Meetings

I wonder how many miles I have traveled to attend Conference meetings. The United Church of Christ has formed Conferences as mid-level judicatories to organize our mission. In many cases, especially out west, Conferences have the same boundaries as states. In quite a few other cases, he territory is larger. When I moved to South Dakota, our Conference consisted of the churches in South Dakota. That seemed like a bit of a decrease in Territory from where we had lived. Out there our Conference was the southern portion of Idaho and the state of Oregon. We lived in Western Idaho, not too far from the Oregon line, but still had to drive all the ways across Oregon to reach the Conference Office, a distance of 430 miles. I made the trip a lot of times by car and a few times by airplane. But I had been traveling a lot for Conference meetings even before we moved to Idaho. I traveled 345 miles one way from Billings Montana to Missoula Montana to attend a Conference meeting when I was a college student. I grew up traveling with my parents to Conference meetings. One year, when our father was the moderator of the then Montana Conference, he made a visit to each church in the Conference in a single year. Most of the trips were on Sunday to attend worship services, and many of those trips were planned so we children could go along. Some of the trips were planned with alternatives depending on weather forecasts. We flew to more distant locations and drove to closer ones.

I’ve felt that the connections between congregations and the mission that we share are important. By working together we can accomplish more than churches are able to do alone. I’ve traveled to Regional and National Youth Events from Hawaii to South Carolina. I’ve attended church meetings from Edmonton, Alberta to Fort Worth Texas. One thing about my service in the church - I’ve done a bit of traveling.

These days, however, with the advent of technology and the downsizing of Conferences, things are changing and I need to continue to be careful with the decisions I make about traveling. In general, local congregations are keeping larger percentages of the total income of the church for local ministries and sending smaller percentages to the Conference and National settings of the church. This means that there are fewer funds for Conference operations. In many Conferences this has resulted in combinations of services. Conferences are becoming bigger in geography, while shrinking in staff and services to local congregations. Our Conference has become part of a larger Tri-Conference which involves staff sharing between Idaho, Nebraska and South Dakota while shrinking the total number of staff persons. This means that conference meetings can often involve many more miles than was the case previously. It is part of a national trend in our United Church of Christ, but it is much less noticed in areas of the country where we have more congregations and the congregations are closer together. Unlike some of my friends who serve in the Northeast, were we have congregations in nearly every town and the population is dense, I’ve never served a congregation that was in the same time zone as the Conference office, a phenomenon that continues to surprise some of my colleagues.

I’ve been thinking about all of these dynamics for several days now as I contemplate an invitation I received to serve on a board of directors of a foundation that is dedicated to some of our shared ministries. The invitation stated that it would involve only one meeting per year and that the meetings would be fun. Those two factors, intended as selling points, didn’t make the job sound very appealing to me. I’ve driven too many miles and I have enough opportunities to attend meetings that driving across the state for a meeting that might not be accomplishing serious work isn’t appealing. In my book driving long distances for fun involves new scenery and/or grandchildren. I don’t want to serve on a board for fun. Furthermore, a Board of Directors of a trust that his fiduciary responsibilities for management of financial resources that are corporately held that meets only once per year is a bit suspicious in my eyes. I don’t want to be a member of a figurehead board where someone else is making all of the decisions behind the scenes.

It has been several days since I received the invitation and I should respond today, but I woke up contemplating my response without any certainty about what I will say. I don’t need any more Boards of Directors on my Curriculum Vitae. I’m not even sure that I need a curriculum vitae any longer, though I occasionally update it with a few details. I don’t need the experience of serving on a board of directors of a trust. I’ve got more than 20 years of similar experience with multiple trust boards including some that are significantly larger than this particular trust.

On the other hand, I believe in volunteer service. I believe that volunteers who responsibly serve on these boards are part of what makes them work. The trust placed in the board allows for management without the high fees that would be charged by financial institutions for management. With smaller amounts of invested funds, management fees can make a significant difference in the amount of resources available for the mission of the trust. Volunteers mean more funds invested in mission. The obligation of service falls to all members of the church and I am not exempt. I continue to recruit volunteers for service to the wider church and it would not be fair for me to recruit people for positions in which I am unwilling to serve.

So I begin my day with a dilemma and an unmade decision. I’m tempted to answer that I would accept the position if I were assured that serious business as well as fun was involved and if the group would consider changing from annual to quarterly meetings.

I must be a real glutton for punishment.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!