A Hopeful New Year

Another trip around the sun and 2018 is upon us. I am particularly fond of this time of year, not because the flip of the calendar necessarily offers us a "do over" or because I can dive into the latest resolution craze. I am fond of this time of year because it reminds me that it is always important to set our sights on a vision that is ahead of us. If we are consistently attentive to tending to this vision, it is possible that by the time we reach this point again next year, the fruits of our hopeful vision can be alive and well within our midst. I imagine that many of you and your churches have done more than just set a church budget for 2018. Many of you are introducing new Sunday School classes, new building initiatives, fundraising campaigns, community ministries, and confirmation programs. As we in the Indiana-Kentucky Conference of the UCC look towards another year of ministry that God has given us, I wanted to share with you six initiatives that I will be taking on in this coming year.

Develop a Small Prayer Team. One of my hopes in this calendar year is to find 3-5 people who will meet with me in person once a quarter to do nothing more than pray together. We will pray for our churches, our clergy, for peace in the midst of conflict in our churches, for our staff, for myself as the Conference Minister, for our denomination, and for the future of our Conference. Prayer has the power to support and ground us in the presence of God as we journey towards an unknown future. If you feel led to join me in prayer this year, send me a message at c.abbott@ikcucc.org.

Replace the "E-Pistle" with an entirely new format. Over the last several years in the IKC, we have had the privilege of receiving numerous excellent words of wisdom from ACMs, conference leadership, pastors, and Conference Ministers. The format of utilizing the INKY News and the E-pistle, along with Joys & Concerns, and prayers has come to the end of its season. While the INKY News and Prayers will remain, we are currently working on developing a communication plan that will involve conference leadership constructing content across platforms in ways that are not only effective, but offer strong resourcing content for our authorized ministers and congregations. Thus, this particular "E-pistle" that you are now reading will be the very final e-pistle. In this New Year, be on the outlook for new formats of sharing the wisdom of ministry from possible new blogs, podcasts, and videos highlighting the creativity of the people in the IKC.

Meet with all active clergy one-on-one in the IKC. This may seem overly ambitious, and perhaps it is, but I will attempt to connect with every currently serving pastor in any setting in our conference. This meeting will have no other agenda than to check in on how your ministry is going and asking how it is that I can be praying for you in my prayer life. There are no hidden conference agendas, no committees I'm needing you to serve on, and no OCWM requests. This is about the ministries of our pastors and how we can foster on-going relationship, connection, and prayer among us. Thus, if you are an authorized minister in the IKC and you are currently serving a church, as a chaplain, professor, etc. ... please contact me to set up a time at c.abbott@ikcucc.org. If I do not hear from you, I will be reaching out to you at some point.

Provide a Church Vitality Leadership Event for Clergy and Churches. This year the IKC congregations and their pastors will have the opportunity to attend a Church Vitality Leadership Event, with leadership from the national office offering their expertise. The purpose of these events is to offer continuing education to our pastors and leadership training for laity through examining the abundance that exists within our congregations and our communities for the growth of churches. These events will be based upon the Be the Church Planning Guide and offer community cohorts as follow up support as implementation takes place within our congregations. The Conference will offer three different events throughout the year, divided up by regions. This coming spring, the Rev. Chris Davies, UCC Coordinator for Congregational Assessment, Support and Advancement, will offer the first event in Tell City, Indiana, March 23-24 at Evangelical UCC. The Rev. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi, UCC Director of the Center for Analytics, Research and Data, will lead the second event at Education Day, May 31, 2018, (part of Annual Gathering) at Friedens UCC, Indianapolis. Finally, the Rev. Chris Davies will be back with us again in fall at St. Peter's UCC, South Bend, Indiana, to share the same programming for the congregations in the northern region. I look forward to seeing what God might have in mind with many of your churches as we engage what exactly it means to "Be the Church" in these times.

Develop a New IKC Staffing Model. Upon beginning my work as conference minister here in the IKC, the Board of Directors commissioned me to work on developing a new staffing model moving forward for the conference. I have been working through this over the last several months as I work alongside and examine our current staff and how we have handled the transition from a much larger staff to our current model. This current model is "transitional" and was always meant to be so. In June, our current staff of ACMs will be transitioning out of their current roles. What will come next for the conference? Fortunately, thanks to our current staff and our consultant, Rev. Nicole Havelka, we are working on designing something that will be worth celebrating. I am planning to present our model to the Board of Directors at their April meeting and more will unfold as the Annual Gathering approaches. Until then, I ask that you hold myself, our staff, and leadership across the conference in prayer as we navigate what will come next for us as a conference.

Help facilitate a strong 2018 Annual Gathering. As many of you know by now, the Annual Gathering is undergoing some significant changes in the coming year. We are moving the event from the University of Indianapolis to Friedens UCC in Indianapolis. The planning team has been hard at work designing themes, logos and advertising, a concert with Singer-Songwriter Carrie Newcomer, engaging workshops, a communal art piece, and welcoming Marcia McFee, of the Worship Design Studio, as our Keynote Speaker, commissioning a new generation of Young Ambassadors, discussion and implementation of a new constitution and bylaws from our Board of Directors, and much more. There is so much to be excited about in our Conference as we look towards this gathering, a time in which we are reminded of our call to be the church in our communities and in connection with the wider body of Christ around the world. Please keep your eyes open for new communication around all that is happening at our Annual Gathering this coming June. Registration will roll out in late winter with an early bird special. Put the dates in your calendar now so that you won't miss out on this exciting gathering: Education Day, May 31, and Annual Gathering, June 1 & 2, at Friedens UCC in Indianapolis.