Discerning what's next for the NTA
The associations of the South Central Conference are entering intentional discernment of what comes next for us. Two of our associations have approved plans to dissolve and allow the conference to act as an association for them. This page will help track our process in considering what is next for the North Texas Association.
Why have this conversation at all?
The NTA is running well in our current state. Our finances, while tight, are stable, and while there are several open positions we've yet to find volunteers to fill, most essential roles are operating as they should.
Though we are in an okay position, the NTA is down to 13 actively participating churches, and those 13 churches are being asked to run one of the most active Committees on Ministry in the nation, considering an impressive amount of ministerial candidates while assisting in a rising number of clergy fitness review cases. We are operating in a separate way from any other association in our conference. As other associations in our conference vote to allow the conference to act in their place, our responsibilities and burdens would only increase beyond our limits.
A quick polity discussion
What does a UCC associaiton do? Can the Conference do those things?
Recognizing Jesus Christ as the only head of our Church, the UCC recognizes four co-equal settings of the Church: congregations, associations, conferences, and the General Synod/national setting.
Among shared projects, missions, and a relationship to Master's Workshop Camp, one of the NTA's primary responsibilities has been to authorize, support, and review ministers and to welcome churches into the United Church.
The South Central Conference has traditionally helped more with search and call, outdoor youth ministry, communication between settings, and resourcing congregations.
Because associations hold ministerial authorization in the UCC the role of the association cannot and should not be dissolved. That role, however, can be given to a conference acting as an association. Both conferences and associations are regional bodies of local churches working together and speaking to one another. As our denomination has matured since 1957, some conferences have found it helpful to consolidate these bodies with overlapping responsibilities to combine resources and draw from a larger group of people to form committees and make decisions.
Congregational polity is maintained no matter if the association is a separate entity or not. Separation of powers is maintained as local, regional, and national settings of the church are recognizable in both models. Congregations still send members to participate in committees and boards, send delegates to meetings, and can submit their clergy to regional authorization and fitness review. Our conference then still sends delegates to the General Synod every biennium (soon to be triennium).
Where are the other associations in this process?
Houston and New Orleans
Are the furthest along in this process, closest to completion
Heart of Texas
Is further along in a discernment process, having started before us.
We are at the very beginning of discussing things.
How could this work in the NTA?
The Master's Workshop Camp
The Master's Workshop operates as an independent, NTA related ministry governed by boards which include many NTA members. Their land is self-owned by the camp itself. The Camp Advisory Board will need to edit their constitution to read that they have South Central Conference appointed positions, and the Churchman's Fellowship would need to edit their constitution to allow for members from South Central Conference churches.
The North Texas Association Farm
The NTA owns a 346.1 acre farm near Bruceville, TX. Proceeds from farming this land benefit the operation of the Master's Workshop Camp. This arrangement is codified in the will which deeded this property to the NTA, and even the sale of this land would have to benefit the Master's Workshop. The deed for the land currently reads "North Texas Association, South Central Conference, United Church of Christ," so the farm would become a South Central Conference asset which can only exclusively benefit the Master's Workshop.
The NTA Committee on Ministry
Proposed constitution and bylaw changes for the South Central Conference would provide for the creation of conference-wide Committee on Ministry teams with specializations such as: authorizing new ministers, supporting/reviewing ministers, associating new churches, etc. Membership on these committees/teams would pull from churches across the conference. This would unify processes for new ministers, hold all ministers to the same level of accountability, and spread the work among a larger pool of helpers.
North Texas Association Minister
This is our process, and we could choose to involve and pay for the NTA Minister's services however we so choose. Perhaps we could continue to use NTA funds to pay them to visit DFW and Waco area ministers and churches, connecting us together, until they choose to leave this position.
What structures are still in the works before the NTA could dissolve?
One of the foundational purposes of a UCC association is keeping clergy authorization and records, holding clergy files, and communicating with the national setting about clergy. Before merging into the conference, it would be important to understand who would do this important work. Our current registrar volunteers several hours a week on this work for just the NTA.
Committee on Ministry Considerations
The unified fitness review committee at the conference level is already in place to help support and review clergy in trouble. Potential new conference bylaws could create a unified Committee on Ministry for credentialing new clergy, but those structures are not yet in place.
Regional Support Structures
Working with the conference, the NTA needs to create a plan for support within our region - both for clergy and for churches. We have an NTA minister who we could pay to stay on as long as funds last and they want the job. We would need a plan for clergy fellowship and church cooperation opportunities.
Regional Youth Ministry
In addition to our partnership with Master's Workshop Camp, we would like to see what the regional youth ministry plans hold for the North Texas region after the sale of Slumber Falls Camp.