Our Church's Wider Mission (OCWM)
What do we get for that?
This past Sunday, I was honored to be invited to preach at the Second Congregational Church UCC Londonderry. When I'm asked to share a message about Stewardship, I usually get a mention or two in for OCWM without having it take over entirely. This past Sunday was different in that I was asked to specifically speak to OCWM, since education about Our Church's Wider Mission was part of their Stewardship theme for the year. It gave me a chance to reassess what I've learned, and how important it is.
You probably know that OCWM is the largest single income stream for your Vermont Conference, and while delegates at Conference Annual Meeting (representing you) vote a suggested level of support, it is not compulsory. Churches sometimes think like businesses, so often I am asked a question something like: "So let's say we decide to send a contribution to OCWM. What does our church get for that?"
I would suggest to you that that's the wrong question to ask. Mission giving is not a transaction. Mission giving is giving to a mission. When your church supports the local food shelf, or a homeless shelter, or missionary work overseas, do you ask, "What do we get for that?" I suspect not, because you understand that your gifts are making a positive difference in someone's life. So perhaps a better question would be, "How will our contributions improve someone's life?" Now THAT question, I would love to answer.
139 churches make up the Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ, and together, we do much that our churches could not do on their own.
Here are some examples:
* Helping churches call a new pastor: when a pastor leaves, it can be a very trying time for a church. Saying goodbye properly, forming an interim search committee, finding and calling an interim pastor, working through interim tasks, forming a search committee, writing a profile, receiving and reviewing pastor profiles, establishing a candidate, doing a neutral pulpit, and then a candidating Sunday, then negotiating a call agreement, and a start date, and an installation. One of the primary functions of the Conference is Search and Call. Walking with a church through this journey. Resourcing them along the way. On average, it costs the Conference about $8,000 per church per search. This year, we will have about 18 churches in the search process.
* Mission here in Vermont, including our significant support for the Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council, a full time lobbyist in Montpelier who represents those who usually have no voice. Most recently, we were in the middle of the conversation about raising the minimum wage.
* And the summer lunch program. Each summer we give thousands of dollars in grants to about two dozen churches to help support their summer lunch program, for kids who need meals when school is out.
* We work for Prison Justice
* And Peace advocacy
* And disaster planning and response. After Irene hit, within a few days, the national setting of the UCC sent $2000 grants to some of our churches as seed money to help begin recovery efforts. And then bought and equipped a trailer designed to assist clean up teams. Over the next year, the Conference distributed over $40,000 in grants to individuals, based on requests approved by our churches.
* We support our local church pastors with
· Minister's convocation
· New pastor support groups
· Regular gathering of interim ministers
· And support for when a pastor needs a pastor
* We plan events designed to educate and improve congregational vitality. In just the past three years, we have brought noted author Diana Butler Bass to Vermont, held training days on the use of social media by pastors and congregations, and presented two great Vitality events: New Keys for an Old Door, and Recalculating The Way, an ecumenical effort with The Episcopal Church of Vermont.
* We provide resources and training on Stewardship, with workshops available on narrative budgeting, year round stewardship, annual campaigns, capital campaigns, planned giving, governance, strategic planning, leadership retreats, and more.
Well, there's lots more too. We've recently updated the OCWM brochure, and I encourage you to download and share it with your congregation. Want pretty color copies on nice stock? Just email me and I'll send them right out.
And we do it with 65% of your OCWM contributions, while the other 35% is sent off to the national setting of the United Church of Christ for their work on our behalf.
Perhaps your church was one of those that found it necessary to reduce support during the last recession. Overall, OCWM contributions from our churches dropped 25%. With the financial picture improving in most of our congregations, perhaps now is the time to begin restoring past cuts, or committing to an increasing level of support. If all of us can do a little, it will add up to a lot. But you know that already. That's how it works in your church.
If you have any questions about OCWM, please be in touch. Want some help with Stewardship or OCWM education? Ditto! There is so much we can do together. Ask yourselves: What good could be done if we can be more generous in our support of the Vermont Conference and United Church of Christ?
And lastly, thank you! Thank you for your support, and the mutual ministries and missions the Conference does with you and on your behalf.
Rev. Jim Thomas
Associate Conference Minister
for Stewardship, Church Vitality, and Finance