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The newsletter of the
Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference
United Church of Christ

editor: Marc Stewart

December 2016

a season of long-awaited gifts

         Rev. Dr. Marc Stewart

a season of knowing our presence in God together is upon us
Blessings of God-with-us will be known in new ways in our life together as Conference. Indeed, there are changes happening that come to us through the faithful discernment of our Churches.  We have named what is important to our life together and dared to offer up some vision for who we can be. The Board of Directors has been deeply inspired in its aspiration to be the best that God enables us to be. I hope you read the following updates as messages of Good News, maybe even gifts of God-with-us.
Board update
                         Gus Byrom, moderator
moving forward on the issues/ideas most important to our congregations
Over the past two years, our Conference has made a transition into a stable entity. We created a viable financial base, governing policies, functioning committees, and an informed, well-balanced Board of Directors. With this base in place, the Board now feels that we have an opportunity to begin moving forward on the issues/ideas most important to our congregations. From our listening sessions in 2015 and our work at both of the last two Annual Meetings, we believe we now have enough direction from our churches to begin advancing toward those goals. In those meetings, the Conference Board heard that members wanted to be uplifted in our common identity of being open churches, to relate with other churches to share stories and perhaps ministries, and to do more in faith formation, mission, social justice, and Camp Mimanagish.

During a special retreat at Camp Mimanagish at the end of September our Board adopted the following Identity and Mission Strategic Plan to guide us in implementing the congregations' goals. The Board is very excited to be able to share this plan with you and continue the feedback that has occurred over the last two years.
We have designed a more adequate staffing structure that includes adding some highly skilled individuals who will help us excel at achieving our goals:     
     a. Add a 1/2 time Faith Formation Coordinator-purpose: helping churches to communicate with each other and help each other in Christian Education. This position will be filled by Dr. Carolyn Rosen, to begin December 12.
     b. Increase the responsibilities and the pay of the Camp Manager to dedicate more resources to maintaining camp as a viable component of our Faith Formation program. This position is being recruited.     
     c. Add a new position for Office Administrator to manage the Conference office. This position allows the Conference Minister, the Faith Formation Director, and the Camp Manager to spend more time on providing the desired Conference services to our churches. This position will be filled by Ms. Jennifer Penfield, to begin January 2.
     We have already begun to make progress in these organizational changes. We cannot wait for you to meet our new people and share their energy for implementing our goals.

The Montana – N. Wyoming Association and Conference United Church of Christ is a gathering of faith communities who covenant to move forward into Christ’s message of radical reconciliation to share love, grace, justice, faith and hope among us and beyond us.

Faith Formation: We nurture faith formation for ongoing spiritual growth and development that honors diversity of thought and action.  Our practices of faith formation move within our church settings and throughout the magnificent natural settings of our geography.
Communion: We esteem and mutually support our common United Church of Christ openness to the communion table no matter who or where one is on their life journey.
Wider Church Covenant: We keep steadfast to our responsibility and accountability of covenant relationship with the wider setting of the United Church of Christ.
Communication: We want to hear what is going in each others lives, congregations, Conference, and wider-settings of the Church.
Networking: We look for what way to be connected as churches. We want to know who else is interested in what we are doing, and we would like to know what is happening in other churches that might include our participation.
Church and Community Support: We seek to support the churches of the Montana – Northern Wyoming Conference, including their pastors, lay leaders, and general membership of all ages.  We also pledge support to the communities of Montana and Northern Wyoming where we seek that all persons of all races, cultures, orientation, and backgrounds are made to feel welcome. We especially seek to support the churches as they are present in the “broken places” within our communities, promoting healing and support. We look to be in mission where invited, to meet community challenges, and to be reminded of social justice issues as they arise.
Camp Mimanagish/Outdoor Ministries: We are the faithful steward of a sacred place, Camp Mimanagish, where we can provide retreat space for spiritual growth.
Organizational Structure: We maintain best practices of governance, fiduciary responsibility, and human resources.

In order to live into our mission identity and core themes, the Board of Directors has been moving forward with some specific goals as a strategic guide for the next 3 years.     
Relational Development: We will foster the sense that “we are in this together.”     
Financial Advancement: We will diversify our sources of income.
Structural Excellence: We will refine our organizational structure to be more nimble in responding to change, especially in support of the core themes enumerated above. We aspire to achieve these goals through five specific concentrations of our energy.  

Aspiration 1: Increase Financial Health and Sustainability
Create a financially sustainable Association and Conference through a variety of advancement opportunities.
Core Themes: Organizational Structure, Communications, Outdoor Ministries
Focus Teams: Finance Task Force, Outdoor Ministries
Strategic Initiatives:
•    develop and promote multiple funding opportunities to support missions of strategic
     plans laid out in this document, ie OCWM, Dues, Friends of Conference, planned
•    100% participation in OCWM by churches and Board
•    develop investment strategy
•    create “true cost” analysis for Camp Mimanagish and Conference operations
•    create cost analysis for Conference office facility
•    set benchmarks for Conference sustainability
•    follow best practices for fiduciary responsibility
Aspiration 2: Relevant Communications
Utilize a variety of communication tools that would provide news and celebrations among and beyond our church life.
Core ThemesCommunications, Faith Formation
Focus Teams: Conference Minister, Faith Formation Committee
Strategic Initiatives:
•    simplify design of site for weekly updates
•    link social media feeds with Web site
•    create distribution database and distribution process so that eNews is delivered to
     every member
Aspiration 3: Increase common UCC identity
Promote the connections that we have as vital, open churches.
Core Themes: Faith Formation, Networking, Communications, Wider Church Covenant
Focus Teams: Faith Formation Committee, Church and Ministry Commission
Strategic Initiatives:
•    facilitate and oversee a network of people and churches involved in faith formation
     throughout the Conference to curate and share appropriate and accessible
•    identify and support opportunities for members to engage in mission and social
     justice together
•    develop and implement process of re-covenanting together
•    schedule regular listening sessions that focus on aspects of Conference life
•    follow guidelines for authorizing ministers and maintain communication with all
     covenant partners and settings
Aspiration 4: Celebrate Our Identity as an Association and Conference of the United Church of Christ
We will live into the identity, functions and responsibilities of being in covenant.
Core Themes: Wider Church Covenant, Organizational Structure, Communications
Focus Teams: Board of Directors, Church and Ministry Commission, Faith Formation Committee
Strategic Initiatives:
•    represent the UCC within ecumenical communities in Montana and Wyoming
•    maintain UCC dues and OCWM contributions for Conference and National
•    provide a conduit of information between local and wider church settings
•    maintain Conference information on UCC data hub and year book reports
•    continue Church and Ministry Commission Association functions of relational
     connections and ministerial authorization
Aspiration 5: Maximize utilization of Camp Mimanagish as a Retreat Space
Expand participation in Conference sponsored camps and retreats, and market to broader groups and rentals. Our health and sustainability includes Camp Mimanagish.
Core Themes: Outdoor Ministries, Faith Formation
Focus Teams: Committee for Outdoor Ministries, Faith Formation Committee
Strategic Initiatives:
•    develop promotional and marketing packet
•    create staffing plan focused on Camp occupancy
•    develop long range capital improvement plan that includes lower Camp
•    foster partnership with local churches for program development
•    bring Camp experiences down from the “mountain” in ways that support church
     faith formation
Aspiration 6: Live within our Volunteer and Staff Capacity
Make best use of talents and offerings to optimize gifts and foster best practices
Core Themes: Organizational Structure, Wider Church Covenant
Focus Teams: Board of Directors, Human Resources Committee
Strategic Initiatives:
•    develop online meeting space and document-sharing for each ministry
•    maintain Board and Committee notebooks
•    set capacity bench marks
•    conduct annual personnel reviews
•    maintain clear strategic plan
•    uphold a standard of excellence throughout our organization 

We now ask our churches and members to prayerfully consider the Identity and Mission Strategic Plan and budget changes.They are meant to serve as a “first step” toward achieving excellence in performance as our Conference seeks to serve our churches. In the end, our Conference can only be as strong and effective as our churches want it to be. We know that our Conference Board, Conference Minister, and staff are expected to ensure that the Conference functions effectively – and that means having a guide (Identity and Mission Strategic Plan ) and financial plan to help us meet the goals and expectations of our 31 churches. Being that we are a “congregational” church, our Board is very aware and supportive of the basic principle that both the Identity and Mission Strategic Plan and 2017 Budget must be “vetted” by our individual churches and  church members – and that this means discussion, questioning, and examination. We will be scheduling “Listening Sessions” throughout our Conference churches during January and February, seeking input and guidance from our individual churches and members in regards to the Identity and Mission Strategic Plan and sharing our revised 2017 budget in detail. Following this effort we hope to launch a Stewardship campaign this spring to identify the personal commitments and financial resources to implement the Strategic Plan and budget. Let us know what you think!

In faithful service,
Gus Byrom, Conference Moderator
Terri Goodsell, Treasurer
December 9, 2016
Pastoral notes

Ou prayers are with Rev. Len and Gail Shatkus as Gail is in hospice care.

Our prayers of thanksgiving for the life of Dorcas Halverson will be shared at a memorial gathering to held at Hardin Museum December 16, 2 PM.

Dec. 11  Marc with Glasgow UCC to talk about church future
Dec. 15 Central area clergy hosted at Conference office, 10 am - 2 pm (RSVP)
Jan. 10 - 24  Eden Seminary Winter term students hosted by MT-NWy UCC congregations for rural immersion
Jan. 23  MAC Legislative Day at State Capital, Helena
Jan. 29 Marc with Kalispell UCC
Feb. 17-18  Jesus Seminar at First Church UCC Billings "Women and Gender in the Early Church"
Copyright © 2016 Montana Northern Wyoming Conference UCC, All rights reserved.

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