At the Spring 2023 Association Meeting, a motion to explore dissolving the Association was presented. The motion as tabled so that the Executive Committee could lay out a discernment process in order that the whole of the Association could have opportunities to learn, ask questions, and consider before proceeding.
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Read summary of responses to discernment questionnaire and other sharing opportunities.
At the Spring 2023, the Executive Committee was asked to update constitution bylaws to include a dissolution clause. At their August 1, 2023 meeting, the Executive Committee approved this update and it will presented at the Fall 2023 Association Meeting for the Association members to consider.
Summary of Association costs as incurred from November 1, 2021 - August 30, 2023 as best as could be recreated. There may be missing items. Association paid Association Minister's salary. Other expenses paid for by the Association Minister.
The Conference Board of Directors approved a new Conference staffing model in January and released a visioning document in April that lays out the strategic plans of the Conference. This document gives important insight into how the Conference is reorganizing so that it will be prepared to function as an Association, if needed in the future.
To meet the visioning goals laid out in 2025: Building the Future Today, the Conference is rewriting the Conference Constitution and Bylaws. Proposed Consutition and Bylaws have been released and the Conference will vote on them at the Conference Annual Meeting in May.
The Association Moderators, Association Committee on Ministry Chairs, Association Ministers and the Conference Minister have met several times, in various configurations, over the past few years to discuss the State of the Associations.
Based on those meetings, a report from Rev. Nikki Stahl was first presented at the October 2022 Fall Association Meeting and then updated and presented at the Spring 2023 Spring Association Meeting based on these discussions.
In reviewing the updated report provided prior to and presented at the 2023 Spring Association meeting, Rev. Arlene Turner felt compelled to bring forth a motion "to direct the executive committee of the Heart of Texas Association to evaluate the state of the Association and explore the option of dissolution of the Association and its impact to local churches. I further add that this study be carried out this year and a report made available one month before the recommendation to be presented at the Heart of Texas Association Fall Meeting, tentatively scheduled for October 28, 2023, for discussion and vote."
The motion came from a voting Association delegate and not dictaed or requested or forced by the Conference. Voting Association delegates are authorized to bring motions from the floor.
In response to the motion, Association delegates responded by voting to table the motion for more information and time to discern.
At the Spring 2023 meeting, a motion was brought forth from the floor. The original motion reads as follows:
I hereby make a motion to direct the executive committee of the Heart of Texas Association to evaluate the state of the Association and explore the option of dissolution of the Association and its impact to local churches. I further add that this study be carried out this year and a report made available one month before the recommendation to be presented at the Heart of Texas Association Fall Meeting, tentatively scheduled for October 28, 2023, for discussion and vote.
Note: This motion was tabled so that we could structure a discernment process. This will not be voted on at our Fall Association Meeting but will be addressed at our Spring Association Meeting.
First and foremost, this is actively being considered because the motion above, yet there are other reasons for us to faithing consider together as well:
New Orleans Association held a vote to dissolve at their Spring 2023 meeting but like us voted to undertake a discernment process and discuss more at their Fall 2023 Meeting.
Both North Texas and Houston Association have indicated that they too are too are looking at a discernment process for possible votes in the coming year(s). North Texas is a bit more complicated as there is property/ministry owned by a subset of the Association.
Heart of Texas Association is by no means the only the Association that is discerning.
Local churches may be gathered together in regional bodies called Associations. Local churches often give financial support to the association to support its activities. The official delegates of an association are all authorized ministers within the bounds of the association together with lay delegates sent from each local church.
There are currently four Associations (Heart of Texas, North Texas, Houston and New Orleans) within the South Central Conference (SCC).
"An Association is that body within a Conference of the United Church of Christ which is composed of all Local Churches in a geographical area, all Ordained Ministers holding Standing or Ordained Ministerial Partner Standing therein, all Commissioned Ministers and Licensed Ministers in that Association."
The functions of the Association include:
The association ordains new ministers, holds ministers' standing in covenant with local churches or other entities, and is responsible for disciplinary action usually through a Committee on Ministry (COM).
"An Association is that body which determines, confers, and certifies to the standing of the Local Churches of the United Church of Christ within its area."
"The boundaries of any new Association, or any adjustment of boundaries between Associations, shall be determined by the Associations concerned with the approval of the Conference or Conferences involved. The standing of an Association as a body of the United Church of Christ is determined by the Conference in which it is located."
"Changes in Association boundaries shall be made by negotiations between the Associations affected, in consultation with the local churches involved, and in conversation with the Conference. As many functions as deemed desirable or cost efficient may be shared among Associations."
Local churches also are members of larger Conferences, of which there are 36 in the United Church of Christ. A conference may contain two or more associations, yet it may function as an association as well. Conferences are supported financially through local churches' contribution to "Our Church's Wider Mission" (OCWM). Conferences, like associations, are congregationally representative bodies, with each local church sending ordained and lay delegates.
The four Associations that currently makeup the South Central Conference are 1) New Orleans, 2) Houston, 3) North Texas, and us, 4) Heart of Texas.
"Conference is that body of the United Church of Christ which is composed of all Local 313 Churches in a geographical area, all Ordained Ministers holding Standing or Ordained Ministerial Partner Standing in its Associations or in the Conference itself when acting as an Association, all Commissioned Ministers and Licensed Ministers in its Associations.
Summary: One of the primary ecclesiastical functions of a conference is to provide support for the search-and-call process by which churches select ordained leadership. Conferences also support local church and authorized ministers, provide significant programming resources for their constituent churches, such as Christian education resources and support, interpretation of the larger UCC's mission work, and church extension (growth and new church development) within their bounds. They serve as a connection between the local congregations and/or Associations to the wider church and a connection between the local congregations and ministries within the Conference.
Some Details according to the United Church of Christ Bylaws Article Paragraphs 176-186
The purpose of this Conference shall be to
"The boundaries of any new Conference, or any adjustment of boundaries between Conferences, shall be determined by the Conferences concerned with the approval of the General Synod. The standing of a Conference as a body of the United Church of Christ is determined by the General Synod."
Functionally this is the responsibility of the Council of Conference Ministers.
Holy Spirit Authority to inspire people to live into the calling to BE the Church
From the UCC Resource Exploring UCC History, Polity, and Theology
When a Conference functions as an Association, the Conference is responsible for the ecclesiastical functions of the Conference work in addition to the ecclesiastical functions of the Association(s). In other words, the Conference takes on the responsible for providing primary oversight and authorization of authorized ministers and local churches; therefore, the Conference ordains new ministers, holds ministers' standing in covenant with local churches or other entities, and is responsible for disciplinary action. Just like as when situated in the Association, this work is done through Committee on Ministry (COM).
"A Conference may exercise the functions of an Association when they are delegated to it by an Association or where no Association exists."
Yes! Out of the 36 Conferences within the United Church of Christ, 10 of them function as an Association with several other Conferences/Associations in discernment.
If someone has the history of the E&R boundaries prior to the formation of the UCC in 1957, please share as it is the assumption that the Associations roughly aligned with the judicatory boundaries that existed in the E&R.
Yes, Associations were created at the formation of the SCC and they appeared to have been well funded and effeciently function for many (but not all) Associations at the time and for many years.
It is important to remember several things:
1. In the past, Association Ministers were partially funded by the Conference. It was determined though that the Conference paying for Association stuff did not honor the autonomy of the Conference and the Associations. As a result, funding of Association Minister was placed 100% onto the local churches within an Association.
2. In the past, some (but not all) Associations were able to afford Association Ministers for more hours and at a higher pay, and fund more ministires includng various demographic groups. At least one Association in the SCC has not been able to fund even a part time Association Minister -- ever!
3. SCC began with five associations. South Texas Association experienced many of the same problems currently being experineced in the Associations. South Texas Assocation merged with the Brazos Association to form the current Heart of Texas Association.
Associations served local churches and the wider church well in the past. The question is Are Associations serving local churches and wider church well now and aiding in the sharing of the Good News of the Gospel?
Reality is that churches are declining under this Association model. Some argue that our churhces will continue to decline if the Association does not exist. Maybe? But is this model really working? Or is there a more impactful way that our limited resources can be utlized and shared to spread the Good News?
The SCC is actively working to put all the pieces in place in order that it can effectively function as an Association.
No! Associations have autonomy in their decision to exist or not. The Association's decision is independent from the other Associations, Conferences, and even local churches within the Association.
A Conference may function as an Association for any defined local congregations within its geographical boundary even if Associations exists within that same geographical boundary.
The actions of the of the Heart of Texas, North Texas, Houston and New Orleans Associations within the South Central Conference are independent and not reliant on the actions of other. One or more Association(s) may dissolve while other(s) choose to remain in existence.
Currently the Northern California & Nevada, Southeast, and Rocky Mountain Conferences function as Association in addition to having one or more Associations within their respective geographical boundaries.
In these cases, if a local church resides within an Association's geographical area, the local church may decide to pursue/maintain standing with the Association and Conference or just the Conference. Local churches may not pursue/maintain standing only in an Association.
If the local churches does not reside within an Association's geographical area, the local church must pursue/maintain standing with the Conference only.
Autonomy of the local church does not change if an Association exists or does not exist. United Church of Christ polity is such that there is no UCC hierarchy or body that can impose any doctrine or worship format onto the individual congregations within the UCC. While individual congregations are supposed to hold guidance from the general synod "in the highest regard", the UCC's constitution requires that the "autonomy of the Local Church is inherent and modifiable only by its own action". United Church of Christ Constitution Article X Paragraph 18
This same article explains that autonomy is nested within coventantal relationship:
"The Local Churches of the United Church of Christ have, in fellowship, a God-given responsibility for that Church, its labors and its extension, even as the United Church of Christ has, in fellowship, a God-given responsibility for the well-being and needs and aspirations of its Local Churches. In mutual Christian concern and in dedication to Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, the one and the many share in common Christian experience and responsibility."
For an overview of Local Church Covenental Relationship AND Autonomy see General UCC History & Policy slides 16-27.
Covenental relationship of the local church does not change if an Association exists or does not exist; local churches are still called to be in covenental relationship with the various expressions of the church.
"Within the United Church of Christ, the various expressions of the church relate to each other in a covenantal manner. Each expression of the church has responsibilities and rights in relation to the others, to the end that the whole church will seek God’s will and be faithful to God’s mission. Decisions are made in consultation and collaboration among the various parts of the structure. As members of the Body of Christ, each expression of the church is called to honor and respect the work and ministry of each other part. Each expression of the church listens, hears, and carefully considers the advice, counsel, and requests of others. In this covenant, the various expressions of the United Church of Christ seek to walk together in all God’s ways."
For an overview of Local Church Coventant Relationship AND Autonomy see General UCC History & Policy slides 16-27.
Currently the Heart of Texas does not own any property. Assets of the Association can be found on our Balance Sheet which as of December 31, 2022 was about $35,000.
Currently there is no dissolution clause in our Association bylaws but the Executive Committee approved a change for the Association to vote on at the Fall Association meeting. Following standard dissolution clauses in the UCC, assets of the Association would go to the Conference upon dissolution.
Of the $35,000 assets (as of 12/31/22), about $9,600 is earmarked for youth and $14,000 is earmarked for scholarships. The Conference would have to honor those restricted funds since donations given for those specific reasons and therefore they would move into Conference restricted funds for youth and scholarship, respectively.
The Heart of Texas Association does not own, or have claim, to any of the local church's properties within the Association, nor any of the local church's assets including buildings, bank account, etc.
Since there will no longer be an Association, there would be no need for an Association minister. The Association minister would be free to enter Search and Call to pursue their next call to ministry as guided by the Holy Spirit.
There would be no change in authority for the Conference Minister as the current authority of the Association rests in the Association Committee on Ministry and Association members. If the Conference Functions as an Association, that new authority rests in the Conference Committee on Ministry and the Conference members. Conference Committee members would be "staffed" by Conference members elected at Conference Annual Meetings, in lieu of by Associations members at Association Meetings.
See Proposed Conference Constitution and Bylaws for more information on Conference Committee on Ministry Teams.
No! Associations have autonomy in their decision to exist or not. The Association's decision is independent from the other Associations, Conferences, and even local churches within the Association.
Both the current bylaws (Article III) and the proposed constiution and bylaws (Article XI) allow for calling Authorized Ministers and/or hiring Associate Conference Ministers and/or Directors and/or other Conference staff. The 2075: Building the Future Today mentions in several places utilizing Conference staff to help meet the goals of the Conference. Additionally, a new staffing model was adopted by the Board of Directors at their January Board meeting. The 2024 Budget which is due out soon may also shed some light on staffing plans in 2024, if any.
The function of the Conference does not change so everything outlined above in the question "What are the functions of a Conference?" still applies.
Additionally, the 2075: Building the Future Today lays out a vision for the Conference and the way that the Conference will serve the Conference which includes the local church.
In regards to the proposed constiution and bylaws, there are several important pieces to answer this question.
Article V Conference Members
Registered Church Lay Delegate defined as "a church lay delegate whose name and contact information has been provided to the Conference for purposes of communication and verifying voting privileges" and states that in Section 4 Local Church Delegates that "local churches may register their church lay delegates with the Conference." If local church register's their church clay delegates with the Conference, then according to the Board Communication Policy, they will be notified of Board of Directors meetings, Conference Members' meetings (annual, special), and budget communications.
Article VI Section 3 Notice of Conference Members’ Meetings
A. Notice of date, place, and business of any annual meeting shall be provided at least ninety (90) days prior to the meeting.
B. Notice of date, place, and business of any special meeting shall be provided at least thirty (30) days prior to the meeting.
C. Notice of Conference members’ meetings shall be communicated per Board Communication Policy.
Section 5 Board Meeting
1. Regular Board meetings shall be announced at least fifteen (15) days prior to the meeting date.
2. Special Board meetings shall be announced at least seven (7) days prior to the meeting, or as soon as possible if the called meeting needs to occur sooner than seven (7) days.
3. Notification of Board meetings shall be communicated per Board Communication Policy.
G. Approved meeting minutes from Board meetings shall be posted on the Conference website and accessible to Conference members.
Section 7 Budget
B. Budget Communications
1. The Board shall communicate, per Board Communication Policy, the proposed budget, approved budget, and any adjustments to the budget.
ARTICLE XV – AMENDMENTS
The Constitution and Bylaws may be amended by a super majority at any Conference members’ meeting, provided that the proposed amendments have been communicated per Board Communication Policy at least six weeks prior to the Conference members’ meeting.
Article IX - CONFERENCE COMMITTEES
Section 3 Notification of Standing Committee Members
The Board shall publish standing committee members’ names on the Conference website.
Board Communication Policy (draft - still needs to be approved by the Board of Directors)
Purpose: The purpose of the Board Communication Policy is to establish to whom and how the South Central Conference Board of Directors will communicate notifications of Board of Directors meetings, Conference Members’ meetings, and budget communications with Conference Members.
The Board of Directors will communicate notifications of Board of Directors meetings, Conference Members’ meetings, and budget communications via email to 1) all authorized ministers and local churches with standing in the South Central Conference utilizing contact information in DataHub at the time of the communication and 2) any registered church lay delegates utilizing information provided by their local church. Additionally, the Board of Directors will place notifications on the Conference website.
The Board of Directors may, but is not required, to communicate notifications via newsletters, social media, and other communication mediums.
The Board of Directors is not responsible for authorized ministers or local churches that do not keep their information current within DataHub.
The Board of Directors is not responsible for outdated registered church lay delegates contact information. The local church is responsible for ensuring that registered church lay delegate information is correct and accurate.
The Board of Directors will communicate notifications by the dates established in the Constitution and Bylaws.
In regards to the proposed constiution and bylaws, there are several important pieces to answer this question. It is important to remember that the constitution and bylaws have been written to be flexible for if and/or when it may have to function as an Association and if there are or are not Associations.
ARTICLE IV – REGIONS AND ASSOCIATIONS
Section 1 Definitions
A. Region: a sub-geographical boundary within the Conference.
B. Association: a cluster of local churches within a region of the Conference.
Article IX - CONFERENCE COMMITTEES
A. Nominating Committee
3. The Nominating Committee shall nominate for election by the Conference for each occurring vacancy in the
a. Board of Directors;
b. Nominating Committee;
c. Committee on Ministry Teams; and
d. General Synod delegates and alternates.
4. The Nominating Committee shall include these considerations when nominating individuals:
a. Have due regard to ensure regional and/or association representation;...
(meaning that nominating committee will ask and try their best to find representation from region/association for all items lsted in 3 above. but if none found then they may fill from other regions/associations. Except see B below.)
B. Conference Committee on Ministry Teams
Each Committee on Ministry Team shall consist of
a. Five (5) persons, with each region represented at least once on each team, elected by Conference voting members as outlined in Article XII Elections...
(meaning each COM Team must have each region represented at least once)
C. Unified Fitness Review Committee
1. The Unified Fitness Review Committee shall consist of the following members appointed by the Board.
a. One (1) authorized minister from each region,
b. One (1) lay person from each region, and
c. Three (3) at-large members.
E. Church Development Committee
1. The Church Development Committee shall consist of five (5) persons including
a. Chair of the Conference’s Local Church Support Team;
b. Chairs of Association’s Committee on Ministry, if any;
c. With remaining persons appointed by the Church Development Committee in order that the committee has five (5) members total.
Article X Conference Minister
Section 3 Conference Minister Vacancy
Upon a vacancy occurring in the office of Conference Minister or when an interim Conference Minister is secured, the Board shall appoint a nine (9) member Search Committee, composed of four (4) authorized ministers and five (5) regional lay representatives with each region represented at least once, to proceed at once with the task of searching for and recommending
Additionally, Conference Minster and Board of Directors are available for meetings, phone calls, emails etc. Conference members (authorized ministers, lay leaders and members of local churches) can be as active as they want to be!
There is no change (increase or decrease) of local church autonomy. Local autonomy and covenental relationship are defined in the United Church of Christ Consitituion and Bylaws.
The Conference shall have relation to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ as is described in those portions of the Constitution and Bylaws of the United Church of Christ adopted July 4, 1961, and as subsequently amended, which relate to Conferences of the United Church of Christ.
This question is really a UCC polity question. Reviewing above "If An Association Decides to Dissolve...How would local church autonomy change?" addresses this question as well.
Checks and Balances in current bylaws rests in open meeings of Board of Directors, voice and/or vote of Conference members at Annual or Special meetings, ability to call Special Meetings through Association and/or local churches, and serve on Conference committees including the Committee on Ministry.
All of these still exist in The Conference's proposed constiution and bylaws.
ARTICLE VII – CONFERENCE MEMBERS’ MEETINGS
Section 2 Annual Meeting and Special Meeting of Conference Members
B. A special meeting of Conference members may be called by the Board; the Conference Minister; at least two Associations, should such exist; or by twenty-five (25) percent of the local churches to conduct Conference business.
Section 5 Voting at Conference Members’ Meetings
A. All Conference members shall have a voice.
Conference members defined as "ecclesiastical members of the Conference consisting of 1) all local church delegates and all authorized ministers who hold ecclesiastical standing in an Association or in the Conference, and 2) all members of these local churches."
ARTICLE VIII – BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Section 5 Board Members
B. Board meetings are open meetings unless the Board calls a Board executive session.
See also above question above: Will people on Conference committee's come from all areas of the Conference?
According to the 2075: Building the Future Today regional gatherings and events will still occur! Additionally, local church autonomy is such that local churches can always plan gatherings with other churches.
Quarterly Regional Training Events
Every quarter Conference staff will gather for the weekend with clergy (Fridays) and lay leadership (Saturdays) for a day-long training intensive in every region of the Conference. Inviting greater access and participation, these events will be targeted to needs identified by clergy and local congregations so that best practices, national resources, and expertise on topics can be brought to good use in all our churches. Potential Topics: Board onboarding and training, staff/parish relations training, evangelism and MissionInsite workshops, finance best practices, UCC history & polity, and more.
Regional Outdoor Ministry Events
Regional Outdoor Ministry events allow the Conference to bring collaborative concepts for day camp and overnight camp to each area geographically. These will be tailored to the availability of both facilities and attractions in each area that tie into what it means to be the United Church of Christ for our congregations’ youth.
These regional events (such like current association events) are not codified in the Conference's current bylaws and proposed constiution and bylaws allowing for flexibility in operations based on needs and resources.