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Report to the Associations

Iowa Conference
United Church of Christ
Spring 2014
A Report to the Associations

Greetings to the people and churches of all Associations!

Our common ministry as a conference of congregations and authorized ministers is varied – but only varied within an overarching focus on leadership development.  In one way or another, the work of your conference staff is entirely designed to build leadership capacity.  We do not do this, of course, for its own sake (as if leadership were somehow an objective good having value in and of itself) – we pursue this work for the welfare of the churches which are the basic units making up the Iowa Conference (and the entirety of the United Church of Christ).

Late last year the conference staff embraced a new slogan for its work – “Boldly following Jesus!”  We are convinced that the single greatest way by which we do this – by which we influence congregations for the good – is by elevating the level of leadership skill in each and every setting of the conference.  Therefore, whether we are supporting a local church in the search for a new pastor, or working with a “Member in Discernment,” or responding to any of the other requests which commonly come our way, under and over and through it all is a conviction that churches and church members will better follow Jesus if they are well led.

Here are a few specifics about the current state of the Iowa Conference:

  • OCWM   2013 was a good year for OCWM (Our Church’s Wider Mission) income.  Thanks to your faithfulness and generosity we (slightly) exceeded our goal for the year.  God bless you!  We work very hard to use your gifts faithfully (and frugally!).
  • CCAM   The “Conference Committee for Authorized Ministry” (CCAM) has begun its work and is off to a very good start.  5 of the 6 association Committees on Ministry (COM’s) have delegated important work to the CCAM.  ACM Brigit Stevens is providing excellent staff support.  We are always in need of individuals who might effectively serve on CCAM.  We need people with consummate skill, insight and faith.  Please pass along names of persons who ought to be considered for service on this very important leadership development body.
  • 2030-Iowa   We are growing a robust network of young clergy here in Iowa – what we are calling 2030-Iowa.  There are now more than 20 full-time pastors in the conference who are under the age of 40 – as recently as 9 years ago there were only 3!  It isn’t that older clergy are somehow bad (I hope this is true given my own age!), but any cadre of leaders which misses an entire age cohort is unavoidably given to distortion.  We NEED younger clergy in Iowa.  But make no mistake, these are challenging days in which to exercise the pastoral office and Katherine Mulhern is working as adjunct conference staff to ensure that these younger pastors are well connected with each other and with other sources of meaningful support and growth.
  • UCC beyond Iowa   It is my honor to serve on the United Church of Christ Board (UCCB) – the new governance body for the national settings of our church.  This work is important….and it is challenging.  Long standing consensuses about the “necessary and appropriate” functions of a denomination are continuing to disintegrate.  A new consensus is far from clear.  And in that muddled middle we have a responsibility to carry on, doing our best to let go of that which no longer serves well while inventing new ways to faithfully proclaim the Gospel.  Please keep our partners in the national setting of the church in your prayers.

The United Church of Christ has a long history of taking risks to apply the Gospel to changing societal circumstances.  We should be proud of that history!  Our record on matters of social justice is striking.

Today, however, we are facing challenges that are as much organizational and structural as they are theological or social.  This question remains unanswered:  Will we be….can we be, as flexible and experimental in the ways we follow Jesus (structurally and organizationally) as we have traditionally been in social and theological contexts?  We love our ways of doing church…but evidence is mounting that our ways of doing church are no longer of interest to folk outside the faith.  If we can find the courage to let go of the tried and true and embrace the unknown….we may find that God’s Spirit accompanies us in ways we could never have imagined.

Many of you have heard me insist that the Iowa Conference isn’t an office building and a staff in Des Moines (or Baldwin!).  No…YOU are the Iowa Conference.  Together, let’s follow Jesus boldly.  There’s no telling where he might take us, but that’s a risk we need to take.  Let’s take that risk together!

Blessings to all of you!

Rich Pleva
Conference Minister
The UCC in Iowa