The Andover and Essex Associations - two of the 11 Associations of the Massachusetts Conference - have voted to merge. Over the next several months, the boards of the two Associations will gather representatives of the member churches to work on the details - and to cast a vision - for moving forward.
The vote came after 20 years of off-and-on conversations, but two years of substantive work and experimentation, according to Andover Association moderator Christopher Jenkins.
"This decision acknowledges the reality of fewer churches and members, but also presents an opportunity for us to be a stronger association better able to serve our churches in a meaningful way, and for churches to feel better connected to each other within the local area," Jenkins said.
Jenkins pointed out that the two Associations have long acted together in mission and in fellowship, have had joint meetings, and have worked with the same Associate Conference Minister. Most recently, they suspended their bylaws to allow their Church and Ministry committees to act as one committee guiding ministerial candidates in discernment and addressing issues of ministerial standing.
"I’m pleased with the process," said Essex Association Moderator Judy Proctor. "We took this as an opportunity to wonder about our purpose as an association and articulate what it means to be in covenant among church communities. Many voices were heard and differing opinions were considered. Trusting in God’s guidance, prayer was at the heart of our listening."
"The landscape of ministry is changing and many churches are scrambling to adapt," she said. "Thankfully, the local church is not alone. God now offers us an opportunity to dream dreams and envision a new way of being the Body of Christ. The question we have before us is: how might our new association of churches meet today’s unique challenges and opportunities?"
The two Associations are hosting open forums for "vision-casting" on Monday August 11, 7:30 - 9:00 PM at the Tewksbury Congregational UCC and Tuesday, August 12, 7:00 - 8:30 PM at the First Church in Wenham, Congregational, UCC,
The Andover Association has 15 churches and the Essex Association 31 churches, all located in the Northeast Region of the Conference.
Associate Conference Minister Wendy Vander Hart, who works with the two Associations, said of the merger: "the leadership showed a great capacity to try on some things, learn from bumps in the road and forge ahead courageously. In so doing they have been modeling practices for our churches to meet the demands of these changing times."
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