W ith the passing of another year, the world contin- ues to challenge us with change. It seems both smaller and larger, a paradox that refuses our sim- ple solutions. Though our understanding is incomplete, we step forward in hope - the hope that we will be changed, made new again, open to accepting and fulfilling the work of God’s love in the world.
Hope of the world, God’s gift of our redemption, bringing to hungry souls the bread of life, Still let your Spirit unto us be given to heal earth’s wounds and end its bitter strife.
In our faithfulness, we know that God is still speaking, and that God our Creator, Savior and Sustainer has not changed. We hope to be able to discern the working of the Spirit, and being Spirit-filled, have the energy to transform our lives, and God’s world along with them.
We long for peace – in our own lives and around the world. We long for hope that can drive away despair. We long for courage in the struggle for justice and peace. They say you have to be the change you want to see. For this we hope, and for this we pray.
The 256 churches that comprise the community of the Connecticut Conference are called to move forward togeth- er on a common faith journey. In this community, we delight in our differences and embrace our surprising simi- larities. We choose to bring forth our hope in joy and cele- bration, to be the People of Hope, knowing that within such blessing is our salvation.
Marching With Hope Towards a Dream Against the Odds Witnessing for justice from the per- spective of the UCC takes many forms in today’s world. Inside the sanctuaries of our churches, ser- mons and adult education predomi- nate. In the community, old-fash- ioned letters to legislators still have great impact, as do letters-to-the-editor, visits to local legislators, e-mails, forums, personal conversations, prayers for peace, writing books and articles, and more confrontational forms like pick- eting and acts of civil disobedience. Of all the many ways to call attention to injustice, however one defines that term, the mass march is by far the most dramatic and most visible.
On February 15, 2003, one of the largest demonstrations for peace occurred in New York City, a singular example of similar demonstrations being held on that day across the globe. Altogether they totaled approximately nine million persons. Over one half-million of that stupendous turnout filled the west side of Manhattan, from 25th St. to 72nd St. (south to north) and from 1st to 3rd Avenues (west to east). Every age was represented, from infants in carriages to elderly in wheelchairs; and from the signs held up, they appeared to have come from as far away as the so-called American Heartland, from Florida up to Maine, with even a scattering from west of the Mississippi. More than 30 UCC members were on the peace train set aside by Amtrak from New Haven to New York, and hundreds or thousands more traveled by bus, car, subway and plane to help swell the crowd.
The focus, binding all who had gathered into an international, interfaith, across-all-lines family, was a deeply felt need to prevent, if possible, a pre- emptive war in Iraq, a military action the necessity of which was unproven, whose credibility was suspect and whose cost was estimated, even conserva- tively, to be enormous. For that day we were united, as our Creator surely meant us to be, marching with hope, towards a dream against all odds.
We were reminiscent to many of another crowd, gathered in Washington, D.C. in August of 1963 to hear Martin Luther King speak of his dream of racial equality and common endeavor. The odds were against him then, but he witnessed as only he could. So did we, speaking with our feet and hearts, and our dream, like King’s, lives on.
Hope of the world, who by the cross did save us from death and sad despai , from sin and guilt, We render back the love your mercy gave us; take back our lives and use them as you will.
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FROM THE CONFERENCE MINISTER, REV. DAVIDA FOY CRABTREE
Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gen- tleness and reverence. I Peter 3: 15b.
Challenging years come and go for all of us. Yet we persist as a people of hope because that is the nature of our faith. Not a Pollyanna hope. Not a hope dependent on the world’s ways or our own achievements. Rather, a hope rooted in and sustained by God’s grace, by Christ’s redeeming presence, and by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. This is the hope for which we are always called to give account.
The past 12 months have been such for us. Yet we are still a people of hope. As Paul says in Romans 8, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what is not seen, we wait for it with patience.”
Since my last report, we have gone through signifi- cant staff transition, conducting four major search- es. In September 2002, we welcomed Charlie Kuchenbrod, a member and moderator of South Church in Granby, as Associate Conference Minister for Administration. In January, Jim Morgan, member of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, joined us as Associate Conference Minister for Wider Church Ministries. Tim and Anne Hughes, members at First Church, Norwalk, became Co-Directors of Silver Lake Conference Center in late summer, and the Rev. Suzi Townsley, long a pastor among us, will begin as Regional Minister for the Western Region of the Conference in October.
In each instance, we conducted nationwide, proac- tive searches, yet found the strongest candidates right here in our own Conference. These are signs of hope, as it means our churches are attracting and raising up gifted leaders with commitment to the United Church of Christ who want to serve the wider church. While it was our intention to use these searches to strengthen our staff’s racial diver- sity, we were unsuccessful despite much work to make that happen. Still, we celebrate the gifts these persons bring, and remain committed to our becoming a multiracial multicultural Conference in all aspects of our life.
God has a way of working with even the most chal- lenging situations to transform them into signs of hope. During the leadership transition at Silver Lake, an accidental fire burned the health center to the ground one December night. One doesn’t usually think of an infirmary as a place of senti- mental and meaningful memories, but at SLCC, this has been the locus of the ministry of the vol- unteer nurses every summer, and hundreds of young people have found care and understanding there. Too, it served as housing for young staff who
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have “wintered over” in times of transition in their own lives. So this is not just the loss of a building that can be seen! We are currently raising the funds to add a wing to the rebuilt health center for administrative offices that will be more efficient and more visible when one arrives at SLCC. Thank God for the UCC Insurance Board program and its full replacement value coverage.
A few weeks later, one of those “wintering over” staff, Justin Ramos, died at Silver Lake. A musically gifted young man and member of our Woodbridge church, Justin had been on summer staff for three years. Justin loved the Lake, and was loved by con- ferees and staff alike. His death remains a tragic loss to all of us. Hundreds of Lakers gathered for his calling hours and memorial service, and it was powerful to see their way of caring for one another through this difficult time. In the spring, Justin’s family and friends gathered at Silver Lake to remember him there, to plant an oak, dedicate a beautiful granite bench at the waterfall chapel, and a wooden bench in the shape of a guitar under the oak. For Justin, we know the hope that
Connecticut. Yet it is daunting to do so with radi- cally reduced resources, and I give thanks for their resilience.
This experience has raised the central question of the nature and support of the ministry of the Conference. What are the key functions the churches want to see the Conference carry out? What mission engagement in Connecticut will offer transformation to our cities and communi- ties? What approach to strengthening our church- es will result in their being lively and faithful Bodies of Christ in their communities and neigh- borhood? We have been working with the direc- tions set in 1995 by vote of the Conference. Some of those strategies have worked, and some have not. It is time to revisit the questions (though with a different process!) and ask new questions. These are wonderful challenges filled with possibility, and we are eager to take them on, as God works with us to reveal the not yet seen.
The economic climate has also caused us to slow down the projected capital campaign. The needs
Hope of the world, O Christ, o’er death victorious, who by this sign did conquer grief and pain, We would be faithful to your gospel glorious; our Sovereign who forever more shall reign!
cannot be seen, yet is no less real, the sure knowl- edge of his embrace by a loving God.
Throughout the spring, the Holy Spirit inspired young adults from all over the Conference to offer their time and energy to Silver Lake to clean, cook, repair, plow, and generally do whatever was needed to help the Lake recover. We give thanks for the ministry of Mike White through this period of time, as he became a touchstone for them all, and coor- dinated their offers of help in ways that made it mutual ministry. And we are deeply grateful to Joyce Yarrow, member of South Church, Middletown, who served as Transition Director with enthusiasm, wise judgment, skilled management, and a deeply caring spirit. Despite two tragic losses, Silver Lake is a stronger ministry today.
During this same period, as we prepared for revi- sion of the 2003 budget based on year end actuali- ties, we realized that we needed to make cuts far beyond those this Conference had endured in a long time. The combination of economic down- turn impacting both our churches and our endow- ments and a formulaic error made in the spring of 2002 resulted in a projected shortfall well in excess of $250,000. After much consultation, the Board of Directors directed staff to cut administrative and program expenses and do all that we could to avoid eliminating staff positions. Part-time posi- tions that were currently open were not filled, and deep cuts were made in dollars available to carry out the mission and ministry of the Conference. Our staff remains strong and committed to serving the churches and engaging us all in the mission to which we are called as the Missionary Society of
are still pressing, indeed more so with every pass- ing month. Yet it does not seem propitious to move forward actively under these conditions. The plan- ning committee, with the great leadership of Hugh and Kate McLean, is continuing to refine the pro- posed components of the campaign based on feed- back from the churches and their leaders, and we are continuing to meet with individuals with wis- dom to offer and resources to share.
Even in this financial situation, however, our churches and people have stepped forward in the building of new cabins at Silver Lake, the first vil- lage of which will be dedicated this fall. Each cabin will be named after a great figure from our history, and a poster about that person will hang on the porch of the cabin so that all of us may be inspired to their kind of faithfulness in our time.
It has been a year of great challenges. With Christ’s leading, I believe we have risen to most of them. With a renewed staff team, clarity about the resources available, a revitalizing ministry at Silver Lake, and an opportunity to engage some funda- mental and exciting questions, we remain a people of hope, invigorated by the new work that God is doing among us. We pray constantly to discern God’s will and action so that we may minister faith- fully among you as a sign of that hope.