A letter to the Conference
From Ohio Conference Designated Minister R. Philip Hart
About ten years ago I served the Ohio Conference as the Interim Conference Minister. It was a shock for me and for many others that I was offered that job, but I found the work to be truly meaningful. It opened an avenue for ministry that I never thought I would experience.
Two and a half years ago I returned to the Ohio Conference as the Designated Conference Minister. My call was for three years, although that letter of call stipulated a review every six months because it was not clear that the resources would be available for me to continue.
Within a couple of weeks we learned that the Outdoor Ministries program had no more money and that the Conference would be bankrupt within months if something was not done. We made quick and difficult decisions about camps and staff and sought new ways to do the important tasks before us. I’m happy to say that those efforts were successful; we are now in a place to have a sustainable ministry for many years to come.
At the December meeting of our Conference’s Board of Directors, I informed them that I would complete my three year call but would not be seeking to stay beyond that time. This means that I will be leaving the position at the end of July of this year. The single biggest reason for this decision is because I truly feel called to work more directly to support and encourage creative and innovative ministries in the United Church of Christ. I will be able to tell you more about these plans in the future months, but today I want to let you know about my decision and share with you what I will be focused on during my time here.
The first major area of focus will be to finalize our plans around camp and outdoor ministries. As I have mentioned in other updates, we are now in a much better place with this ministry. We will be able to keep a camp property and are looking at which site will meet our ministry needs for the next 25 years. I hope to help our Conference continue with this discernment and make some final decisions for the future.
The second area of focus for me will be to continue developing collaborative and connectional ministries across our Conference and the UCC. This is a vital part of our ministry in the wider church and will continue to create significant resources and opportunities for our local churches and other ministries. I consider this to be one of the most generative areas of ministry for us in our Conference, so I will continue to focus on it.
Lastly, I will continue to focus on the conversations in our Conference about the role and structure of the wider church in our Conference. I have already shared with you my concerns about our current structure and the tremendous difficulty that we have in conducting conversations about our future. We keep falling into unhealthy and unhelpful patterns of communication, where suspicion and mistrust are not only experienced but seem the rule rather than the exception.
This is largely due to the structure that was set up for us 50 years ago. It has created a tension between “Association” and “Conference.” This tension was managed mostly by ignoring it. My own opinion is that the Councils and Boards of our Associations and Conference will continue to have great difficulty dealing with this issue. Again, not because we do not have good and faithful people, but because our structure and history are nudging us away from each other.
I therefore recommended an approach, called Mission First, that goes directly to the local churches for your input, discernment and direction. I believe in and trust the wisdom of our Community of Communities. So, over the next 6 months I will work to support the Board in its decision to follow the Mission First proposal, and I invite every local church, authorized minister and UCC member to become directly engaged in this conversation in some way. The scope of potential change, and the impact on all of our ministries, requires wide and deep participation. I call upon all of us to be part of that conversation.
The Board of Directors is working on the next stage of our ministry and the leadership that it will require. Your prayers and support for them will be so important.
So we have important work to do and several months ahead of us. I am excited about the time and what is possible.
Blessings to you all!