by Rev. John Gill
Clergy, delegates, and members from 14 churches gathered at The United Church of Cookeville, TN on October 11-12 for the annual Fall Meeting of the Western Association (formerly the AL-TN-MS-FL Association). At a time of deep division in our world, we came together to tell the story that makes us one – and how it is expressed in scripture and in the many ministries of love, healing, and hope taking place in our churches across the region.
Together, we worshipped, shared stories, heard news from the conference, planned for the future, and, of course, feasted on food and good company. Rev. James Bowman Harris, Rev. James Janecek, and Rev. Dorinda Broadnax took turns preaching about our shared calling to “Ministries of Love – Healing – and Hope.” Rev. Glenna Shepherd led Taize chants for morning prayer. Glenna and other leaders from our churches took part in panels sharing some of the many ministries that are going on in our midst: supporting marginalized people in our communities, advocating for immigration justice, providing safe places for transgender persons to gather, caring for members facing dementia and death, supporting medical needs for global neighbors, creating spaces for community groups to gather to meet community needs as basic as children’s diapers and as complex as affordable housing, and so much more.
Rev. Char Burch, our Interim Conference Minister, and Carrole Moss, the Southeast Conference Generosity Coordinator, joined us to share news and updates from the Conference. Delegates voted to elect a new Leadership Team that would continue to focus on planning an annual Fall meeting, fostering communication among our churches, and maintaining a dialogue with the SEC Board of Directors about our role in keeping our churches connected. The new Association Leadership Team includes Rev. Richard Barham of Spirit of the Cross UCC, Huntsville, AL (Moderator); Tonya Barnette, Church of the Savior, Knoxville, TN (Treasurer); Marcia Bentley of First Congregational Christian Church, Birmingham, AL; Cynthia Macmillian Stinson, Community Congregational Church, Montgomery, AL; and Rev. James Bowman Harris, United Church of Cookeville (Liaison to the SEC Board).
Toward the end of the meeting, we discussed renaming our Association in some way that would be simpler than AL-TN-MS-FL, less confusing than the Western Association of the Southeastern Conference, and more reflective of the spirit we represent. One of our delegates, Kim Morris of Church of the Savior, noted all the rivers that run through our states and suggested that we become “The Living Waters Association” in the Southeast Conference, which was enthusiastically approved by a vote of the gathering. The new name makes sense to me because every time we gather, I feel as though I’ve had a refreshing dip in the living waters of God’s grace and an inspiring glimpse into the many ways God’s waters of love, healing, and justice flow through our churches. I always come away wanting to connect more and drink more deeply of the UCC spirit of ministry we all share.
Rev. Dorinda Broadnax and I are grateful and proud to have served in leadership for the Association for the last few years. For more information about what we are trying to do in our Association, please feel free to e-mail me at [email protected].