I would like to begin my first “annual” report by saying thank you! My offering of thanks is in response to the wide welcome the members of the Conference have extended to me. I have truly experienced “Minnesota Nice!” Previous to my move to Minnesota, my only other experience here was spending two weeks at Camp Ripley – the experiences do not compare! So again, I offer my thanks for receiving me as your newest Associate Conference Minister. I have been to many of our churches, and I look forward to visiting many more. I am always open to receiving an invitation to visit our congregations, or to even bring the morning message. And don’t be surprised if you hear me asking; “when can I come!?”
I arrived to Minnesota last September 4th and three weeks later I experienced baptism by the numbers; that is, I met many pastors and lay leaders of the Minnesota Conference at the annual Fall Convocation. It was a wonderful setting to meet many members of my new faith community.
I am pleased to say as I mentioned above that I have had the opportunity to worship with many of our congregations. My goal has been to visit two to three congregations a month and I am happy to report that I have managed to do just that.
Covenant is one of the most important aliments of ministry, and part of covenant is lived out in the work of the COM (Committee on Ministry.) I fully appreciate the organization and commitment I have witnessed on the part of the many volunteers who make up COM. As one of the ACMs, my work with COM is to staff SAM (the Sub-Committee for Authorized Ministry). It has been a blessing to join a very committed and intentional team who work well together under the able hands of its current leader, Rev. Désirée Gold. Part of the covenantal work of SAM is the work with lay pastors and Members in Discernment who are serving local churches as licensed clergy. As part of my work I attend and participate in services of clergy farewell, retirement and installation.
Part of being a church in covenant is working through issues of conflict in our faith communities. Conflict is never pleasant, but always bears opportunities of learning and renewal. As my colleague Rev. Rick Wagner receives the search and call phone calls, I receive the calls when our faith communities are struggling with or facing issues of conflict. No one enjoys conflict, myself included. However, what I do find meaningful and purposeful is walking with you as a faith community, talking and listening as we walk (and sometimes stumble) together while problem solving, with resolution being our ultimate goal. Resolution can look like many things, and not everyone will be happy with every aspect of the resolution. However, so long as we walk in covenant together, we can reach faithful resolution. I have “walked” with a number of our church families since arriving to Minnesota, and while the walk was difficult, these communities were able to reach resolution in a faithful fashion.
As you have probably already noted from my remarks, covenant is an important word for me. I believe everything we do is under the mantle of covenant. And it is under that mantle that I have joined the Minnesota Conference staff and volunteers. Entering into fulltime judicatory ministry I am delighted to find the dedicated team that make up the Minnesota Conference staff.
Vitality is one of the key responsibilities within my portfolio. Important parts of vitality of the Minnesota Conference are our prophetic ministry teams that I staff. Justice and Witness, Immigration, Global partnerships, Emmaus Anti-Racism transformation, ONA/LGBT, and Vitality are the teams that continue to keep important issues to the forefront, and invite us into dialogue to address and act on issues facing our state, country and world. These teams are led by highly dedicated and motivated volunteers with whom I have the pleasure to work. There are many vitality opportunities in our Conference. Ministry Connections is an initiative to assist and partner with identified groups where the ultimate goal is to become a new church. SHIFT church is one such church that is in covenant with the Conference. SHIFT has recently been awarded new funding from the national UCC. It is great to see our OCWM funds working hard!
In my portfolio are two other initiatives of our Conference: New Beginnings and Church on the Move. New Beginnings is a process of in-depth study of a local church for the purpose of understanding its history, strengths/weaknesses, and imagining its possibilities. There are currently five churches participating in this program. Through dedicated volunteers and at its own pace, each church is working with support from the conference as needed and possible. Additionally, through OCWM support, a one-time grant is available to allow each church to work with an expert to “coach” them as they work through the process and imagine new possibility for mission. We will hear from two such congregations during the Annual Meeting.
Church on the Move is not the responsibility of any one person, but rather the entire ministry team. Each of your ACMs has taken the lead at each event. Each event has been hosted in a different part of the state and has been very well attended by both clergy and lay leadership. And the success of each event was the result of hard work of not only the lead person, but also by the hard work of the Conference support staff. Again, I am delighted by the degree of committed professionalism of all the Conference staff – but be assured we have fun too!
I am enjoying my work and, to be honest, sometimes the work is harder than it is at other times. Life can be messy sometimes and we dredge through it. But I do enjoy the challenge and being part of the problem solving. I find it highly motivating and rewarding at the same time. I am looking forward to having a full year under my belt and beginning my second year, but mostly I look forward to more opportunities for ministry with you, to you and from you. I feel fortunate that my first call into judicatory ministry has landed me in the Minnesota Conference where we have vision-inspired leadership, and where I can offer my gifts and also learn and grow with you.
Your brother in Christ,