Our Common Life…

Change for the sake of change does nothing but foster uncertainty, ambiguity and anxiety.  But that which never changes becomes rote, stale and ineffective.  When things around me change, I am compelled to pay close attention and adjust patterns of behaving and responding that otherwise become fixed and sometimes gradually irrelevant.  This is something hard for nearly all of us.  It’s also very important.

I’ve now worked with our current Associate Conference Ministers for nearly 4 years.  Together we’ve learned things about each other and about ourselves that keep us growing and changing.  As I’ve observed my staff, I’ve gradually modified some convictions about staff function which I’ve tenaciously embraced for a long time.

One of these convictions which I’m setting aside – at least for a time – is the conviction that ACMs should be generalists who relate with a fixed set of congregations and their leaders (especially clergy leaders) – providing as much as possible a full array of wider church resources – but especially support for search and call and attention to the development of ministerial leadership for the present and future. 

To be honest, in my heart of hearts I still highly value this geographically-based model, but as I’ve observed our current set of ACMs I can’t help but notice how each have specific and particular passions and expertise.  While ACM Tony Stoik was away on sabbatical this summer I gradually concluded that upon his return I would experiment with a modified style of staff assignment – one that assigns responsibility more in terms of passion and expertise than by geography. Effective immediately, the portfolios of ACM’s Jonna Jensen and Tony Stoik are modified particularly in terms of search and call and support of the authorizing ministry functions.

The most visible change will be in the area of search and call.  ACM Jonna Jensen will oversee search and call across the entire conference.  This is a large task and she will not do it all in face-to-face settings.  As we all grow into this new structure, I expect that Jonna will call on the other ACMs and me to assist her as necessary.  It is also likely that she will train other highly regarded leaders in the conference to assist her in significant ways.

Jonna will also provide general congregational support to the churches in the Eastern Iowa and Northeast Associations, and as time permits, she will buy klonopin online overnight attend to the development of a network of UCC Oblates across the conference – a novel idea for a tradition as heady as ours!

Tony will attend to the support of the Committees on Ministry and the implementation of a new way of supporting the authorization of licensed and ordained leaders – a conference-wide committee on authorized ministry.  In addition, he will attend to general congregational support in the Northwestern and Southwestern Associations.  To the extent there is time, he will experiment with the development of learning and growing opportunities for practical lay leadership in congregations.

Nicole’s portfolio is remaining largely unchanged – at least on the surface.  But beneath the surface her work may be entering into a significantly more radical kind of change than what I’ve described for either of the other ACMs.  Nicole, the Board of Directors, and I will be working to imagine ways to broaden the scope of her long-term leadership development work and her attention the support of faith formation in contexts beyond just the Iowa Conference of the UCC.  An obvious implication of this change will be the pursuit of alternative models for financially supporting her work – ways to support her work that do not depend on OCWM.  Stay tuned!

The observant reader will wonder about general congregational support in the Central and Southeastern Associations.  I will tackle those responsibilities, as best I am able, in tandem with my other continuing responsibilities as your conference minister.

I’ve said nothing about our expanding network of Covenant Communities for Pastoral Excellence (CCPE).  These groups will be less and less dependent on staff leadership.  This is another clear trend in wider church life – less staff dependency, more substantive networking among the members of the wider community.

Jonna will not necessarily meet face-to-face with every search committee (or church council upon pastoral resignation).  Tony will not necessarily travel to attend every COM meeting.  Nicole already does a significant part of her work in the context of distance meetings and social networking platforms.  One adjustment to habitual conference function I am seeking to encourage is less driving around Iowa.  I’m torn about this – after all, our work is profoundly relational – but in a time of expensive fuel and appropriate concern about environmental impact of so much driving, as well as the undeniable cost of having highly skilled employees spend so much time behind the wheel – I am encouraging our ACMs to gradually, but determinedly reduce their driving time.

All of this is experimental – but so is so much of life.  God has not placed us in a static world where structures once established can remain relevant and effective forever.  God’s people have always been called to listen carefully for the voice of the still speaking God.  Some of what I’m proposing and implementing here may not work as well as I hope and think it will.  If and when that becomes clear, we’ll make adjustments.  In the meantime your understanding, support and forbearance will be a gift.  Thank you in advance. 

With great hope!

Rich Pleva
Iowa Conference Minister




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