A Pastoral Letter from the Conference Minister
"Behold, God is doing a new thing." Several months ago I wrote a reflection on how we may move from being the "United Church of Christ" to the "Uniting Church of Christ." I write to you today to share how the Holy Spirit is moving in our midst toward that end.
Two years ago the New York Conference was approached by the Collegiate Church (Reformed Church in America) in New York City requesting a conversation on dual affiliation with the UCC. The Collegiate Church is one church with five "campuses" in NYC. Four of these are distinct congregations. This meeting was attended by leaders of the National Setting of the UCC, the New York Conference, and the Metropolitan Association. The Collegiate Churches hold a membership of over 4000 and include one of New York's iconic churches, Marble Collegiate Church, the former home of Norman Vincent Peale. These conversations have continued over the past two years.
Last September, I was contacted by the Executive Minister of the RCA New York Regional Synod, Reverend Amy Nyland. The Regional Synod is roughly the equivalent of a Conference in the UCC. The New York Regional Synod is comprised of congregations from Poughkeepsie through Long Island (including the Collegiate Church). The question posed to me was, "Is it possible for a larger number of RCA congregations to dual affiliate, beyond the Collegiate Church?" My response was, "Let's see where God takes us." It is important to note that a significant motivation for these RCA churches to reach out to the UCC is on account of our Open and Affirming historic commitment to the LGBTQ communities. As our conversations have unfolded over these past six months, it has become clear that what is taking shape is much more far reaching than any one issue. Reverend Karen Georgia Thompson, the Ecumenical Officer of the UCC has described this as a deeper living into the Formula of Agreement
that already exists between our denominations. Please see the Vision and Goals
document [click here
] for a fuller explanation of our unfolding dialogue.
There is reason to believe that there is potential for a considerable number of RCA congregations to seek dual affiliation with the UCC. After discussing many scenarios on how this might take place, we are now exploring the possibility of creating a new, tenth, Association in the New York Conference: Reformed Association. This Association will exist solely for the purpose of dually affiliated RCA/UCC congregations and ministers. Churches with membership in Reformed Association will agree to live according to the faith and order of both denominations. This is a "new wine skin" that has never been done before. The New York Conference Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the New York Regional Synod have both affirmed moving forward in exploring this possibility.
Beyond the creation of a new Association, there are also possibilities for sharing of Conference and Regional staff. Both Reverend Nyland and I intend to explore holding Dual Standing in each of our denominations. Concerns have been expressed as to whether this will over-tax our already stretched conference staff. We do not foresee any further "search and call" responsibilities for our Associate Conference Ministers. We do see an opportunity, as ministerial partners, to offer wider services to one another. In our conversations, we have been transparent that there are positive financial implications for the New York Conference which has struggled for decades with significant deficits.
Both UCC General Minister and President, John Dorhauer, and UCC Ecumenical Officer, Karen Georgia Thompson, have been fully appraised of each development in these conversations. They are both very supportive of the direction in which we are moving.
As this is potentially a significant development for the New York Conference, I am writing to keep all of the UCC in New York up to date on these conversations. It is quite possible that the Conference Board will recommend an action from this year's Annual Meeting to create a new Association within the New York Conference. This may also necessitate some minor revisions to our Conference By-laws to be brought to the 2017 Annual Meeting.
I ask for your prayers that our ministry together may be pleasing in God's sight and may exemplify a bold witness of the unity of the Church.
David R Gaewski
New York Conference, United Church of Christ