The Fellowship of Continuing Understanding and Support (FOCUS) was founded by the UCC in 1986 as a dues paying membership group for former missionaries, United Church Board of World Mission Board (UCBWM) members and retired national staff, to maintain their mission connections and to interpret mission to congregations within UCC Conferences. It was also founded to bring interests and concerns of congregations to the UCBWM, encourage financial support and host missionaries who visited the Conferences. FOCUS began as a dues-paying organization and grew to 450 members at its largest point.
FOCUS members elected a steering committee of 4 – 8 people to guide the group. At that time, FOCUS members attended Board meetings at their own expense. The steering committee was given time on the Board agenda to report, make presentations and solicit support for endeavors. An annual FOCUS meeting was held usually in conjunction with the UCBWM meeting. FOCUS members received newsletters and new resources by mail each year, including an annual directory of FOCUS names.
The restructure of governance in the UCC national offices, in 2000, eliminated the option of FOCUS attendance at Wider Church Ministries’ (WCM) (the renamed UCBWM) Board meetings. It also reduced the number of Board members and therefore potential new members to FOCUS from 250 to 50 annually. In response, the steering committee initiated the first biennial MISSIONWORKS event in 2002– a two day gathering in celebration of the work of WCM and Global Ministries, a time to meet and hear from current missionaries, and learn of ways to interpret mission back home in local churches. This event was not only for FOCUS members, but anyone in the UCC or partner, Christian Church Disciples of Christ. These events have been held every other year since, having full enrollment of 150 each time.
In 2005 the first Ministries and Mission Interpreters (MMI) training was offered in response to the need to increase the number of mission interpreters in local churches. The new MMI project included Global Ministries’ two denominations, UCC and Christian Church Disciples of Christ; all people of any age regardless of their role within Wider Church or Global Ministries. Anyone with a passion for mission and a commitment to be an advocate and spokesperson for global mission within local churches could engage in the training.
In 2007 FOCUS leadership eliminated annual dues and the published FOCUS directory. The FOCUS membership was asked to understand that Global Ministries (officially formed in 1996) encompassed both UCC and Christian Church Disciples of Christ members and churches. FOCUS members were asked for their input on utilizing funds to support mission travel of partners to the US or for seminarians’ mission travel. The response to these ideas though small, was positive.
FOCUS has maintained its membership of those who became members prior to 2000, and added some UCC alumna since 2000. A newsletter and new resources are mailed to 450 FOCUS members and friends each quarter. The now seven-year-old Ministries and Mission Interpreters (MMI) program stands alongside the UCC-based FOCUS group. Communication among the MMI network of over 1100 trained UCC and DOC clergy and laypeople is exclusively electronic. Some MMIs are former UCC missionaries or Board members - the majority are not.