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2015 Conference Minister Report to the Churches

Iowa Conference
United Church of Christ

Annual Report to the Churches
2015

A few weeks ago I stood in the magnificently traditional sanctuary of one of our churches and contemplated how things “churchy” have changed in the century or so since that building was built.

A century ago congregations like that one and many others in our conference were poised to enter a decades-long period of growth and prosperity. During the first 70 years of the 20th century our churches were filled to the gills with children and young people.  Congregation after congregation built Christian Education additions to accommodate growing Sunday Schools and the influx of young families.  It was a heady time – and as it turns out, it was an anomalous time.

It’s true, of course, that for most of church history communities of faith have more often been small and struggling than large and powerful. If a person came of age in the 1950’s and 1960’s it would be easy to imagine that the robust growth was typical for churches, but that conclusion would be wrong.

Among the oddness of that period was the degree to which society reinforced the church. The fact of the matter was, to be a “decent” member of American society only 40 and 50 years ago, one had to belong to a church.  No formal law said so (there is the first amendment, of course), but blue laws and general practice conspired to contribute to churchliness.  There were no organized sports on Sunday morning.  Stores weren’t open.  You couldn’t go the movies or go bowling.  So….you went to church.

But the day of societally enforced religiosity is gone. And at least so far as the trained eye can see, it’s not coming back anytime soon.  No one “has” to go to church any longer.  It’s buy ultram 50 mg online just as acceptable to stay home, drink coffee and browse the internet (or, for folk my age, read that quaint thing called “the paper”) as it is to go to church.  In fact, going to church may make you a bit peculiar.

In the Iowa Conference, your staff is about the business of encouraging a attention to discipleship – we call it “Boldly following Jesus.” So far as I can tell, no church has much of a future except that it identify a compelling and clearly faith-based niche for itself and then go about filling that niche with enthusiasm and clarity and excellence and passion.  Church for church’s sake won’t cut it any longer.  No one cares.  Period.  But a community of people who bring honest and transparent commitment to the common good and to justice and fair-play; who care about the hungry and disadvantaged; who grapple with questions of meaning and life and death and forgiveness and mercy – will probably not grow big, but may grow strong.  That may especially happen if they are willing to let go of long-beloved ecclesiastical habits and traditions.

The staff of the Iowa Conference is committed to helping your church find a compelling reason for the next few decades of existence. Are YOU interested in being purposeful, rather than merely being “around?”

By the way, thank you for your financial support of this work. My staff and I are only able to encourage this kind of ministry because you give so we can give ourselves back to you.  Thank for your gifts to Our Church’s Wider Mission – OCWM.  I am grateful and all those who benefit from our common ministry are grateful.

God bless you and your church!

Rich Pleva
Conference Minister
UCC in Iowa