by Marie Bacchiocchi, Interim Conference Minister
During this year of 2018, we will begin the interim work for the Southeast Conference in earnest. The Board of Directors approved that this year will be a Year of Discernment for the entire conference. This is our way to seek God’s Spirit into the process as we ask hard questions about the direction of the conference. This conference is a wonderful place, full of faithful and inspiring people and congregations, and yet, how we have always done things is just not working anymore. It is my hope that as we all think, pray, and dream about the conference, we will find the path that God has set for us.
There will be many opportunities for all of you to participate in this discernment process. There will be four regional meetings this spring. There will be online surveys and paper surveys. The Annual Meeting will focus on this. For this discernment process to work, we need everyone to participate in little and big ways. I am convinced that God has given someone in our conference the idea that will move us forward in new and glorious ways!
The conference has gone through major changes in the last few years to control how much money it spends. The cuts have not been easy and many changes were made. Some of the changes continue, some of the changes had to change. We have lived into the various changes for a year and discoveries have been made. The conference has a budget that it can mostly afford, but it is a bare bones budget that has challenges.
Cash flow is a major issue. The conference finished 2017 only $5,000.00 under budget, but approximately 1/3 of that money arrived into the conference in late December and early January. We are thankful for your generous donations to OCWM, but we had to pay bills on the credit card, or postpone paying some bills. Because of these actions we have late fees and interest to pay.
Even though we have made major changes, we are still operating the conference in what Marie calls an “executive model.” For this model to work properly and for the Conference Minister and Associate Conference Minister to be full time and for there to be places for conference storage, there needs to be a significant increase to the conference budget which means a significant increase to OCWM giving. If the SEC does nothing to address these issues, the conference will slowly dribble out of money in 3-5 years.
Therefore, something needs to be done. This is why we have a year of discernment. We are intentionally partnering with God to discover the new path for the SEC.
There are three basic options for us to consider:
- Continue the conference structure the way it is and the way it always has been and to fully fund this vision.
- Come up with a whole new way of being the conference. Discover out what we need to do, how to do them efficiently, and what about the conference is the most beneficial to local pastors and congregations.
- If there is no consensus in either of the first two options, we then need to take a long, hard look and ask the question: Is it time for the SEC to dissolve. One large problem we face in the SEC is that we are about 52 churches scattered across five large states. Merging with another conference — thus making us bigger — really will not solve any issues.
Although, this whole process can feel daunting and depressing, there is so much to be hopeful about! We are embarking on this journey with a focus on discernment. God is and will continue to be an active partner with us on this journey to a new way of being. No one on the SEC staff wants to see the conference dissolve, yet we need to put that option on the table to keep us completely honest.
Things to Do
- Pray for the SEC and that God will help us find a new path.
- What do you think that the conference does? What do you wish the conference would do? You can email ([email protected]) or mail (PO Box 1950, Decatur, GA 30083) me your responses. Yes, I want to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly!
- Join in the common conference reads:
- Institutional Intelligence: How to Build an Effective Organization by Gordon T. Smith
- Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Unchartered Territory by Tod Bolsinger.
- Attend a regional meeting:
- Saturday, April 7, 2018: Howard Congregational Church UCC, Nashville, TN (2:00-3:30 pm)
- Saturday, April 28: United Church, Huntsville, Alabama (2:00-3:30 pm)
- Saturday, May 12: Victory for the World, Stone Mountain, Georgia (2:00-3:30 pm)
- Sunday, May 13: Pleasant Hill Community Church, Pleasant Hill, Tennessee (2:30-4:00 pm)
- Thursday, May 17: Kirkwood UCC, Atlanta, Georgia (10:00-11:30 am)
- Date TBD: Charleston, South Carolina