Monday, November 23, 2015

CT Executive Secretary Staff Report

The Connectional Table has seven essential functions that have been tasked by General Conference. What I have learned about these essential functions over the last three years is that they are broad and complex in how they can be interpreted and how they can be executed. We have narrowed these functions into three primary areas: building bridges that strengthen relationships, connecting/coordinating strategies for greater alignment and impact on the mission, and connecting the stories for inspiring transformation in Jesus Christ throughout the world. As you know our intended focus at the beginning of the quadrennium was to align our attention, energy and resources on increasing Vital Congregations throughout our connection, developing agreed upon goals in the Four Areas of Focus and staying focused on being a more authentic worldwide church. There has been no easy “technical solution” for these very broad and complex matters for our denomination. We have been constantly seeking “adaptive changes” in order to face this work for the sake of our mission as a UMC.

As we pressed the “reset button” at the beginning of the quadrennium for The Connectional Table, that meant we were going to have to learn from the past and set a new direction for our future. There were many matters pressing on all of us as we continue to address the hard reality of declining membership in the U.S., rising membership in the African Central Conferences and increasing anxiety about human sexuality in the U.S. and beyond. Walking a fine line between different contexts and cultures for a denomination is challenging, especially when these cultural contexts are so vastly diverse. Human sexuality had not been a priority matter for the Connectional Table, however, in our responsibility of “coordinating the program life of the church with the mandates of the gospel, the mission of the church, and the needs of the global community by listening to the expression of needs, addressing emerging issues, and determining the most effective, cooperative and efficient way to provide optimum stewardship of ministries, personnel, and resources,” we were asked to address this matter directly. It has taken a great deal of our time, it has changed our agenda and our focus and in many ways it has made many of us feel very uncomfortable as we sought to be faithful. However, I can tell you that I am thankful for what I have witnessed of the Christians called United Methodists who serve as Board members on the Connectional Table. My friends, you have shown the fruits of the Spirit through your kindness, gentleness, patience, love and peace in the midst of very difficult conversations and very difficult experiences. Have we been perfect through this process? No. Have we done our best to be faithful? I believe we have and will continue to listen and discern where God is calling us as the people called United Methodist.

That matter has not been our entire focus this quadrennium. In our experimentation with new ways of organizing our life together, we have learned many things. Across the connection I have heard that relationships have been improving amongst CT members and amongst other leaders in our church. This has been our emphasis in “building relationships.” More collaboration has been happening as agencies are working together to jointly address our call to disciples to become principled Christian leaders and create new places for new people. As you know our work on stamping out killer diseases has evolved to a greater understanding of global health and now a vision of abundant health for all. We continue to learn about what it means to be in ministry with the poor versus ministry for the poor. With every Connectional Table meeting there has been an evolution of our adaptive work and the vision we will cast at General Conference 2016 is for a hope-filled future. We see a Vital Connection working together on strategic directions that will help us tell our story of God’s work through The United Methodist Church and make a greater impact on our joint mission of making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

These past few years, we have been working hard at trying to better understand the current UM system that we live in before moving forward to establish new ways to organize our system. This has been true in our evaluation and accountability work, in our finance and budget work and even in our general conference work. (It’s like approaching a tangled net and trying to untangle it so that you can see what happened, where there may be holes and what might need to be fixed.) You, as CT Board members, have been hard at work in these areas, seeking ways for us to build and strengthen the relationships across our agencies and connectional structures.

 I’d like to highlight a few accomplishments that we believe have been the result of our relationship building, strategy connecting and coordinating work and our work on connecting the story for the whole UMC:

- An evaluation process for program-related agencies that utilized already existing evaluation systems.
- A budgeting process that invited each agency to live within the financial constraints of the whole system.
- Missional Collaboration Groups that sought to continuously bring together members of the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table to cast vision for the work of the whole addressing adaptive challenges within our systems.
- Engage in difficult conversations on human sexuality through Christian Conferencing for the sake of the whole church.

- Initial development of a system to build capacity across the connection through tools like the logic model to assist in denomination wide strategic planning, management/stewardship of resources and evaluation.
- Initial development of evaluation process that begins to assess the whole system for missional impact on specific strategic outcomes.
- Joint meetings with groups responsible for over-arching elements of our mission in our worldwide context.

- Communication around Vital Congregations and Four Areas of Focus has been sustained throughout the connection. UMCOM has been a key partner in this work.
- 2015 State of the Church Report in the Interpreter focused on Vital Congregations and Four Areas of Focus.
- CT Report to General Conference will highlight the work of Vital Congregations bearing fruits in these four areas across our worldwide connection.
- CT Ambassadors and #CTTalks have enabled the flow of information and communication across the connection in preparation for General Conference.

This is only a glimpse of our work as we have sought to redefine our role as a connecting body for the denomination. Our hope is that these accomplishments will be foundational to the ongoing work of the Connectional Table for 2017-2020. The CT Strategic Plan document takes this work to the next level and seeks to build capacity within our system for better outcomes for our joint mission. We have learned so much this quadrennium and we hope that from our newfound knowledge, the next CT can be better prepared to listen to the Holy Spirit and lead our church forward into the 21st Century Mission field. By God’s grace, let it be so!

Click the hyperlink to view the 2015 Connectional Table Joint Report video with Rev. Amy Valdez Barker and Bishop Bruce Ough.

SUBMITTED BY: Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, PhD, Executive Secretary

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Let's Talk!: #CTTalks is Engaging Conversations in Preparation for General Conference 2016

Two months ago, I began a seminary internship as the Student Ministry Intern at The Connectional Table. A student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary just outside of Chicago, Illinois, I honestly didn't know much about what The Connectional Table was or the work that it did. But I was interested in getting a more panoramic view of the work of the United Methodist Church as I seek to find my unique place in the connection as a future church leader.

Two months in, I'm still trying to figure out all of the many things The Connectional Table is and does. But as its name suggests, some of our most important work lies simply in inviting people to the table, inviting people into a shared space of dialogue and relationship where we can grow together as disciples of Jesus Christ who transform the world. That's why I'm so excited about The Connectional Table's #CTTalks project to engage information and conversation around the important issues of General Conference 2016.

#CTTalks is a resource meant for individuals and delegations as they study and discuss in preparation for their work at General Conference. By using YouTube and Twitter, we hope to create more space at the table for as many people as possible in as many places as possible to participate in the conversation. Each month there will be a Companion Sheet with resources for further information on the month's topic and questions to use for individual or group reflection. We are also in the process of making the #CTTalks videos available with English, French, and Portuguese subtitles as well to make them accessible to speakers of multiple languages and for those who are hearing impaired.

We launched #CTTalks last month with a series of videos on General Conference Culture for 2016. And yesterday we launched our series for November on Christian Conferencing. I invite you to watch this week's video below:

Future #CTTalks topics will include:
December 2015: Vital Congregations - Paragraph 120
January 2016: Worldwide Nature - Our Theology
February 2016: Worldwide Nature - Our Organization/Structure
March 2016: Human Sexuality
April 2016: Stronger Together: VC-Four Strategic Directions for 2017-2020
May 6: Welcome to Portland

So let's talk! I'm looking forward to the dialogue and relationships that we hope will be strengthened through these #CTTalks conversations over the course of the next six months as we prepare for General Conference 2016. Come to the table. And may we all be transformed by our work together as the United Methodist Church.

Katye Dunn