In partnership with the bishop and in collaboration with the Cabinet, the work of the Connectional Table is to vision, focus, and guide the mission and ministry of the annual conference.
The Table develops and nurtures relationships and connections among the local, district, annual conference, and general church ministries. We provide encouragement, coordination, and support for the ministries of nurture, outreach, and witness. Additionally, we work to develop and strengthen ethnic ministries. In short, your ministry is our ministry, aiding in resourcing and sustaining healthy congregations and effective leaders, who empowered by God’s Spirit, make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
The years 2020 and 2021 have brought an incredible set of challenges for our Connectional Ministries and the NC Conference. With a global pandemic necessitating virtual worship/trainings/meetings/and some ministry, adaptation and creativity have been key parameters of effective work. The CCT has worked diligently focusing on our 5 priorities of ministry:
- Effective Leaders
- Healthy Congregations
- Congregations for Children
while seeking to provide needed tools and innovative solutions for congregations and ministry committees.
Wherein it is not possible to narrate the expansive and innovative work of the Conference Connectional Table (CCT) during the past year of pandemic and increasing levels of violence and violation against Black and Brown people, following are some of actions taken by your Conference Connectional Table. More detailed information covering many of these actions are found in the various reports from Connectional Ministries offices and committees.
- Continued to provide updated COVID-19 guidance, put forth guidance for returning to in-person worship, expanded our ZOOM account offerings and information to local congregations, made available expanded resources for parents in local congregations, and created videos to encourage people to be vaccinated.
- In creative work with the Bishop and Leadership Team, we arrived at Isaiah 58 and the beautiful image of a well-watered garden as our scriptural theme for the year. Like Isaiah, amid wondering how to worship in hard spaces and times, we hear the hopeful call of God, reminding us that care for the community, for our own congregations, for the vulnerable and violated among us is the worship that water’s our souls and brings God’s healing and wholeness.
- In response to deep generosity demonstrated by Conference Finance and Administration Committee providing congregational COVID-19 grants, we encouraged congregations to apply for grants, through the work of the Missions Team helped congregations vision meeting internal and external community needs, and then shared stories through the Conference of the life-giving nature of ministry accomplished through the grants and within our connectional life. The grants were for any church in the Annual Conference – not just rural or small churches. Some of our larger churches received these grants. In receiving COVID assistance for a pastor’s salary, insurance, pension, mission grant, or a grant for some other good purpose in our church, we demonstrated that the connection is a web of interactive relationships. We invited all congregations into that interaction.
- Through the work of Living the Word, a ministry of the Mission Team, received a grant of approximately $1 million from the Lilly Endowment Inc. and continued and expanded the work of creating learning communities in rural North Carolina with the purpose of collaborative cross-racial, inter-denominational ministry with a core work of anti-racism.
- Continued to vision the work of anti-racism through a myriad of efforts, including broad deployment of the Intercultural Development Inventory, intensive leadership training addressing implicit and explicit bias; the history and current reality of systemic racism, the understanding of white supremacy and the myths of meritocracy; engaging the work of cultural competency and cultural humility; continuing to develop an ongoing conference-wide anti-racism strategy; developing web pages, online resources, and a space of accountability and measuring Conference anti-racist progress; and uplifting the broad sweep of other anti-racism work.
- Provided regular reporting of Conference Connectional Table meetings and work.
- Through the Center for Leadership Excellence, continued to provide resourcing, training, and educational opportunities targeted to a wide range of needs, including clergy and congregational mental health, leadership development in a time of liminality, effective communication through virtual spaces, and many other offerings. The CfLE’s efforts reached across the conference and beyond, even connecting with many throughout of global United Methodist Church.
- In the area of Conference Youth Ministries, after providing years of strong and dedicated leadership as CCYM Chairperson and many more years in other leadership roles, the Reverend Doctor Suzanne Cobb left the position. Mr. Jay Locklear accepted the interim role and will lead a task force to vision the future of youth ministries. Many groups will be involved, including youth leadership, district coordinators, youth operations team, the Office of Christian Formation Ministries, and Cabinet. Conference youth have provided strong leadership and ministry and we affirm that we are moving from strength to strength.
In reflecting on the work over the last year in the midst of global pandemic, increased violence against Ethnic people and communities, deep community needs, and the work going forward, the Conference Connectional Table has continued to ask guiding questions. Here are significant learnings, realizations, and hopes:
The role of the Connectional Table is to be the steward of the vision of the Annual Conference. In evaluating budgets, this is a critical component of our consideration.
Question 1: In the priorities as identified by the CCT/Cabinet (Effective Leadership, Healthy Congregations, Unity, Anti-Racism, Congregations for Children), where are the positive points of celebration and where are we doing things really well and most fully meeting our priorities? Where did our budget proposal and mission priorities come together?
- We’re doing the best we can, given so many unknowns: COVID, General Conference.
- We turn toward what is emergent and important in the moment, as seen by responses to hurricanes and COVID. Now, the work of anti-racism is in the center of every gathering. We are far from perfect, but we do have the capacity to turn toward something that is emergent, pressing, important, and the Conference continues to move in mission and ministry. Deep generosity of United Methodist people in North Carolina continue to uplift and provide the budgetary stability to move in positive, hopeful, and creative ways.
- Many offices and ministries are being interwoven. The staff, cabinet, and districts have recently merged programming calendars to think collectively and work collaboratively toward unified outcomes.
Question 2: Where priorities and budget requests conflict, where are our greatest priorities? What budget requests should be modified? Within the budget parameters in which we must work, are there ministry functions where we might consolidate across committee lines so that we do meet our priorities within budgetary constraints?
- Within Christian Formation, Outreach, and Higher Education, we have consolidated to give more flexibility in those budgets. A more simplified budget removes some constraint from those leaders, enabling them to prioritize for the greatest current need.
- The $50,000 projected for the anti-racism line in 2021 is probably low, especially as we continue to expand that work. We are just gathering momentum and energy in this area, so are unable to forecast what the need might truly be in 2023. (CCT requested and CFA approved a supplemental request of $98,000 for the work in the year 2021.)
- The more we increase funding for ministry areas, the greater the burden becomes on conference staff. We want to be sure that we have the human resources to make ministries work and to take care of the people who are doing that vital ministry.
- Staff have been adaptive in ways to facilitate more and greater engagement with current staffing levels. For example, as part of our anti-racism work, we are working in Wilson around a major anti-racism project, contracting with consultant Dr. Micheline Malson. Out of that work was born the Gentlemen’s Agreement, an after-school program for Black male youth. Barton College came on board as a partner and has set up a full scholarship for the top graduate of that program. Last fall, the Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded us a $1 million grant for continuation and expansion of that work.
- Changing the name of the Multicultural Ministries Team to the Equity and Justice Ministries Team was a wise change. It is not just a new name; it reflects the priority of the work done through that office which is much more expansive in scope than what was being done previously.
- The CCT’s helping to keep budgets and resourcing focused on the priorities of the Annual Conference helps staff make better decisions about where to allocate their time and attention by focusing on the guiding questions: Which priority does this fit? How will this help us fulfill the vision and mission?
- Staff have become more confident in letting folks know that their time is full – and that takes a degree of trust to show that honesty and transparency. If staff reductions become necessary, we also must decide what program or ministry goes with that.
- The CCT needs to be committed to its evaluation responsibility, even more than it has been in the past, to ensure that our stated priorities link up with actual accomplishments. Are programs/events/committees fulfilling their stated purpose? Even though they may remain consistent with conference priorities, they may not have effective results. Taking on something new may require letting go of something that is no longer working.
Question 3: Are there ministry areas/committees requesting funding that do not meet our priorities? Are there ministry areas where the work overlaps or conflicts? Can these be eliminated, or should they be consolidated in a way that they do meet our priorities?
- With recent consolidations (Christian Formation, Outreach/Missions Team, Higher Education), we have addressed some of these issues.
- We must ensure that we are not replicating efforts with onboarding (clergy women and cross-cultural, cross-racial appointments).
- We need better communication across the conference to limit program duplication and avoid staff’s duplicating efforts (overwork). We can uplift all conference ministries and support work that others are doing, without competition. Starting recently, conference and district staff have been asked to place their activities/events/meetings/trainings on a conference-wide Asana calendar which should help us move in that direction.
- Questions to ponder: Are there things that are no longer moving us toward our vision of the Annual Conference in an effective manner? Are there duplications in work efforts? The CCT does evaluative work and will be doing that at future meetings.
- One CCT member, serving with CCT and CFA over the last 15-20 years, notes that more money is being spent on ministry, ministry training, staffing for ministry, and resources for ministry, as opposed to property – in other words, spending money on trying to be ever better at who we say we are, and that is a good thing.