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2016 Conference Minister Report to the Churches

Iowa Conference
United Church of Christ

Annual Report to the Churches
2016

Near the end of John the Baptist’s life while he was imprisoned for his audacious challenges to Herod he sent a messenger to Jesus asking a question he was puzzling over: Are you the one to come or should we look for someone else?

Church reports are often about things of only secondary importance; things like money and minutes and meetings. I’m pretty sure there’s lots of time to think while in prison.  It seems that John got to wondering as he sat in Herod’s jail.  It’s instructive, I think, that he didn’t spend that time wondering about how many pastoral calls Jesus had made, or whether his expenses didn’t exceed the authorized budget.  No, John was wondering about that which was most important: Are you the one we’ve been waiting for….are you the Messiah?

Jesus, typically evasive about questions like that, was nonetheless, in his own way, forthcoming. Say this to John, he responds –

The blind see,
The lame walk,
Lepers are cleansed,
The deaf hear,
The dead are raised,
The wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side.

The mission of the staff of the Iowa Conference is to build leadership capacity among our churches. More specifically we aim to equip and empower our clergy to be effective heralds of the Good News of Jesus. Yes, we have meetings and we have minutes and we have a budget.  But to the best of my ability and that of my staff, we use meetings and money to point to and to follow Jesus – the one who heals blindness, infirmity and disability – the one who impossibly raises the dead and in so doing announces to all the downtrodden “God is on your side.”

Once upon a time (in the 1950’s and 60’s and 70’s) it was expected of “good citizens” that they be in church on Sunday. That day is gone and in our lifetimes it’s not coming back.  Those of us who continue to be church people need to stare hard into our favorite mirror and ask ourselves, are we most committed to bringing back the past, or are we most committed to healing and justice and hope?

If it’s the latter, then it may be necessary to let go of an awful lot of stuff that most of us cherish and instead pray and study and search for whatever it might be that God aches to see happen in your community and in our state. Is there deafness and lameness and death afoot?  Mostly, of course, these are metaphors.  The fact is, the wretched who need to know that God is on their side are mostly NOT in our churches, and there’s probably nothing realistic we can do to get them there.  But that doesn’t mean they are of no concern to us.  We can still build relationship with those whom God favors, but it will take some creativity.  If you’d like to think more deeply about this, contact your ACM or me.

So….even though our mission isn’t fundamentally about money, the fact is that your financial support – your gifts to OCWM (Our Churches Wider Mission) make it possible to the staff of the conference to be raising these questions – these questions about identity and purpose, about mission and vision, about following Jesus.

Thank you for your gracious and generous support. Let me know how my staff and I might be of further assistance.

With Great Hope!

Rich Pleva
Conference Minister
UCC in Iowa