Conference Calling 33

July 2012

Doug Goodwin

Dear Friends,

I have been learning what it means to make friends again with the Bible. Those who have had biblical or theological training know that part of that training is to become suspicious about scripture, to question it, to doubt it, to rip it apart, to judge it. That is likely a good thing for a time. But some of us have a hard time becoming friends again; we have this guest in our midst at least each Sunday morning and we remain suspicious and judgmental.
My congregation has been teaching me that perhaps the starting point for becoming friends again is to first be a good host to the scriptural guest. Good hosts listen to their guests; they make room for them; they may argue with them, but they respect them and try to ensure they are understood, honoured, and treated well. You can never be sure that being a good host will necessarily lead to friendship… but you can bet that being a judgmental host never will.
I am not sure if the evaluation committee were only hearing from friends or not, but it seems a number of people felt this year’s General Meeting of BC Conference was the best ever! We also heard a number of suggestions for improvements. You can hear Alanna Mitchell’s theme addresses and sermon on the BC Conference web site, and read President (now Ex-President) Deb Bowman’s address there as well.
In August the General Council, which meets every three years, reconvenes to make decisions on behalf of the national United Church. This year the meeting is in Ottawa from August 11-18. You can get information about the Council and follow it live by going to the meeting website. Attending the meeting as Commissioners from BC Conference are: Jacob Black-Lock, Beth Bourke, Ruth Brady, Graham Brownmiller, Jenny Carter, Angela Curtis, Jean Daniels, Alvin Dixon, Alf Dumont, Jennifer Goddard-Sheppard, Robyn Green, Eric Hamlyn, Jake Highfield , Gerald Hobbs, Jean Macdonald, Robert Madziya, Linda McLaren, Joan McMurtry, Karen Medland, Jay Olson, Gary Paterson, Leenane Shiels, Keith Simmonds, Leslie Stirling, and Ruth Wright. 

As part of our mandate to support Presbyteries, the Conference has established ProVision Funds from the sale of properties. To date close to $5 million is invested in these funds. At the moment five Presbyteries are the primary beneficiaries from these funds (since it was in those Presbyteries that the properties were sold) but gradually more and more benefit goes to all the Presbyteries in the Conference. The ProVision Funds are not intended to support the core work of the Conference. Instead, they are to help financially support some of the new work that is emerging.
Keith Howard has been working on behalf of Conference developing a plan for a more thoroughgoing emphasis on leadership development within the Conference. More work needs to be done, particularly on finding a steady financial stream to undergird such work, but it holds promise for greater support for those leading the church in a quickly changing time.
Although most of the present activity is in the Lower Mainland, the church throughout the Conference is coming to grips with being property rich and cash poor. Conference established the Property Resource Team this past spring to help United Church congregations, Presbyteries and other ministries deal with both the problems and the opportunities of property development. Terry Harrison (on behalf of Conference) and Justen Harcourt (from Colliers International) provide expertise from both the church and the business sides. To date they have been dealing with approximately 16 different situations ranging from assisting in sales to full out development planning. With the cooperation of the church bodies involved in these transactions this work can be self-financing and not draw away from any other existing work. Church property has been a gift that has been sadly neglected over the decades. It has the potential to be a “congregation killer” (like when the roof finally needs to be replaced right away!) or a valuable resource in the continuing life of the church.
BC Conference has been hosting a regular gathering of representatives of many churches and denominations in the Lower Mainland to help plan for the national gathering of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Vancouver in September 2013. A number of smaller events will also be held over the coming year throughout BC. As one of the churches that helped run Indian residential schools for a hundred years, United Church congregations in particular are encouraged to support their local gatherings of truth-telling and reconciliation.
The Rev. Glen Davis has been hired part-time to provide some organizational and administrative support for ethnic and intercultural ministries. Although interest in both of these areas has been high, it has proved difficult for busy people to meet regularly and get things done. It is hoped that a modest investment in this work might yield significant results by making it easier to gather and focus the energy already present.
With a staff of sixteen people working for Conference, change never seems far away. Ruth Stebbing, Assistant to the Executive Secretary, and Beth Wertz, Assistant to the Finance Minister, have both resigned and are finishing this summer. Beth has less than a week left in the office before taking up her new role as office secretary at Trinity United Church in Port Coquitlam, while Ruth is taking her vacation and compensation time this summer. Michael Hare, Conference Minister for Prince Rupert Presbytery, has also resigned effective at the end of the year. We expect to hire a new finance assistant soon. The other vacancies give us the opportunity to reassess how we carry out our work to see if we can do it better. George Meier (Conference Minister for Kootenay Presbytery) has increased his workload by taking on the responsibility for working with the societies and corporations within the Conference. Meanwhile, Bill Laurie continues to work with both Comox-Nanaimo and Victoria Presbyteries on a temporary basis, and Paul Davis is back from leave in Cariboo Presbytery.