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Pastor’s Page July/August 2017

July 1, 2017

Summer is afoot and it’s time to relax!

Many folks are headed to summer cottages, their harbor mooring, or the slip for some ice-cream.  The sun rises early and sets late, so there is plenty of time for another laid-back morning mug of coffee, and a delightful evening with friends.

As we strive to take a lighter approach to life these next couple months, some serious business is happening in southern New England within our denomination, the United Church of Christ. I’d like to take this opportunity to share a little bit about this good news with you, because it’s important that you, as a member of the UCC, are aware of what’s happening beyond our local congregation. What happens on the larger UCC stage affects how we do church at our dear Matt Congo, allowing you to enjoy beautiful worship in a safe and welcoming place, knowing that you are helping humankind around the world.

First of all, we at Mattapoisett Congregational Church have the support of a large organization behind us. Incredibly talented and faithful staff are as close as the nearest phone to advise us through many sticky or unfamiliar spots. The church on state (“Conference”) and national levels provide investment opportunities, educational curriculum, stewardship materials, crucial staff training, and many other vital resources. The Minister and President for the Massachusetts Conference, Jim Antal, is a tireless worker for social justice and environmental advocacy. Associate conference ministers Ellie Richardson and Don Remick have spoken and led workshops here many times, always with enthusiastic responses. Because of the UCC, when disaster strikes around the world, your dollars are already at work.

The story is told – and it may be true – of the little boy who was admonished to eat his peas because “there are starving children in China.” So, the boy took his plate of peas, put the plate in a box, and marked the box “China” – as if he could mail those disgusting peas exactly to where they were wanted. Were it not for the UCC’s Neighbors in Need and One Great Hour of Sharing collections, that’s pretty much what we’d be doing when we want to help our brothers and sisters around the world. But, through the UCC, our helping dollars become joined to dollars from hundreds of other UCC churches, and are multiplied even more through UCC partnerships with other organizations, such as Church World Service. Those are just a few examples of the benefits of being part of a larger organization. We are stronger locally because we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

I mention all this because it’s easy for a local church to fall into the attitude that each congregation should be completely independent. It’s true each individual congregation has a great deal of autonomy, but the state and national levels of the UCC provide us with many, many services that we couldn’t begin to afford on our own. Just the cost of finding the excellent substitute minister during my sabbatical could have run into the thousands of dollars, but that service was free to us because we choose to be part of something bigger.

The point is, even though we are a congregational church and operate with much independence, we are at the same time very inter-dependent. As the Minister and President of the Connecticut Conference, Kent Siladi, says “Our inter-dependence is a pre-existing condition.”

Right now, the UCC in southern New England is embarking on a journey to draw us even closer together with our sister churches, so that we will be even stronger locally.

In mid-June, Jennifer Shepley and I traveled to Hartford, Conn., to attend a historic gathering of three UCC conferences: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. A total of more than 1,000 people from the three conferences came together to consider whether to jointly form a brand-new conference, comprised of the three existing.  Besides being a combined gathering, this was the annual meeting for each conference, and each state met separately to tackle its own business. As part of their annual meetings, each state voted whether to proceed with the plan to form a new conference. Each of the three states voted overwhelmingly to go forward.

Many questions have yet to be resolved in terms of staffing, organization, and generally how this thing will work. But, even with a little anxiety about the unknown, the overriding sentiment was that the Holy Spirit is moving within the southern New England conferences, and we have it within ourselves to be brave and do something new and different.

A few important points:

  • The national and state-level manifestations of the UCC are clear in their commitment to local churches, like ours. This new conference will enhance the UCC’s services to us, giving us more resources and discovering new ways to minister to God’s people where we live, work and worship in our towns, villages, and cities. For the individual church and its members, there is everything to gain. There is also a deep recognition that while there is much that we three states have in common, there is also much that distinguishes us. Our new relationship is intended to bring out the best of each of us, with the confidence that we be can be valuable resources to each other.
  • Since the UCC was formed 60 years ago, the conference boundaries across the country have not changed. Meanwhile, much else about the world has changed! Technology connects us in ways we’d never have imagined. Culture, society, and family structures are ever-evolving.  People are as spiritual as ever, but are finding new ways to explore their connection with God.  The role of religion in people’s lives has shifted dramatically.  The world continues to change, and it makes sense that churches keep pace, so we can continue to faithfully respond to the constant call of our God, who does not and never will change.
  • The conferences and churches in New England are among the strongest in our country. This plan is not a response to a crisis. This is not a “hail Mary” pass to save our skins. To the contrary, this move is a response to a growing sense among our leaders that God is calling us to something new. Change is inevitable, so why not be “ahead of the curve.” Why not cast our own vision, write our own future, and dream our own dreams while we are blessed to be in a position of strength? Conferences in other parts of the country aren’t nearly so fortunate, and are looking to us to lead the way. It’s an act of courage to step forward, in faith, to be a leader to others. I am very proud of our region for our boldness!

 

Thank you for taking the time to read this, during what I hope is a peace-filled and blessed summer day for you. I hope you’ll be as excited as I am for this new adventure. Leaders in the three conferences will spend the next year figuring out the best way for us to come together, making the most of our strengths. You can find out much more information on the particulars by going to our conference website: macucc.org. While you are there, look at all the UCC does on our behalf, and offers us in the way of resources.

 

Now, back to summer! Blessings!

 

Rev. Amy Lignitz Harken

 

 

 

 

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