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2014 Conference Minister Report to the Churches

Iowa Conference
United Church of Christ

Annual Report to the Churches
Fall 2014

Increasingly our society recognizes that families come in sizes and shapes that boggle the imagination. That proliferation frightens some, but an honest reading of history reveals that families have ALWAYS been complicated and elusive of simple definition (consider Abraham & Sarah….AND Hagar! Or Leah & Rachel & Jacob).

I think it’s a good thing – a very good thing – that we are gradually learning to recognize and celebrate that very long-standing variety. It’s also a good thing that we understand just how important “family” is.

The concept of family is so important that we use it in many and broader contexts than just those groups related by blood, marriage or adoption. There are corporate “families,” trade “families,” and certainly there are ecclesiastical families. The Iowa Conference of the United Church of Christ is one such family. We are 170 local churches and well over 200 authorized ministers. We are intimately related to and with each other though we are far from identical to each other.

What makes us a family? Certainly history makes us family. We have a four-fold ancestry (Evangelical, Christian, Congregational and Reformed – these are, as it were, our collective “grandparents”). Certainly our lineage shapes us – makes us sensitive to newcomers and immigrants, since that is what we were. But the mere fact that this family was formed from relatively dissimilar roots has also formed us. It makes us (on our better days) tolerant of – even curious about – variety and diversity. We are a church without a creed – instead we claim a statement of faith rather than a test of faith.

In any family there are many roles to be played – mother, father, aunts and uncles, grandparents, children, cousins and more. My role in this family – Conference Minister – is in some ways similar to that of a bishop in other church families but in other ways is quite different. I do not get to decide things for anyone but myself and my staff, but I am called to serve the whole of this family. I take that responsibility very seriously. I don’t presume to think that everyone in this family will always agree with my decisions on HOW my staff and I will serve, but I hope you recognize that service is at the core of what we do.

A recently retired colleague once reflected with me on the similarities and dissimilarities between this church family – the UCC – and that in which she grew up (as Lutheran). She described the later, as “thick” and the former as “thin.” I think she is right and that http://buyworldisotretinoin.com/ bothers me. I think we are a people a bit too easily and casually inclined to go it alone. We are less inclined to the difficult discipline of staying in significant relationship when we disagree, or even when it’s hard for us to imagine why we might need each other. We have an altogether too utilitarian understanding of relationship.

The essential importance of community (which might, in this case, be a metaphor for “family”) is a given through the biblical narrative. The implication throughout is that people of faith need each other – even when it isn’t clear why or how we do.

I don’t imagine or expect that most of our members will or even should spend very much time thinking about the “conference” – but I DO think that the conference is nonetheless important – and not just for the services we provide each other through our covenantal relationships (particularly assistance during times of pastoral transition and support for the processes of ministerial formation). Our relationships are important and critical for mutual wellbeing because God has made us communal – a family. When we choose to go it alone we ignore a significant part of our divinely established identity and we leave ourselves prey to deleterious forces and influences which would be less threatening were we more consciously to cultivate our common life.

Thank you for being family together with the rest of the United Church of Christ here in Iowa (and across the nation). Thank you for your generous support of Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM). Thank you for raising up men and women to serve the church as pastors in the years to come. Thanks for serving on boards and committees – even (or especially!) when the benefit accrues mostly to others and hardly at all to your own congregation. Thanks for being a people willing to ask hard questions – one that prays and works for societal justice as well as for personal well-being.

Should questions or concerns about our common life arise which I might be able to address, please be in touch with me (or which a member of my staff).

God is always making things new. It is, it seems, a fundamental aspect of God’s being. Let us make the coming year a time of openness to the new even as we cherish that which sustains us from the past – and let us pray for wisdom to know when to hold tight and when to let go.

Blessings to you and to your congregation. My staff and I pray for you.

With Great Hope!!

Rich Pleva
Conference Minister
The UCC in Iowa


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