Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ending and Beginning

The Uniting Conference on June 19th has come and gone - and what a day it was! The Plan of Union was presented, debated, revised and adopted. There's now a new conference in Upper New York. Thanks be to God!

It's been an incredible journey serving as New ACT's Convener these past 18 months. I've been stretched and blessed in ways I never imagined. In this last "Convener's Corner" blog post, I want to say a brief word of thanks to three special communities who helped make this journey possible for me:

  • New ACT - I'm so grateful to have worked with this amazing group of people. Bold, compassionate, funny, committed and able to see the possibilities even amid enormous challenges. I've learned an enormous amount about leadership, creativity, spiritual discernment, forgiveness and hope from these colleagues and friends.
  • Lansing United Methodist Church - I have been blessed to serve this congregation as pastor for the last seven years. During almost that entire time I've been involved in the creation of our new conference. Despite the heavy commitment of time and energy this work required of me - especially during these past two years - the people of Lansing released me to do what was required. They model what a connectional church is all about. And their vibrant ministry in Lansing (and beyond) kept before me the primacy of the local church. Its where God finds hands, feet and voices to build the Kingdom.
  • My family - my wife Dori and my daughters, Tasha and Alisha. We spent many Friday nights and Saturdays apart as I was off to meetings. And when we were together, my family often had to put up with a distracted husband/father! But they loved me all the same. Dori, in particular, provided the kind of support only a soul-mate can give: thoughtful questions, practical wisdom, steady encouragement, and a good dose of humor whenever it got too serious. Thank you, sweetheart, for everything.
And thanks to you for stopping by this blog to learn how the work was moving along. In a few weeks I plan to start a new blog on (Upper New York Conference's new web site) writing as the Director of Connectional Ministries. We've got many exciting days ahead of us as we continue to walk together as a new conference. I look forward to sharing this next leg of the journey with you.

Grace and Peace to you!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Things You Will Want to Do and Know

With less than a month before our Uniting Conference, let me get right to what I need to share with you today:

1. Register for the Uniting Session: If you're a clergy or lay member (including equalization member), you need to register ASAP. Please do this right now by clicking here.

2. There are several documents I think you'll want to have in your hands whether you're a conference member or not:
3. Take a look at the FAQ page. Questions you have (or others have had that you'd not even thought of!) are here. If you don't find your question, please add a comment here and we'll get you an answer.

Hope this is helpful.

More to come.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What We Leave Behind

New ACT's last face-to-face meeting was held the Saturday after Easter (April 10th). Recognizing this ending, Holly Nye (New ACT member and Conference Minister of the Troy Conference) led us in a service of worship centered around the story of Joshua and the People crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land (Joshua 3 & 4).

In that story, God cuts the flow of the Jordan River to allow Joshua and the People to cross on dry land. As the People make their crossing, God instructs a representative from each of the 12 Tribes of Israel to pick up a stone from the dry river bed and carry it with them to the other side. Once safely there, these representatives were to assemble a memorial out of these stones to mark the occasion of the Crossing.

"When your children ask you, 'What are these stones to you?' you'll say, 'The flow of the Jordan was stopped in front of the Chest of the Covenant of God as it crossed the Jordan - stopped in its tracks. These stones are a permanent memorial for the People of Israel.'" (Joshua 4;4-7, MSG)

This story really captured my imagination. Like the People crossing over into a new land, you and I are about to enter this new relationship called the "Upper New York Conference." But it wasn't the "moving forward" part that really spoke to me; it was the "leaving behind" bit. As I took hold of my stone, I pondered what I was leaving behind in order to cross over.

Truthfully, up until a few months ago, I'd not spent a lot of time thinking about what was ending, having lived so intimately and intensely with the work of planning the beginning of a new conference. Serving as the convener of a four conference team (New ACT), I'd not wanted to sound or appear partisan for my own particular conference. Members of New ACT early on adopted the practice of identifying themselves, not by conference affiliation, but by town or city. I think practices like this did help us live into something new.

But its also very true there's nothing inappropriate about naming, feeling, and grieving what we are leaving behind in order to move into the new. In fact, its essential. In order to begin something, we must come to terms with what's ending.

For me at this moment, the reality of what's ending as we move into the new conference is pretty concrete. I'm packing up my office at the church where I've been serving these past 7 years, getting ready to move to the offices of the new conference July 1. I'm excited about being the new conference Director of Connectional Ministries, but I'm grieving the relationships and work I will leave behind here in Lansing, New York.

What about you? Are you experiencing a sense of loss, even as you look forward to the future? I'd love to have you leave a comment on this blog as a "memorial stone" naming what you might be leaving behind.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Seeking a "New Normal"

I just returned from one of the "District Days" being offered around the region for clergy and laity to share information about where we are in the planning process and what the Health and Pension Benefits picture looks like moving forward. This was the first event I've attended and I was impressed by the attention given (it was all clergy and we're easily distracted!), the good questions asked and the helpful suggestions offered.

In particular I appreciated the way people acknowledged the huge challenges we're facing as we put together a region-wide health benefits plan for clergy. Meeting the needs and expectations of hundreds and hundreds of clergy who've lived under very different systems is proving harder than anyone expected. For years our current annual conferences have met those needs in ways that worked in that situation, creating a set of expectations we naturally came to accept as "normal."

But now we're all being asked to live into a "new normal" and its no wonder some of us are experiencing not a little anxiety and discomfort. Although much of the tension I'm hearing about now seems focused around the new health care plan, I'm certain other issues will emerge even as this one settles down. Its the nature of the journey we're on.

Regarding the new health care plan, I'd offer just a few reflections:
1. the whole country is wrestling with this issue, so it is no wonder Upper New York United Methodists are struggling with how to care for it.
2. some good, smart and faithful people have put this new program together AND some good, smart and faithful people are raising questions about it. If we continue to talk with one another like sisters and brothers in Christ, we'll get to the place we need to.

Keep checking for updates on this issue. Work's still being done. Your prayers, comments, goodwill, sense of humor and adventure are welcome and needed.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Happy 2010 - the year our new conference takes it's first independent breath! Pretty amazing.

But before this birth, there's a lot of work left for us to do.

In fact, right now I'm drafting a presentation piece to be shared around the districts this coming March outlining the basic plan for our new conference (check your conference website for details). This presentation will address:

  • Why a New Conference in Upper New York?
  • A Brief History of Our Journey to this Place and Time
  • Guiding Principles and Driving-Vision
  • Challenges We Must Face Together
  • Details and Discussion
Check back here in the weeks ahead for a "preview" of each of these topics.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vision-driven, not Anxiety-Ridden

I will speak plainly: in the next 60 days, New ACT must make some of the most difficult decisions it has faced. We've committed to begin sharing the essence of our "plan of union" with you for review and discussion by March. Over the next 60 days we will be finalizing recommendations on:
  • a 2010 new conference budget (including program ministry funding levels)
  • Health and Property/Liability Insurance
  • Pension recommendations
  • Clergy Minimum Salaries
  • 2011 apportionment figures
Again, let me speak plainly: we have some challenging choices to make. With Troy's Vermont churches uniting with the New England Conference and Wyoming's Pennsylvania churches uniting with the new Susquehanna Conference, Upper New York will have fewer churches supporting ministries in the second half of 2010 (when we are a new conference). Health care costs would have risen for Upper New York churches regardless of whether we were uniting or not, but that still means we will all see increased costs. Differences in way we have packaged clergy benefits across the region have made balancing fairness for clergy with financial manageability for local churches a significant dilemma.

The situation is complex and (at times!) anxiety producing.

One thing about anxiety I've learned through the years is that it thrives in a "vision vacuum." If you lack a sense of direction and destination, anxiety will move right in and gum up the works quicker than you can say "worry and fret."

That's why in the face of these significant challenges New ACT spent a good chunk of its last meeting getting clear again about the principles and values that guide our work. We did so because we have committed ourselves to be vision-driven, not anxiety-ridden.

I'm going to lay these out for you below, hoping you'll ponder them and offer some feedback (you can do that by clicking the link below. Please...!)

So here they are:
  • The Upper New York State Annual conference exists primarily to help persons “live the gospel of Jesus Christ and be God’s love to [their] neighbors."
  • The local church is the primary setting where the purpose and vision of the annual conference is enacted; therefore, the first priority of the annual conference is to engage, equip, and empower local churches to be in ministry with and to our Global Neighborhood.
  • Vital and principled leadership is essential for effective local church ministry; therefore, encouraging and developing leadership within the laity and clergy that is diverse and engaged with the vision of Christ is the primary work of the annual conference.
  • “To be church” means “to be in mission;” therefore, the quality and quantity of relationships established with our neighbors, particularly those who have been disenfranchised by mainstream society is the primary measure of success for the annual conference, its congregations and its members.
  • The people of the Upper New York Area are linked by covenant with United Methodists around the world in shared ministry and mission; therefore, the Four Areas of Focus of The United Methodist Church are a primary resource to guide congregations and conferences in doing the work of ministry today.
These five principles (based on our "Vision and Purpose Statement" and the mission statement of The United Methodist Church) provide the framework by which New ACT will seek to make the challenging decisions we face.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Obvious but Important Observation

Let me start with a confession: I sometimes secretly imagine myself working as a sportscaster. Not because I'm a huge sports nut (average, not huge) or because I think I've missed my calling (most days I feel I'm where I should be). It's because sportscasters can say the obvious and get away with it.

"Baseball games are won by teams who can get points on the board. If this team can't do that, its over for them." (Wow!)

"A quarterback who can run and throw has got a pretty good future in this game." (No way!)

"She's an excellent runner because she's fast - faster than anyone else on the track." (That makes sense.)

Which all leads me to hope you'll let me get away with stating the obvious: effective communication requires clear communicators and active listeners.

Pretty obvious and yet incredibly important.

Let me focus for a minute on the first part: clear communicators. At New A.C.T's October meeting we hired a media consultant to look at our message and our audience to help us more clearly communicate what is happening with the new conference development. United Methodist Communications has enthusiastically offered to pay half the consultant fee. The turn around time is pretty quick: we'll have in hand a plan by January for immediate action. This will be helpful.

But already New A.C.T. has acted to more effectively get the word out:
  • A weekly email "blast" containing the most recent information on the new conference has been going out for over a month. Feedback on this resource has been extremely positive. If you're not receiving this, send an email to [email protected] and you'll be added to the list.
  • North Central New York and Western New York have also combined their conference papers into one publication called Transitions which features all sorts of new conference articles as well as happenings in all four annual conference. Wyoming and Troy also have their conference papers online and feature all sorts of new conference information. Checking out these publications is a great way to get to know one another now.
  • A series of five Advent bulletin inserts containing a complete overview of where we are in the development of the new conference will be available to all congregations in the area this Advent season.
  • A new Facebook group called "Upper New York Annual Conference" has also been created. As of today it has over 400 fans who are involved in a lively discussion about the proposed name for our new conference ("Upper New York AC). Why not join in?
  • continues to feature articles, team minutes, and blog links. Its our "one stop" information kiosk for new conference development.
And there's more to come. New A.C.T. understands we have an obligation to get clear and helpful information out to everyone.

But you will also have to do your part to complete the communication loop. Again, its obvious but needs to be said: you will have to actively seek information and provide feedback. Please click on every hyperlink in this blog post. Read, digest and respond. Good communication is a partnership of communicator and listener. Let's help each other make this work.