Report of the Chair of the Board of Directors to the 213th Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ
By Richard Harter
June 16, 2012
Keep Love's Banner Floating O'er You
Hello, friends. I’m glad to see you. I’m glad to see you here. Stay right where you are, but let your mind go back to your church, to your caring community of faith. It may be the place that Ben Guess talked about this morning. Think about what that place means to you and to others. Remember how your were called from wherever you were to that community, that mission, those people. Think and remember. Think and remember. From that place you have come here.
You -- all of you -- are the MA Conference of the United Church of Christ. It is not a repurposed barn in Framingham. Or a beachfront inn in Craigville. It is not Jim Antal and the entire dedicated, imaginative and high-performing Conference staff. You are the MA Conference. You have a mission -- to nurture local church vitality...in order to show God’s love and justice -- and you have elected a Board of Directors from among yourselves to help you live into that mission. We are you. We are active members of local churches from the Cape to the Berkshires, from Andover to Ludlow. We are preachers and teachers, financial managers and salespersons. We are your Board of Directors.
Together, we -- all of us, you, your churches and your Board, Commissions and Task Forces -- are changing. If we learned nothing else from the wonderful, valuable address by Ben Guess last evening, we learned that. But change can lead to transformative power, as Jim Antal reminded us this morning -- with chapter and verse -- or it can lead us to look back over our shoulders to a simpler time and, in so doing, we can be changed into pillars of salt. Your Board knows this. So what have we done for you lately, what have we done with you lately? Leading to power, not to salt. And what do we hope you will do?
I’ve written this out for you. You can find it on page 5 of your advance materials. And since it was written, we have worked in two other important areas. Jim Antal and your Board have given extensive thought this year to strengthening the effectiveness of Commissions and Task Forces and increasing the communication and cooperation among them. This work is continuing and you are part of it. Walter Kreil has told you that the Finance Committee is now reviewing the financial base of the Conference and working toward a significantly revised revenue stream. Neither the Finance Committee nor your Board is asking for action on any such change at this meeting, but we urge you to engage in opportunities for conversation on this subject as we move toward action at a subsequent annual meeting.
What else do we hope you will do? Come to the Annual Meeting. Here you are. And read and share the written material. Come to Super Saturdays. There you were and there you will be. Offer to lead a session at an upcoming Super Saturday, sharing with those who need to know and want to know what your expertise and your experience show you or you and your church what works and how to do it. Volunteer for a Commission or Task Force and make your commitment and your voice heard. Or, if there is no Task Force matching your passion, do what Branwen Cook, my wife Gay Harter and their friends did: start a new one and make it effective.
Support the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Endowment Campaign. Your church benefits from this program and will continue to benefit. But for this campaign to succeed in undergirding this valuable program, it needs support from churches, whether outright or as a wraparound to a capital campaign, and it needs support from individuals.
Those of you who were here last year will remember that I spoke to you about the Connecticut state motto on my bicycle visibility flag: qui transtulit sustinet, God who brought you here will take care of you now that you’re here. This year, another flag, another source. But it is too big to bring here today. Use your imagination. From the 4th verse of that well-known 19th century hymn, God Be With You Till We Meet Again: Keep love’s banner floating o’er you. Keep love’s banner floating o’er you. Where did I see that banner? On the road to Damascus. Well, not actually on that road, but last week on a road in Turkey near the Syrian border. I was reading the essays by Marilynne Robinson, collected in When I Was a Child I Read Books. In Open Thy Hand Wide: Moses and the Origins of American Liberalism, Ms. Robinson notes that Moses, John Calvin, John Winthrop and Jonathan Edwards all stressed the primacy of love, love toward neighbor, even love toward stranger. This is our heritage. This is our banner. Read that essay. Read the whole book. It helped me see who I am and why I care about what I care about. Keep love’s banner floating o‘er you. God be with you till we meet again.