Conference Call

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This Florida Conference newsletter features Lakewood United Church of Christ and the participation in the Lights for Liberty event which focussed on the treatment of children in detention camps. 

John Vertigan

Greetings, Church. It’s been good to re-enter the day-to-day life of the Florida Conference after a tense, and sometimes contentious, General Synod in Milwaukee, Wisc. Was there joy and fellowship and the renewing of relationships we expect from such an event? Of course! But I came away with a recognition that there is much about us that needs attention if we are to continue providing a vital witness under the name United Church of Christ.

A resolution that was submitted for consideration illustrates this and keeps me awake on a pretty regular basis. Titled “Oversight of the Local Church and its Covenantal Relationship with the Association in Which it Holds Standing as a Local Church of the United Church of Christ,” it was an attempt to address what feels like a broken relationship when a local church uses the name UCC and its resources but does not contribute to that relationship with time, volunteer leaders beyond the local church, or financial support of the ministries of the wider church through sacrificial giving to Our Church’s Wider Mission. Here is the text of the resolution that came to the floor for debate:

“WHEREAS Article III of the Constitution of the United Church of Christ describes the ideals of covenantal relationships but does not describe or provide for the accountability necessary to live into these covenantal relationships; and
WHEREAS Article V of the Constitution of the United Church of Christ defines how Associations receive churches into membership in the United Church of Christ, yet provides no guidance as to how a local church may be released from membership; and
WHEREAS the United Church of Christ Manual on Ministry names specific responsibilities of the Local Church to the Association and the Conference;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the United Church of Christ Board provide guidance, which may include revisions to the Constitution of the United Church of Christ, for Associations and Conferences on how to release Local Churches from membership in the United Church of Christ.”

Here’s the spoiler for those who don’t want to wait for the Synod minutes: the resolution was tabled and no action was taken. There are many reasons for this.

On the one hand, we are a church that says, “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” On the other hand, we have an organizational relationship of covenant with every local church that calls for mutual support and accountability. What happens when that relationship feels lopsided or even absent because the local church is not participating in the covenant?

That’s still an open question. Coincidentally, it is a question the Conference Board asked me to address back in May. We see congregations staffed by talented pastors and led by talented lay leaders who don’t contribute their skills and energy beyond their local walls. We see congregations who don’t make a gift to Our Church’s Wider Mission (thus weakening our potential for shared ministry) and in some cases don’t remit their per capita dues (a by-laws requisite for membership in the Florida Conference.) Shy of these two markers, what is the nature of our covenantal relationship? That’s part of the openness of the question.

The answer is still pending. The Spirit will answer if we keep faithful to the aim of the church “that we may all be one.” In the meantime, check to see if your church has remitted per capita dues; check out how your church makes provision for financial support of the conference at sacrificial levels. (I wonder sometimes how we can ask parishioners to make tithing and sacrificial giving a norm when we don’t practice it corporately). At the same time, check out the United Church of Christ at www.ucc.org and the Florida Conference at our evolving website www.uccfla.org and consider how we might be in stronger relationship for such a time as this.

I remain committed to serving a United Church of Christ where what is meant to be true for individuals is true for congregations, too, that “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here” in relationship with the Florida Conference. I covet conversation about how that relationship can best be accomplished in an atmosphere of mutual support and accountability even while acknowledging there will be a multitude of “right” answers to be shared.

Be at peace, and be in touch, won’t you.Rev. John Vertigan
Conference Minister

Watch for email on 2019 Annual Gathering of the Florida Conference

Keep an eye out for an email and announcement on our website in the next week or so on the upcoming 2019 Annual Gathering of the Florida Conference.

Your Annual Gathering Planning Committee has been working hard over the last many months to put together a plan and programming that’s going to make this year’s event a bit different than gatherings past, and we think you’re going to like the subtle changes.

The conference’s annual meeting will take place at the Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive Oct. 10-12. Stay tuned for details and a link to register soon. We look forward to seeing you there!

Lights for Liberty vigils

Members of Lakewood United Church of Christ in St. Petersburg, Fla., gather after a July 12 Lights for Liberty vigil. Left to right are Janet Blair, Patti Cooksey, the Rev. Sue Sherwood and Lucille Ruga. Photo courtesy of Lucille Ruga.


UCC folks help vigils shine light on border ‘concentration camps’

United Church of Christ clergy and congregations took leadership, served as hosts, lit candles and planned follow-up actions during many of the hundreds of “Lights for Liberty” vigils held Friday evening, July 12. The events around the country protested the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers detained at the southern U.S. border, in what national vigil organizers refer to as concentration camps.

And UCC leaders are among those speaking out against a coming U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement campaign to arrest undocumented persons, announced July 12 by President Donald Trump.

At Lights for Liberty in St. Petersburg, Fla., a chain-link fence stretched in front of the altar of Allendale United Methodist Church. Behind it, 20 representatives of area faith and justice communities – some wearing foil blankets like those issued in detention centers – read aloud from interviews with detainees. One reader was the Rev. Susan Sherwood, a retired UCC minister who belongs to Lakewood United Church of Christ in St. Petersburg.

“This was a powerful evening of committed people and organizations, willing to move out of their comfort zone to make a difference,” Sherwood said. “I read the testimony of a sick baby who was denied medical care. As we read, the hundreds gathered lit candles throughout the sanctuary. During the vigil, people wrote words of hope and promise for the children on ribbons of commitment that were then tied to the fence.” -> Read more! ->

PATHWAYS announces Fall/Winter courses

PATHWAYS, which offers asynchronous online learning, has announced its Fall/Winter course schedule. Descriptions of courses coming up soon follow:

July 31-Aug. 27 — ESC12 Environmental Justice This four-week course is an introduction to environmental justice through the faith lens. We will explore God’s design for humanity and the great need to reshape the narrative that exists today. Through today’s challenges, the course will explore the harmful effects of pollution from a macro and a micro level. And more closely, our eyes are opened to the extreme effects of pollution on people in vulnerable communities. And finally, what steps can we take to advocate for the health and well-being of our brothers and sisters in places where corporate greed has too often overwhelmed and suppressed human need? Cost is $99.

Aug. 28-Oct. 8 — The Art of Worship This six-week course explores worship in an overview that highlights but is not limited to the “Sunday morning worship service.” It considers the theological, biblical and historical underpinnings of Christian worship, the significance of the integration of “intensive” and “extensive” worship, individual and corporate worship, the sacraments and current worship issues and trends. The format of the course further seeks to “open the arts” in the art of worship in appreciation and celebration of our Creator-God. Cost is $295.

Aug. 28-Oct. 8 — Making Sense of Theology In this six-week course, participants will learn how to reflect critically on their lives and the world around them using the resources of traditional Christian theology. They will learn to differentiate between embedded and deliberative theologies; articulate their own theology at this point in time; differentiate between their theology and those of others; and reflect on the importance of doing theology in community. Cost is $295.

Aug. 28-Oct. 8 — Old Testament Hermeneutics In this six-week course, participants will explore the Hebrew Bible using historical critical methods and other tools of Biblical interpretation. Participants will learn the interpretive tool of Midrash (sanctified imagination) and apply Biblical insight to 21st century issues. Cost is $295.

Aug. 28-Oct. 8 — Ecological Theology This six-week course explores the Earth and all that lives here as the dwelling place of God. There is an ongoing dialogue between scientists’ (especially Darwin’s) meticulous observations of natural selection and evolution on Earth with the Nicene Creed, scripture, and theologies through the ages. This dialogue allows science and theology to both maintain their own language while at the same time challenging each other to broaden their thinking about this mystery called life and an unexplainable Giver of life that many of us call God. Elizabeth Johnson uses Rolston’s concept of three Big Bangs to contemplate: the divine spark at the beginning of the universe, the beginnings of life on Earth and the emergence of Homo sapiens. Cost is $295.

Aug. 28-Nov. 19 — UCC History and Polity This 12-week course explores the history, polity, theologies, and practices of the United Church of Christ and its predecessor denominations. The course will include an exploration of denominational identity, hidden histories within the denomination, case studies around current issues of polity and structure, current ecumenical conversations, emerging trends within the United Church of Christ, and more. Successful completion of this course will fulfill the history and polity requirement for authorized ministry in the United Church of Christ in many associations and conferences. Cost is $595.

For the complete course schedule, to inquire about courses or to register, visit www.pathwaystheological.org or email registrar@pathwaystheological.org.

T-shirts for your next event!

The Florida Conference has T-shirts with the Conference logo on the front and the popular “Be The Church” wording on the back. We have light blue and a few gray shirts. They would be great for summer program staff, a summer youth event, for the members of your mission trip, or even for fall fundraising events!

Cost is $6 per shirt, which includes shipping. We have five 2X gray shirts, and the following quantities of light blue shirts: eight small, two medium, 20 extra large, nine 2X, and three 3X.

Please call the conference office at (407) 835-7501 for more information.

Prayers for churches and ministers

We invite you to join us in praying for the churches of your Conference. Each issue of e-Celebrate will contain the names of the churches we hope you will pray for personally and as a congregation. Meditate on them, pray for them, and sense your oneness together as the Body of Christ that is the United Church of Christ in Florida. This issue’s churches:

  • Faith United Church of Christ, Bradenton
    Rev. Brian Bagley-Bonner, co-pastor
    Rev. Judy Bagley-Bonner, co-pastor
  • Faith Family United Church of Christ, Brandon
    Rev. Dr. Katherine Rooke, pastor
  • Cocoa Beach Community Church
    Rev. Ed. Middleton Jr., pastor

We also remember those in specialized ministry settings outside the local church whose presence provides spiritual care and support to many who are in need:

  • Rev. Martin Montonye, chaplain, Bellevue Hospital, New York City

Save the date

Oct. 10-12: 2019 Annual Gathering of the Florida Conference, Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive, 8001 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819. Stay tuned for details and registration.

Oct. 18-20: UCC Southern Region Women’s Retreat, Blowing Rock Conference Center, Blowing Rock, NC. For more information, -> click here ->.

July 22-25, 2020: National Youth Event, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN. For more information, -> click here ->.

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