By The Rev. Angela Menke Ballou, Chairperson, Board of Directors and Pastor, Cotuit Federated Church
The Massachusetts Conference Board of Directors
comprises twenty-one leaders – both lay and clergy – from across the state. Our conversations are thoughtful, engaged and focused on our mission to “nurture local church vitality and the covenant among our churches to make God’s love and justice real.” Every meeting we also evaluate our work based on our vision for the Board and staff
, which holds as key components: depth, courage, and bridge building.
Our first meeting of the year was an overnight retreat with the staff focused on anti-racism work, led by consultants from Allies for Change. This retreat was planned before Ferguson, Staten Island, and Cleveland, but events around our nation increased the urgency and importance of our conversations when we gathered. Our commitment to exposing and transforming systemic and institutional racism has been a part of every subsequent meeting. This will remain an ongoing commitment of our Board.
The Board spent a great deal of time in discernment about decisions surrounding Craigville Retreat Center. We conducted listening sessions at Craigville and in Framingham, gathered statistics on use of the facility, and prayerfully considered the future. In the end, we concluded that renewing the lease at Craigville was not consistent with our central mission. The Board deeply appreciates the historic relationship with Craigville, and we are committed to creating a smooth transition of leadership in conjunction with the Christian Camp Meeting Association. (Related: Board votes not to renew Craigville lease, 10/5/14)
We had a historic joint retreat
with the Boards of Directors of the Connecticut and Rhode Island Conferences of the UCC. This first-ever conversation was focused on how we might create greater interdependence throughout the United Church of Christ in southern New England. Each conference has its own identities and strengths; there is much that we can learn from one another and much to be gained by working together.
At last year’s Annual Meeting, our Conference Minister and President said, “I believe that – in addition to leading our congregations to fulfill the mission of the Mass Conference – it falls to your Conference Board to assure that 20 years from now, a transdenominational, progressive church movement is thriving in America – a movement rooted in UCC values and guided by our polity.” We have had many conversations about what such a trans-denominational, progressive church movement might look like. We have also been intentional about bridge-building beyond our denomination. An example of this is the keynote speaker that we have invited to this Annual Meeting, whose main address will be open to the public
and co-sponsored by the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Massachusetts Council of Churches.
We keep the health and vitality of our congregations at the center of our prayer and work.
Focus on the vitality of our local churches will always drive the work of the Conference and its Board. For the past several years, our Board has spent time at one of our meetings listening to local church leadership from three or four local congregations about their strengths and challenges. This year, we will be sending our Board members out two-by-two to meet with pastors and lay leadership. Our hope is that this will increase the number of stories that we hear from local church leadership and more fully inform the work of our Board. We have also invited Association leaders to join us for a listening session at our May meeting. Additionally, our Board and staff had a second retreat that focused on generative ideas and leadership which have lasting implications for our local churches.
Our Finance Committee continues to increase the buy-in and participation in United Church Mission
, which we hope will ultimately replace OCWM and Fellowship Dues, and lead our churches into conversations about proportional giving. Our Annual Meeting Planning Team plans engaging gatherings for our Conference with speakers like Nadia Bolz-Weber. Our Program Committee does engaging work through participation on the four ministry councils of the Conference: Church Development, Lay Development, Clergy Development, and Justice and Witness Ministries. The Executive Committee plans our meeting time and drives us to pursue our mission and vision.
It has been an honor to work with Rev. Jim Antal, our leader and provocateur into the future of our Conference and a voice for progressive Christian thought. We are blessed by the capable and consummate support of Ms. Dawn Hammond, who always seems two steps ahead. It is a joy to
meet with a Board where there is such authenticity, skill, easy laughter and commitment to the church. We keep the health and vitality of our congregations at the center of our prayer and work. May God abundantly bless our congregations, as we strive to be brave and faithful.