I am so darned proud of all of you!
Last year at this time, I think we were all in a little bit of panic mode. Our Annual Gathering planning committee had to shift gears on a dime, throw out months of planning, and do a quick, deep dive into the inner workings of Zoom webinars. And they did an amazing job. I’m still not sure how our 2020 Moderator Megan Owens held it all together, trying to conduct business while assisting with an emergency resolution that was being written during the meeting, all the while hosting the webinar, but somehow she pulled it off.
For the full year since, the Conference, our local churches, and all of you have followed in Megan’s footsteps. You have displayed amazing adaptability, creative thinking and innovative leadership. Churches, pastors, youth leaders, camp directors, musicians and front line volunteers have figured out not only how to do church, but how to be church in the midst of a global pandemic that has kept us physically apart. Fifteen months ago, we couldn’t fathom how a search committee would complete its process with a candidate and a church call a settled pastor without a traditional neutral pulpit and candidating weekend. Seven of our local churches have shown us how it’s done.
Fifteen months ago, who would’ve thought that there could be a robust summer camp experience without campers and counselors physically being at Pilgrim Pines? Our Outdoor Ministries Team showed us how that’s done – Camp in a Box! This year, there will be a safe, in-person camp experience, and I’m sure that OMT can’t wait to tell you about. They’ll give you a report later this morning.
Fifteen months ago, we probably would have chuckled in disbelief if someone told us that within just a few months, 90-plus year old seniors in our congregations would be proficient on Zoom. And we know now that many of them are. You’ve run confirmation programs and food banks, you made face masks for front line workers, and you figured out how to do physically distanced pastoral care.
You took to the streets to proclaim that Black Lives Matter, to protest police violence 4 against Black and Brown skinned people, to stand in support of trans women and men, and you marched to denounce anti-Asian violence. You kept on being the church. We learned a lot this year, and how we do church will be forever changed because of it. We’ve seen how we can be the church without ever entering the church building.
While we are eager to be back together, this experience may prompt new conversations about the buildings that we own, and how well they are suited to doing ministry in the 21st -century. We’ve learned that we have a larger outreach than we realized. Former members, new members, and friends have been tuning into our worship services from all across the US. People who haven’t been able to come to church, maybe for years, because of transportation needs, job schedules, or mobility, have been re-united with their church families. We’ve learned that we can have greater participation in church leadership and decision-making, when no one has to drive for 45 minutes, or skip supper, or get a baby sitter to be able to have a voice on the church council. And you did all this from homes that were too crowded or too empty, craving a moment of peace and quiet, or adult conversation, or a hug, or just a dinner with friends. And, you did this all while mourning the devastating loss of life that COVID brought.
I want to give a very special acknowledgement to the hospital chaplains in our midst today. Thank you for doing the impossible. Countless numbers of families will remember your kindness and your words for the rest of their lives. I’m proud of you all and the work that you’ve done. I’m grateful to you and for you and your ministries. In the rush to figure out hybrid and get back into the sanctuary for worship, I encourage each of you to take care of yourselves as you take care of one another. Get the rest that you need. Remember to say ‘thank you’ to your pastors and be sure that they too are taking time for self-care.
In late January, when Felix’s leave of absence started, I was asked by Sarah, the chair of the board, to help out with some of the tasks and decision making that fall to the Conference Minister. I thought it would be six to eight weeks, so I agreed to come 5 on in a half-time role. With Felix’s retirement, however, I’ve agreed to up my commitment to three-quarter time. Additionally, the Rev. Kris Bergstrom, who was hired last November as a halftime Associate Conference Minister, has also agreed to a three-quarter time position for the remainder of her current contract with us, which runs through November of this year. Kris’s responsibilities include working with local churches, Search and Call and the Committees on Ministry for Central and Northern Associations. She is the chair of the Conference Ethics Committee, and because of extensive experience in organizational leadership, she is also an advisor to board process. Lately, Kris has had a special focus on organizing resources and information about re-opening our churches and the needs related to hybrid worship. Our other Associate Conference Minister, the Rev. Rudy van Graan, continues in a half-time position and is also the pastor of the First Congregational Church in Glendale. Rudy’s responsibilities for the Conference are essentially the same as before. He is the staff liaison to the Annual Gathering Planning Committee; he leads our Boundary Awareness Training program, and is the liaison for Youth and Young Adult Ministries and OMT. Rudy also works with churches, Search and Call and the Committee on Ministry in the Southern Association. Lately, Rudy has started a virtual group of pastors who are new to the Conference, since early 2020, and haven’t had in-person opportunities to get to know how our Conference operates. If this seems like a lot of responsibilities for part time positions, you’re right – it is. They are very hard-working and dedicated pastors and administrators, and we are lucky to have them on our staff. In January, we hired Dr. Mary Traylor to be our Youth and Young Adult Program Coordinator. Throughout the spring, she has been organizing and strengthening the youth and young adult leadership and volunteers. You’ll see Mary in the Outdoor Ministry Team video report. Mary also put together a monthly virtual gathering for educators, as a space to share resources, ideas and best practices in the midst of Covid restrictions.6 And of course, throughout this hard year, it’s Stella Perez and Virginia Arroyo, with their institutional memory and ability to do magic that hold us all together. The work of the Conference, just like the work of the church, continues.
We know that our primary purpose is to serve and strengthen our local churches and our clergy. We’ve got some more changes ahead of us, but we’re up for the task. We covet your prayers, and we thank you for your generous support.
Rev. Libby Tigner, Acting Conference Minister