witness, as well as the ceremonial bowl as a gift.  (Read more about Lane here.)
 
Two resolutions were passed by the delegates, and a third failed by majority vote.
 
The first to pass was titled A Resolution of Implementation Calling for an End to the Practice of Prolonged Solitary Confinement in Connecticut Prisons and Jails, submitted by the Shalom United Church of Christ in New Haven. The resolution calls for delegates to “declare our opposition to the use of prolonged solitary confinement and commit ourselves to advocate for humane alternatives to long-term confinement." It also calls on congregations to become educated about the harms of solitary confinement, to learn from directly impacted individuals about the ways prolonged confinement is torture, and to advocate for humane alternatives.  It also urges congregations to join Stop Solitary Connecticut, a coalition that is a project of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and it requests that the Conference Legislative Advocate to make the issue a priority.

 
Special Meeting attendees at First Church of Christ, West Hartford
The second resolution passed at the meeting was A Resolution of Affirmation Regarding Citizenship of Certain Foreign-Born Children Adopted by American Citizens, submitted by the Church Council of Rocky Hill Congregational Church. By approving the resolution, delegates agreed to "enter into a dialogue and discussion with each other and our federal legislators about the citizenship rights of all foreign-born individuals adopted by US citizens in their land of origin and to adoptees brought to United States by their intended US citizen adoptive parents to finalize their adoptions here." It also calls on delegates to "work with our federal legislators to propose and sponsor legislation in the United States Congress to grant United States citizenship to foreign-born adoptees who were not covered by the Child Citizenship Act of 2000."
 
The third resolution, which did not pass, was a A Resolution of Affirmation Regarding Child Marriage and Forced Marriages, submitted by the Church Council of the Immanuel Congregational Church in Hartford. The resolution called for delegates to make a statement abhorring the practice of forced and child marriage and to call upon authorized ministers to refuse to officiate such services. It also urged legislation that would raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 years. Though many remarked that the intention of the resolution was admirable, there was concern that it would take away the discretion of judges and clergy in matters of child marriage, which is legal is CT for 16- and 17-year-olds with approval of a parent and a judge probate. The majority of the voting participants voted against this resolution.
 
The Rev. Kent Siladi gave the Conference Minister’s address and began by restating that he will not seek any position in the new conference, leaving space for new, dynamic leadership to emerge . He spoke of the long history of the Connecticut Conference, before it was known by those terms, and the changes ahead.
 
“Transitions are probably among the hardest changes we are invited to make,” said Siladi. “Any time there is a transition there is doubt and uncertainty.”
 
But, he said, there is also opportunity in transition.

“At every new beginning or new experience in our life there is an ending to the former way of doing things and a new life that opens itself to the future,” he said. “We are indeed a Body in Motion and we are moving towards some new dance partners.”

Read Siladi's full address here
 
An important business matter that was brought before the assembly was a need for bylaw changes that will need to come before the Connecticut Voters. These changes  which were briefly outlined for the delegates will be presented at the Annual Meeting on November 1-2, 2019. More information on these changes will be available in preparation for that meeting.
 
All the documents related to the meeting, a gallery of photos, the full text of Rev. Nicewander’s sermon, Rev. Siladi’s address, and all the resolutions can be seen on the 2019 Special Meeting event page.