See picture coverage on Welcome to Silver Bay, Saturday and Sunday.
The theme of this year’s 46th annual meeting of the NY Conference, UCC at Silver Bay, Lake George was Be Transformed, citing Romans 12, see diagram. Therein, St. Paul admonishes us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” The well-chosen and inspiring theme echoed across the four-day Silver Bay experience in plenary sessions, worship, and workshops, alike. Summing up, NY Conference minister Rev. Geoffrey Black capped his nine years in this position by challenging the church to assess "What it is that God is calling us to be? God is not through with us yet!" It was his final report to NY before likely "ascending" to become president of the national United Church of Christ (UCC) at its 27th Synod later in June in Michigan. Nearly 350 folks from 55 NY churches across the state attended this annual meeting June 4-7, 2009 at YMCA Silver Bay Lodge on Lake George.
New York Conference Executive Council chairperson Rev. Martha Koenig Stone reported the Executive Council is setting in motion processes to fill Rev. Black's position with an interim conference minister as well as two other interim regional conference minister (RCM) positions that also will soon become vacant. After eight years, Rev. Michael Caine is leaving his post as RCM for the Metro and Suffolk Associations to become the "covenant minister" for the Old First Reformed Church, UCC, of Philadelphia, effective Aug. 1, 2009. Rev. David Felton, long the RCM for the Western Region, will retire at the end of October after 11 years with the conference. The nearly 30 years of devoted service to the NY Conference of all three leaders was joyously celebrated at Lake George throughout the weekend.
Three special guests graced the meeting. Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, president of the World Council of Churches North American Region, formerly head of UCC Commission on Racial Justice, conducted a special clergy forum. Dr. Diana Butler Bass, author, speaker, and scholar specializing in American religion and culture was keynoter and led three plenary sessions on “Christianity for the Rest of Us, the surprising story of the thriving neighborhood church,” which is the title of her 2006 book. Rev. Maren Tirabassi who has written widely and has led several recent Casting Your Nets seminars on making the worship experience more inspiring and inviting, led workshops and the closing worship service at Silver Bay.
Young people figured prominently in the weekend program. Pre-confirmand age children from across the state presented a 30-minute skit, “Ben’s Barbecue,” based on the prodigal son story. They rehearsed and put it together in two days. A most effective, late evening service of communion was led by teenagers, likewise from across the state. [A delegation of NY Conference young adults/teens is being organized for a mission trip to the South of Africa in 2010.] Special praise music and the work of a volunteer choir made thrilling, worshipful additions to the Silver Bay experience, as did the ambiance of the setting. The atmosphere at Silver Bay lent itself well to the renewal theme. The gorgeous scenery, lakeside beaches, a climbing wall, labyrinth, hiking trails, rocking chairs on the porches, all overlooking beautiful Lake George, allowed participants to get away from the conformities of the world with minds open to transformation. Some 11 workshops on deepening many aspects of church work were offered. Craig Cowing was elected moderator of the NY Conference and a 2010 budget approved. Impact of the current U.S. economic down turn was clearly visible as the proposed income of $1,000,706 was presented, down about 1% from 2009. Accordingly, a deficit budget of $77,750 currently was approved for 2010. Hopefully an improved economy by 2010 will ease this situation, treasurer Robert Welcher said. The talented dbdb music group from West Bloomfield NY Congregational Church UCC led by its pastor Rev. Corey Keyes and David Wright, co-founders, enhanced the Worshipful Music program at several points in the 46th annual meeting program at Silver Bay, Lake George.
A delegation of nine lay and four clergy visitors from NY Conference’s partner German church, the Evangelical Church of Hesse and Nassau, participated in nearly every aspect of the annual meeting. All spoke English well and added enormously to many levels of this exchange, including music. [A ministry intern from the German church (and his wife) are seeking a U.S. call in the coming 2010 year to work with a local church as adjunct staff. Only housing for them will be required, as the German church underwrites the salary.] The German delegation stayed with Chappaqua Church families and spent three days visiting NYC before heading north to Lake George. After the weekend they spent another three days visiting upstate NY Conference churches before flying home to Germany.
As happens at every UCC conference (and association) meeting I attend, my spirit was again rekindled. The new ideas, the new and renewed friendships, the spirituality of the experience was for me, as the ad says, “priceless.” I commend these meetings to all who have not yet participated in this rich, multi-cultural, and worshipful exchange.
John Werner, reporting.
As mentioned above, two nationally known authors, Diana Butler Bass and Maren Tirabassi spoke and preached at the Conference.
Dr. Bass is an expert on where our type of Protestant Church is and where God appears to be leading it. While the media report that many churches like ours are struggling and that younger adults dislike the conflicts and competition, Dr. Bass said that conditions of decline and combat among the churches may be shifting soon. Churches like ours are finding new ways to keep the faith and many Evangelical Churches are entering an overdue Lenten Season of their own, in which mega churches say that maybe adherence is more important than attendance. She finds PRACTICE more than proclamations indicates which churches offer greater inclusion and hope, and appear to be strengthening in vital ways.
Rev. Tirabassi is a creative and poetic worship leader. She is known to many Metro-Suffolk folk who’ve attended the Casting Your Nets worship classes she teaches. During her sermon on the Nichodemas (John 3) she told how one class put together props to illustrate the encounter between Jesus and the very short and secretive Nichodemas. Jesus famously had just told Nichodemas that we adults all need to be born again. Nichodemas doubted such a wondrous thing could happen. Jesus agreed it was wondrous, like the movement of the Spirit that blows freely and faithfully all about and through us. Here are four ways students in one of her seminary classes illustrated the story: A giant balloon globe of the world with Band-Aids on it to show God’s love for the world; four electric fans blowing and a fountain of “living water” to show we are born of water and the Spirit; masks on sticks for each person to hold up depicting how we come at night afraid to show ourselves even to God. The last student brought in a carton of Depends, enough adult diapers for each person in the class. Wearing diapers reminds us that being born again returns us to infancy and dependency on God and the Church. At that point we are better equipped to enter into Dr. Bass’ “BEING CHURCH” diagram.
Rev. Allan Ross, reporting.
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