This Month in SEC History: June 2011

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by Mike Stroud

This year, due in part to other observances that congregations are having such as Pride Month, Vacation Bible School, and the like, the Southeast Conference has changed the month in which it holds its Annual Meeting from June to August. Since most of the meetings in the Conference’s history have occurred in June, it is well worth taking a look back at an unusual one about a decade and a half ago.

By 2010, there had been a noticeable drop-off in attendance at Annual Meeting from years gone by. After then-Conference Minister Tim Downs and the Board of Directors explored reasons why and discussed potential solutions, they came up with an idea. If the meeting were made more oriented toward relationships and less toward business, perhaps more people would come.

So the decision was made to hold the 2011 meeting at Central Congregational UCC in Atlanta as a one-day-only gathering on Saturday, preceded by a special dinner on the evening before at a local restaurant for SEC clergy. With some 50 people showing up for the clergy dinner, then-Associate Conference Minister Kathy Clark gave the rationale for that event:

“… In the Southeast Conference, more than 50% of our churches are pastored by bi-vocational ministers. These individuals are subject to the demands of both ministry and other professions, with ministry often being conducted as a part-time ‘second job’ during one’s ‘leisure’ time. A large percentage of our authorized ministers serve in settings other than the local church and report a sense of disconnection with their fellow UCC clergy … Our geography and demographics (53 churches in five states) preclude many of our ministers from meeting with one another on a regular basis for fellowship and mutual support, much less for continuing education and professional development …”

Another significant occurrence took place at the Saturday meeting, where delegates voted to adopt the designation of being a “Global Missions Conference” from the Global Ministries division of the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

More than a dozen years later, technology has done much to fill in the void that concerned the SEC so. Now, via ZOOM, interested ministers may participate in a weekly conversation with each other, while those in “specialized” (e.g., chaplains, educators) ministries can do so on a monthly basis. But this one-time attempt demonstrated the Conference’s care and concern for those who proclaim and serve the Gospel in the far-flung reaches of our territory.