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Update from Annual Meeting

This past weekend, I attended the Annual Meeting of the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ.  Because the SNEC formed in 2020 via a merger of the historic Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut Conferences, this was the fourth annual meeting of the conference, and only the second in person meeting after the height of the Covid pandemic.  It was an opportunity for clergy and lay representatives from the almost 600 churches that make up the conference to come together for worship, for business, and for fellowship.  I had a fabulous time both learning and connecting, and because I was there as a representative of First Parish, I wanted to share a little about some of my experiences from the weekend.

Perhaps the most impactful piece of business over the weekend was the approval of a resolution to join other conferences and churches around the country that have declared themselves to be WISE.  WISE stands for Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged, and is a designation encouraged by the UCC Mental Health Network to recognize churches that have committed themselves as a safe haven for those with mental illnesses. What this means for the SNEC is that the conference will be setting aside a portion of its budget to support WISE efforts through building relationships and offering programming, including already planning for new staff members to engage with WISE practices and encourage more WISE congregations across the conference.

What this means for First Parish remains to be seen.  Because of our church polity in the UCC, there is no immediate effect on our church; we are able to decide for ourselves whether this is a designation in which we might choose to invest our energy and resources.  WISE is one of eight designations that individual churches can consider, called Just World Covenants, much like our status as an Open and Affirming church.  Other possible designations include Accessible to All churches (welcoming people with disabilities), Creation Justice Churches (a commitment to care for God’s creation), and Just Peace churches (advocating for more just peace practices).  If you are interested in learning more about what it might mean to be a WISE church, or any of the Just World Covenants, please contact me.

Pastor JT

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