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2012 Conference Minister End-of-Year Report

Report to the churches and people of the Iowa Conference United Church of Christ

Year 2012

Thank you!  The first thing I must say to the churches and people of the Iowa Conference is “thank you!”  Your faithful support of the ministries we share together – your ongoing commitment to “Our Church’s Wider Mission” (OCWM) – makes possible an important range of ministries which impact more and more of our churches in amazingly creative ways.

During the course of each and every year a significant number of congregations call new pastors.  This is undoubtedly the most visible and directly measurable way the churches of the conference support each other – and we do this by providing a conference staff.  My staff and I are blown away at the overall levels of talent, commitment and faith we see evidenced in the women and men who have newly begun pastoral ministry here in Iowa over the last several years.  Perhaps your congregation is one which has been so enriched.  We all have a share in this critically important work.  Indeed, leadership matters, and the current cadre of pastoral leaders gives me hope and pride.

There are other new and exciting developments unfolding in the conference.  Please come to ReCharge the second weekend in June.  You will hear speakers, participate in workshops, and engage in worship that better equips you to live for Christ and to influence your home congregation in ways designed to revitalize its ministry.

What you won’t experience at ReCharge is conference business.  Business is, of course, important and necessary, but we will move the Annual Business Meeting to October in 2013.  It will happen on one day – Saturday, October 19th – and be focused, uplifting, and bracketed with inspiring worship.   I hope you will plan to come and bring a group from your church.

Many, many years ago it was a normal thing for our predecessor churches to expect that new churches would always be started all around our fair state.  But over decades we have slipped into a state of affairs which assume that we already have all the congregations necessary for the witness to which God has called the United Church of Christ in Iowa.  It is no secret, of course, that the presence of the UCC in Iowa has been diminishing for many years.  In the meantime, the kinds of worship and congregational experiences that people – especially younger people – long for  have become increasingly varied.  It doesn’t work any longer for churches to assume that “one size (or one style) fits all.”  With that in mind, the conference has commissioned a non-traditional church start in the Coralville/North Liberty area of the Eastern Iowa Association.  The hope and expectation of your Board of Directors and conference staff is this experiment will serve as a laboratory for more creative church starts in other locations and contexts in the coming years.  Stay tuned.  Let me know if you or your church would like to be involved in such an experiment.

One of the critically important resources the conference has offered to churches over the past four years has been support for ministries of faith formation and long-term leadership development.  There are many perspectives on what congregations most need for the embrace of a vital future, but certainly without committed people of robust and growing faith congregations cannot be vitally alive.  Budgetary constraints, however, are making maintenance of the current staff configuration difficult.  The Board of Directors and staff are working together to experiment with alternative ways to fund some of our work.  This experimentation will start with our ACM position for faith formation.  Stay tuned for ways you and your church can help ensure continued conference-wide access to resources and support for your work of building robust faith among the people of your church.

Building leadership capacity so that our congregations are creative and tenacious in forming faithful followers of Jesus – this is central to the work of the Iowa Conference staff.  In any living organization leadership is always in transition – the old must always give way to the new.  But for the past decade and into the decade to come the numbers of long-serving clergy who have already retired and will soon retire represent a disproportionate total of the entire roster of authorized clergy.  Unless we are self-consciously intentional about recruiting and forming and supporting effective and faithful leaders, I fear we will face chronic leadership shortages in the years to come.  One part of our response to that imperative is a partnership with Plymouth Congregational UCC in Des Moines designed to recruit and support highly talented young clergy here in Iowa.  The program is called Transition into Ministry (TiM), and already two congregations and their young pastors (Algona and First/Sioux City) are participants in this program.  We will continue this partnership, but we are also working to build additional systems of support for young, first call clergy beyond the TiM program so that the Iowa Conference will increasingly be seen as an attractive place for young clergy to begin their careers.  In some respects this reputation is already growing, and the numbers of young clergy who have entered pastoral ministry here in the past three years is heartening!

All this work, and more, is funded by the gifts of our congregations and by the generous giving of individuals.  These are churches and individuals who understand that unless together we persistently and creatively work to empower faithful clergy leadership, our future cannot be bright.  But with this investment, I believe our future IS bright.  Thank you for your partnership in this work.

And remember…..”It’s all about the churches!

With great hope!

Rich Pleva
Iowa Conference Minister
United Church of Christ