A Pastoral Letter from Conference Minister Charles Buck
June 1, 2016
Dear Friends and Colleagues:
In the love of Christ Jesus, our Savior, I greet you. And in the spirit of trust, openness and transparency, I offer you this pastoral letter.
We are soon to gather for the 194th `Aha Pae`aina, the annual meeting of the Hawai`i Conference of the United Church of Christ. I look forward to seeing many of you at this important and spiritual time of reunion.
As we prepare, word has come that a few persons are proposing to amend the agenda at the `Aha Makua on Friday, June 10, by including discussion of a motion to terminate the Conference Minister. Aside from their veiled warnings to the Chair of the Conference Council, Iese Tuuao, these persons have been vague about their intentions and worked quietly behind the scenes to orchestrate this move.
To be sure, the threat of dismissing me increases the usual stress and anxiety that come with this position. But much more disturbing to me is the secretive and surreptitious way that this group is working. In fact, the Rev. Tuuao has encouraged them to be open with me about their reasons and concerns, and I have made my own attempts to create opportunities for conversation. But there has been no response, and, indeed, we are aware that some in the group are actually advising others not to meet with me.
Because I believe that God’s will is better accomplished through trust and partnership than out of suspicion and division, I am writing this to be sure that no one is caught unaware of what is happening and also to offer some of my thoughts and perspectives.
Over the last few weeks, letters, emails and phone calls have been exchanged between a group of mostly ministers and the Rev. Tuuao. (To see some of the correspondence, please click HERE.)
Without providing any specific examples, the group has stated that my “leadership style and…vision for the role of the Conference Minister and the Conference are not serving the increasingly urgent needs of many of our local churches.” A few of them feel that the Conference as a whole suffers from a “systemic dysfunction” that is solely attributable to me, and that nothing less than my dismissal is needed.
The Rev. Tuuao has responded that the Conference Council, which, according to Conference bylaws, has direct oversight of the Conference Minister (Article VI, Section 1), is taking their concerns seriously. The Rev. Tuuao has also invited a few in the group to meet with a few Council members to discuss openly and honestly what those concerns are and to talk about constructive ways to address them.
For my part, I would like sincerely to address the apparent pain, anger or frustration that some are feeling toward me personally. In order for me to know the cause and seek forgiveness for sins I may have committed, I invite these persons, again, to meet with me that we may live out the gospel admonition to settle our differences amicably (Matthew 5:21 ff.).
As for the assertion of a systemic dysfunction, even if one exists I find it difficult to see how one person, no matter how influential or powerful that person is, can be the cause of it. Indeed, the sense of urgency that churches feel in these times of declining influence and numbers is not the fault of any one individual. It is a reality that has been taking place for the last few decades, and it is happening to churches everywhere in the U.S., not only to UCC churches in Hawai`i.
Most of us accept that there are no quick fixes. Not even the best sermon from the pulpit, the right music in worship, or the latest program to attract young people can resurrect the church of our memories.
But the church is far from dead. The church is being transformed and resurrected by a renewed sense of purpose. The living church, including in Hawai`i, is the one that hears God’s call to go out and serve people’s needs in their communities and in the world. The living church recognizes God in the faces of migrants and refugees; families that are homeless and houseless; islanders who are displaced by global warming and rising sea levels; young men of color who are arrested and incarcerated in disproportionate numbers; and so many more.
A church that is blind to these pressing issues of the day, that is preoccupied instead with its own institutional survival and in-fighting over who to blame for its problems, is a church that risks losing all purpose and relevance.
But hope abounds. Churches in our midst are doing real and vital ministries because they have a vision focused on the work of Christ. They embrace the one and only vision for the church: To bring about God’s realm, or God’s kingdom, where saving acts of love and mercy transform people’s lives.
UCC General Minister and President, John Dorhauer, describes this kind of church in his book, Beyond Resistance (p.106):
"The Church is the Church not when its bills are paid. The Church is the Church not when its pews are full. Those are nice things for a church to be able to say about itself, but they are not necessarily the metrics by which we measure our value, our worth, our success.
"The Church is the Church when lives are changed. It is the Church when it inspires people to use their time, talent, and resources to serve the common good. It is the Church when it helps people love themselves, their God, and their neighbor. Developing new habits around measuring these successes could very [well] be what the Church is called to think about."
There are churches building God’s realm. They are not necessarily large and they still face practical challenges of paying bills. But they are faithful and making a difference in their communities.
Helping one another realize this vision is our mission as the United Church of Christ in Hawai‘i. This is why the Conference Council over the last two years aligned Conference ministries around growth and capacity: growing into what God calls us to be, and building capacity to live that call through resources, skills and talents.
There are urgent needs today, and I believe the church is gifted by God to respond. I am, and will remain, committed to ways of ministry that move us outward to share God’s transforming love.
May God bless us as we journey together toward God’s glorious realm.