As I reflect on what has been a very fast-paced and full year in my ministry with you as your Conference Minister, I would offer the following highlights.
Visioning and Planning
An enormous amount of time was dedicated this year to discerning future possibilities at Pilgrim Point Camp and more broadly in the Conference. Utilizing the invaluable services of Ackley Consulting Group (which later became Lindahl Consulting), we engaged in an intensive time of listening and learning through focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and larger group discussions at a leadership retreat and at meetings of the Board of Directors. A vision was crafted and a “case for support” developed to lift up two dreams: 1) major facility investment at Pilgrim Point Camp, and 2) significant new efforts regarding leadership development in the Conference. A proposed campaign goal of $8.5 million was tested in a feasibility study process to support these dreams.
Much detail will be shared about this feasibility study process at the Annual Meeting itself so I’ll avoid that level of detail for the purposes of this report. While the research, data, and insights afforded us by the feasibility study ultimately told us that a traditional fundraising campaign of this nature is not advisable at this time, we nevertheless learned volumes about how congregations, lay leaders, and authorized ministers view the needs within the Conference and envision our future. The hopes, dreams, concerns, and questions raised by this process offer us a precious foundation on which to build, plan, and seek funds moving forward. I am profoundly grateful for the insights shared by so many in the process, and by the enthusiasm and commitment for our shared ministries that were revealed along the way.
We experienced several transitions in our Conference staffing during the year. Reverend Steve Boorsma joined us as our new Associate Conference Minister in late September 2014. Annalese Wright began as our new part-time Development Officer in September. Beloved Administrative Assistant Alison Bents departed from our staff at the end of 2014 to enjoy more fully the blessings of parenting; Mark Hannan joined us shortly thereafter for a few short months of service in that role. Robin Raudabaugh submitted her resignation at Pilgrim Point Camp in October; Jennifer Buskey joined the PPC staff in April. Finally, Wade Zick, Associate Conference Minister for Faith Formation with Children and Youth, submitted his resignation in April and will complete 8 years of service with the Conference in June. A search for an Interim in that role has begun as of the writing of this report.
While multiple transitions like this are challenging for small staff teams such as ours, I am grateful to each person on our excellent staff for their resilience and willingness to step up as needed in the midst of it all. I am also deeply appreciative of the welcome and hospitality staff members have offered to each new addition to our staff family.
Our Conference grieved the loss of two congregations in the last year. Freeborn Congregational UCC celebrated 141 years of ministry in a service of closure on December 28, 2014. Pilgrim UCC in Maple Grove had technically discontinued its ministry as a church the previous year and deeded the property over to the Conference. After considering a number of possibilities in conversation with others, the Conference ultimately determined to sell the property, which was accomplished in early March 2015. The net proceeds from the sale of this property have been utilized to establish the new 21st Century Church Fund to support congregational vitality and church development work in the Conference.
Wider Church Commitments
Nurturing our covenantal relationship with the wider UCC is also central to my ministry as Conference Minister and an aspect of my work I greatly value. The national setting of the UCC has continued to experience financial cuts, which has meant a steady loss of staff. At the same time, the national setting has been living its way into a new unified governance structure approved at General Synod in 2013. These many layers of change in our wider life in the UCC have presented multiple challenges and require all of us to work more collaboratively together, with deep appreciation for the valuable components of ministry each part of the UCC empowers.
Our covenant with the wider church is partly expressed in partnerships, including our health and human service ministry partners. In the Minnesota Conference, we enjoy three such partnerships with members of the Council for Health and Human Service Ministries (CHHSM) in the UCC: Oak Meadows (Oakdale, MN), Samaritan Bethany (Rochester, MN), and Back Bay Mission (Biloxi, MS). We celebrate the ways that these three extraordinary organizations multiply our ministry. I now also serve on the Board of Directors for CHHSM nationally and will enjoy that involvement with these precious ministries.
I am privileged to serve as the Co-Chair of the Common Global Ministries Board of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church-Disciples of Christ at the national level. It has also been a delight to now serve on the Board of Trustees of United Theological Seminary in New Brighton and the Cornerstone Fund of the UCC.
We celebrate all the ways we are connected in the wider United Church of Christ and are invited to serve.
We have much to be grateful for in the Minnesota Conference: energized and committed lay and clergy leadership, faithful congregations, engaged and prophetic witness, and a shared dedication to an authentic and relevant ministry in our communities and state. I am thankful to share in this work with you and look forward to the continued revelation of God’s word and presence as together we seek fresh paths of service.