By Tiffany Vail
Associate for Communication
It was a message repeated again and again to the more than 500 people who attended the 215th Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference this weekend: dare to go forth and do "greater works" even than those done by Jesus Christ.
Keynote Speaker Yvette Flunder urged those in attendance to be a "little less organized and a little more rowdy" and reminded them that Jesus was killed because he was a political subversive who spoke truth to power. "Who wants to kill us for the love we are doing - the walls we are breaking?"
Several representatives shared testimonials of the works that their churches have dared to take on, from the Boston Marathon scarf project that brought in 7000 hand-knit scarves to "wrap in love" runners and others who felt the impact of the bombings last year to a church-to-church partnership where a small donation has been paid forward again and again.
Delegates were reminded - through moving video testimony and a rainbow of cupcakes - that it was the Massachusetts Conference Annual Meeting 30 years ago that started the Open and Affirming movement in the United Church of Christ, when the very first ONA resolution was passed urging the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people into the lives and ministries of the churches.
That historic vote, according to Conference Minister and President Jim Antal, is an example of how the future is written: "by imagining new possibilities and acting on them as if they are inevitable."
The "greater works" theme of the meeting was evidenced throughout with concrete blocks, blueprints and building materials forming an altarscape, building blocks and construction plans present on each table and construction helmets on many of the participants.
The Meeting paused to remember Andy Gustafson, who passed away three weeks ago after serving as Associate Conference Minister for Stewardship and Financial Development for the past 10 years. Words, images and a personal testimony by Andy's wife, Carole Gustafson, served to remind everyone of the ways he had embodied love and generosity. Those in attendance were urged to continue to let his light shine through their own work going forward and it was announced that a new Inspiring Generosity award will be given in his honor beginning at next year's Annual Meeting.
The Meeting took action to move the Conference forward in a new way by voting to establish United Church Mission
as a new funding mechanism for the Conference. The hope is that over time, this new funding system will replace the current dual system, under which churches are asked to contribute a portion of their income to Our Church's Wider Mission Basic Support and to contribute a per-member amount to Fellowship Dues. The new system asks churches to simply make contributions based on a percentage of the total income received by a local congregation.
Churches may opt in to the new system and are being asked to give at least the same proportion of total income under the new system as they did under the old system, looking at their previous combined contributions to Fellowship Dues and Basic Support.
Churches that do not yet opt in to United Church Mission can continue to contribute according to the old system. Either way, delegates voted to continue forwarding on the same proportion of funds received by the Conference to the national setting of the church.
In other business, delegates unanimously passed a $2.2 million Conference budget for 2015, a budget balanced by transferring $41,500 from 2014 operating reserves. They also approved clergy compensation guidelines for 2014.
Those who attended a related hearing also discussed a resolution that will be brought before next year's Annual Meeting regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Churches are urged to study the proposal between now and next year.
During worship on Friday evening, Associate Conference Minister Kelly Gallagher was installed.
Videos, photos and other articles from the Meeting will continue to be posted over the coming days.
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