Attendees to the 210th Autumnal Meeting of the Rhode Island Conference on Nov. 5 tackled some tough issues head on: white privilege, the battle over the pipeline through native American land in North Dakota and the Conference’s welcome of people regardless of sexual orientation.
Nearly 150 people gathered at the Beneficent Congregational Church UCC in Providence for the meeting, which featured a keynote address and sermon on white privilege by the Rev. Alison Buttrick Patton, Pastor of the Saugatuck Congregational Church in Westport, CT.
“The Gospel never promised to make us comfortable,” she said during her sermon. Earlier, Buttrick Patton had led participants through a series of exercises designed to help them see the unearned privileges that come with being white in this country.
Prior to Buttrick Patton’s work, delegates overwhelmingly approved a Statement of Witness, brought before the meeting as a last minute item of business, calling on white people to learn and understand the “devastation caused by white privilege in America” and standing with those attempting to block an oil pipeline through tribal lands in North Dakota.
During the discussion, delegates heard from The Rev. Brendan Curran, Associate Pastor of the Barrington Congregational Church, who had just returned from a clergy demonstration at Standing Rock. He spoke of the inherent racism in the police response to protestors – sharing that the day when 500 mostly white clergy gathered in solidarity with the tribal leaders was the first day the protestors had not been met with violence and tear gas by authorities.
“We are more fully the people God calls us to be when we are together – learning together, working together, moving together,” the resolution read.
In other business, delegates took the following actions:
Unanimously approved a resolution declaring the Rhode Island Conference to be an “Open and Affirming Conference” that “inspired by the Holy Spirit, transformed by the love and inclusion modeled by Jesus Christ, and aware of God’s abundant grace, welcomes all.”
“It is time, friends – past time – to not only say that we are inclusive to all but to do something to live that out,” said The Rev. Kurt Walker, Pastor of the Chapel Street Congregational UCC in Lincoln, who served on the task team that proposed the resolution.
Approved a 2017 Conference budget of $519,047 – meaning a projected deficit of $72,547 which will be offset in part by a transfer from reserve funds.
Interim Conference Minister The Rev. Barbara Libby also recognized a number of churches for their ministry, including two whose giving puts them into the top 100 giving congregations nationally in the UCC. Central Congregational UCC in Providence was the 47th top giving congregation, and Newman Congregational UCC in Rumford was the 97th top giving congregation. Three churches – Beneficent Congregational Church, Newman Congregational Church and Seekonk Congregational UCC – were given Green Church certificates for their work in making the environment at top priority in their congregations. The meeting also marked the return of Speak-outs, which gave 15 people from various churches across the Conference time to talk about their passions and ministries.
At the close of the meeting, those in attendance were treated to an extravagant international buffet of food for lunch, provided by the members of the Beneficent church. Many members of the church were on hand throughout the day, welcoming and guiding guests and singing during worship.
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