Our church is very proud of its heritage as a Congregational church. Legend has it that in 1896, a poll was taken of the previous religious denomination of the people interested in forming a new church in the developing hamlet of Briarcliff. Many different backgrounds were represented but no one had been a Congregationalist, so it was decided that the new parish would be incorporated as The Briarcliff Congregational Church. Congregational churches date back to the first Massachusetts settlers in the 17th century and are characterized by autonomy and independence in church governance, and we carry on that tradition. While we have been joined since 1961 in covenant with the United Church of Christ (UCC) and hold the advice, mission and witness of the UCC in highest regard, we are not subject to any control by the denomination. We own our own property and buildings, select our own ministers and decide for ourselves how best to carry out our mission of Christian worship, education, fellowship and service.
Our Constitution and By-laws provide the framework for carrying out the work of the church. The Constitution sets forth the purpose of the church and relationship to other churches, and includes the UCC Statement of Faith, our Covenant (adopted in 1897), and our Statement of Inclusion which was written in 2012. The By-laws provide the general rules for conducting the business of the church and the legal responsibilities of the church as set forth in New York State law. The Constitution and By-laws are evolving documents, reviewed and revised as needed every five years to ensure that they provide for the efficient and effective operation of the church in an ever-changing world.
We think of our Pastor as the “CSO” (Chief Spiritual Officer) of our organization. The pastor is responsible for the spiritual welfare of the congregation, for providing meaningful worship experiences, for administering the sacraments of baptism and communion, for providing comfort for those in need and for representing us in the community and within the denomination. The Pastor also participates in all aspects of the life of the church as an advisor and resource. The Pastor is elected and serves by vote of the Church members. The Moderator is our senior lay person who serves as chair and presiding officer of meetings of the members and Church Council, and coordinates the work of the Officers, Staff Members, Boards and Committees. Other elected officers include the Clerk and Treasurer.
The ultimate responsibility for the life of the church rests with the Members themselves. We have an Annual Meeting each June at which the members elect our leaders and representatives for Boards and Committees, review the reports for the previous year and decide the direction that the church will take on critical issues. Special Meetings of the Members take place periodically to approve the annual budget and major expenditures, vote on changes to the Constitution and By-laws, and, when needed, to call a new Pastor. Routine matters are typically handled in Church Council, which is a representative body made up of the officers, representatives of each Board and Committee and two at-large members from the congregation.
The work of the Church is largely handled by our four Boards, one representing each of the four major elements of our mission. The Board of Deacons and Spiritual Enrichment is responsible for assisting the Pastor in providing for worship services and the spiritual needs of the congregation. The Board of Education and Faith Formation provides for Church School and other programs to further the knowledge and understanding of young and old alike. The Board of Christian Service handles activities such as fellowship, benevolence, outreach and caring for the members. Finally, the Board of Trustees, Finance and Facilities represents the business side of the church and is the legal entity responsible for the assets of the church. The Trustees handle all aspects of the church finances and maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Each of these Boards have Committees to oversee specific aspects of our program and services such as the Buildings and Grounds and Investment Committees under the Trustees, the Music Committee working with the Deacons, and the Benevolence, Caring and Fellowship Committees within the area of Christian Service. Finally, we have small groups and coordinators to cover largely administrative functions such as Personnel, Communications and Nominations.
The governance of our church is guided by two principles. First, we are a volunteer community; we rely on all of our church family to pitch in and help provide the services and programs that make up our mission to serve in the name of Christ. Second, our organizational structure is a foundation and framework for service, not a rigid set of rules and requirements. We believe that God has empowered us to be a church and to do what is good and right for our community and the world. While we believe that the church should be run in an orderly manner, we must never allow procedure and protocol to hinder our divine calling.