Leadership Development

Introducing: The Damascus Project


By:Tisha Brown, Associate Conference Minister for Leadership Development and Faith Formation, WI Conference and Vicki Wunsch, Director of Leadership Development, MN Conference


The Damascus Project is the leadership development collaboration of the Minnesota and Wisconsin Conferences formed in November 2017 during a three-day design workshop in La Crosse, WI. The Damascus project is a vibrant collective of individuals from both the Minnesota and Wisconsin conferences: Clyde Steckel, Anita Bradshaw, Ron Rindfleisch, Tim Perkins, Sandra Graham, Phil Milam, Lynne Krehbiel-Breneman, Kent Meyer, Jim Barbour, Vicki Wunsch and Tisha Brown. Pam Shellberg, Scholar in Residence at the BTS Center facilitated the design effort. The BTS Center will continue as a strategic partner. Although we came together as two separate teams, we left La Crosse as one body united in a shared experience, an emerging vision and a clear sense of the next best steps to take as we continue to explore this exciting collaboration.


Shaped by the story of Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus as told by Luke in the book of Acts, the Damascus Project has begun to discern God’s call to the WI and MN conferences to provide leadership development courses and experiences across a broad spectrum including faith enrichment, lay leadership development, preparation for authorized ministry, continuing education, and community development and transformation. We are convinced that God is calling us to be imaginative, creative and innovative in ways that honor the traditions and experiences of our past and also build upon them. Our sense of call is to find ways to meet the educational and formational needs and desires of today’s church and to also speak to the longing for spirituality, connection and belonging outside the walls of our congregations.


Our work is guided by these core assumptions:

  • We will take the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers seriously by lifting up and inquiring about the unique character of lay ministry and lay vocations in many forms.
  • While we hope that those interested in seeking authorization for ministry will enroll in our courses, we affirm our desire to reach a much wider audience with high quality, transformational courses and experiences
  • Courses will be offered through a blend of face to face and online modes
  • Cohort models are ideal when it comes to formation for ministry through relationships
  • All of our coursework will be grounded in the UCC’s Marks for Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministry
  • We are NOT replacing seminary; folks who can go to seminary should do so
  • This program must be flexible, lean, adaptive, agile and entrepreneurial
  • We must serve ALL of both states (and perhaps eventually other conferences) with a particular emphasis on rural communities and small towns
  • Committees on Ministry are the authorizing body
  • Our courses will be available to congregations, pastors and laity in both conferences
  • We have a strong commitment to reaching beyond the walls of the church with our efforts


Given the incredibly broad nature of this effort and in light of the many as yet unanswered questions we are committed to prototyping as a way of developing clarity about purpose, delivery curriculum and structure. We have a plan to take a few key actions in the next 6 months, reflect on what we learn through these actions, iterate next steps based on our learning and to grow this project organically over time.