Western Jurisdiction Meetings, 'A New Thing,' Are Well Received

February 02, 2012

By Cate Monaghan
Director of Communications, CA-NV Annual Conference
 
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. – Isaiah 43:19
 
When Bishop Grant Hagiya (Seattle Area, at right) posed the question on Sunday, "Should we do this again?" he received a warm response. There were nods throughout the roomful of bishops, Cabinet members, directors of connectional ministry, communicators, and other leaders, gathered in San Diego for Western Jurisdictional Meetings, Jan. 28-Feb. 4. The first-ever gathering was conceived by the College of Bishops and the jurisdiction's deans of Cabinets, and designed to be a time of team building, leadership development, and resource sharing.
 
In this General Conference year, discussion of General Conference issues of particular interest to the West also made it to the agenda.
 
First United Methodist Church of San Diego hosted the first day of the Full Cabinet Forum at its leafy, sunlit campus on Saturday. Opening worship in the Trotter Chapel was followed by a team building exercise and sections on adaptive leadership and best practices. Closing vespers, again in the chapel, concluded the day for all but the deans, who met for a planning session after adjournment.
 
On Sunday, the group moved to the Bahia Resort Hotel to "test drive" a facility under consideration to host upcoming Council of Bishops meetings. Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr., resident bishop in the California-Nevada Annual Conference, preached a sermon titled, "From Ho-hum to Amen!" at opening worship.
 
Calling attention to a Barna study in which "very few" professing Christians said that attending church affects their lives greatly, the bishop (at left) pointed out that Jesus came with a new way, and that becoming a disciple means learning to say and do what the master does.
 
"We have to engage a faith that has vitality," said the bishop.
 
Speaking of the Church's charge to congregations to monitor their "vital signs," he noted, "You won't know if you're sick or healthy if you refuse to have your blood pressure taken."
 
However, he acknowledged that such measurements are only one part of the adaptive work needed.
 
"We are changing the scorecard for the Church itself," the bishop stated, adding, "We are in the business of making people, and the rest of it doesn't matter at all …. Jesus took anybody and everybody, and His sole purpose was to make them somebody."
 
Bishop Brown noted, "The disciples left the building. Jesus moved into the world to show that God's awesome power is available for all the gritty, tough problems of our life.
 
"Think about your God sightings," he urged, "and let those give you the courage for moving from the ho-hum to an awe-filled 'Amen!'"
 
Sessions on coordinating resources, training and coaching, appointment-making, and discussion of General Conference issues followed, with an Imagine No Malaria presentation during lunch, at which Bishop Thomas Bickerton (Pittsburgh Area), lead bishop/spokesperson for the campaign and for the United Methodist Global Health Initiative, reported that The United Methodist Church was the only faith organization singled out for its work to defeat malaria, at a meeting hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
 
The denomination has pledged to raise $75 million dollars to help eradicate malaria from the continent of Africa by the year 2015, which the bishop said is a greater amount than The UMC has ever raised for any one concentrated cause. The previous maximum was around $40 million, he said. 
 
"People of privilege must come to recognize that the world is unbalanced and we have the means to balance it," the bishop concluded.
 
Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, resident bishop in the hosting California-Pacific Annual Conference, was the celebrant for the closing Communion worship.
 
On Monday, the Western Jurisdiction Leadership Team met; the WJ Mission Cabinet met on Tuesday; and Directors of Connectional Ministries, Wednesday-Thursday.
 
The Western Jurisdiction Episcopacy Committee meeting began on Tuesday and is scheduled to conclude on Friday. Separate meetings of the College of Bishops began Wednesday and are due to conclude on Saturday.
 
The Conferences of the Western Jurisdiction are Alaska, California-Nevada, California-Pacific, Desert Southwest, Oregon-Idaho, Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountain, and Yellowstone.
 
Some highlights from Best Practices presentations
 
Alaska is reducing the time at charge conferences and shifting the agenda from administrative, to training and resourcing "to meet the challenges of shaping our message for a new generation," said Conference Superintendent Dave Beckett. He added that the superintendent is experimenting with conducting charge conferences using video technology, which frees him to visit churches on Sundays for worship, followed by training.
 
Alaska has eight (8) lay and clergy attending the two-year Academy for Missional Wisdom, the training component for starting New Day faith communities, with Dr. Elaine Heath as the main leader. Alaska hopes to begin new faith communities in neighborhoods around the state.
 
In California-Nevada, "There is nothing that we're doing in the same way," according to Conference Superintendent for Mission Collaboration Linda Caldwell (at left, with Cal-Nev District Superintendents Renae Extrum-Fernandez, center, and Mariellen Yoshino). She reported that the Conference suspended the standing rules for two years to allow a time of exploration and experimentation, to better align Conference structure with the Four Areas of Focus – to make a significant impact on local churches' ability to make disciples. "Collaboration is an important part of the change," she said.
 
Mariellen Yoshino, superintendent of the Central Valley District, reported on the three-year-old circuits system. Cal-Nevada now regards the circuit to be a part of a pastor's appointment or assignment, she noted.
 
California-Pacific also has a new Conference structure, organized around five (5) Essential Ministry Teams:
  • Navigation (the big picture)
  • Justice and Compassion
  • Leadership
  • New Ministries
  • Resource (finances, trustees, pensions)
Conference staff is aligned around the five EM Teams, which are intentionally cross-cultural in nature.
 
Dean of Cabinet Catie Coots added that Cal-Pac has proposed a realignment of districts, to four in Southern California and one in Hawaii, and is in the process of organizing into "mission areas" based on Cal-Nevada's circuits system.
 
The Conference's plan for congregational revitalization includes requiring all churches to conduct a congregational assessment; a partnership with Conference Equitable Compensation to identify high-potential congregations with a readiness to move "from maintenance to missional"; and a 12-month institute for 10-12 pastors, for "deep listening and deep learning, to incubate deep personal and congregational change."
 
Desert Southwest has engaged in a partnership with Path 1 for a Lay Missionary Planting Network, to develop Hispanic laity who work in teams to plant new churches. Tom Butcher has led this work and the Conference now has 15 planters beginning to work at planting congregations in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, and Sahuarita (tom@desertsw.org).
 
As the Missionary for Hispanic/Latino Congregational Development, Bishop Jaime Vazquez has been an integral part of the Lay Missionary Planting Network, assisting the Conference in its efforts to strengthen existing Hispanic/Latino ministries, as well as help it plant new Hispanic/Latino ministries – throughout the Conference, but particularly in Maricopa County (JVazquez@desertsw.org).
 
Dean of Cabinet Michael Pearson noted that Relevance X (and Lead) 2012 will invade Las Vegas Feb. 17-19, 2012. "More than an event," Relevance X is a movement that focuses on empowering young adults (18-35) through worship, service, uniting their voices, and actively creating change in our communities, while the Lead component is designed for leadership development (www.relevanceonline.com).
 
Oregon-Idaho reported on its Vital Churches Project, the key components of which are the Healthy Vital Church Initiative (HVCI), Lifelong Learning Initiative, and a New Start Initiative. Through HVCI, churches are working to build a focus on vitality and connection to the community. Monthly classes, reading, mentoring, coaching, and on-site consultations are all part of this process – which is loosely based on a model in use in the Missouri Conference.
 
District Superintendent (and future Assistant to the Bishop, beginning in July of 2012) Kim Fields also called attention to the second annual Western Jurisdiction New Church Leadership Institute West (NCLI West), taking place in Portland, Oregon March 13-16. This discernment and leadership-training event for potential new church start pastors, open to both lay and clergy, was developed in partnership with the Pacific Northwest Conference and Western Jurisdiction. (Information and registration is at www.umoi.org/ncli).
 
Oregon-Idaho also will be offering an event called "Launchpad," Sept 21-23, designed to help new faith community launch teams build their ministry plans. Path 1 will be the resource base for this WJ event. For more information about Launchpad, contact Beth Estock, director of the New Start Initiative, at beth.estock@yahoo.com.
 
Pacific Northwest, according to Cabinet Dean Sharon Moe, is going from a culture of:
  • Institution – to mission
  • Maintenance – to transformation
  • Bureaucracy – to vital growth
  • Entitlement – to accountability
  • Complacency – to urgency
  • Luke-warmedness – to passion
She said the Conference has seen an increase in the number of churches paying full Apportionments; a 10% increase in net attendance; and a 5% increase in the number of professions of faith.
 
By last year's annual conference session, Moe reported, PNW had started six (6) new ministries under the guidance of the director of New Faith Community Development. The Conference intentionally uses the description "New Faith Community Development," in recognition of and pursuant to the concept of developing communities, rather than facilities or properties.
 
"Our focus has changed in the last year to an emphasis on new models of faith community – one that focuses on leadership and community identity/affinity," Moe said. "We have a goal of 2-3 new faith community starts during this Conference year," she added. 
 
A new staff person, the Rev. Curtis Brown, is leading the Conference's efforts for Renewal of Existing Congregations. He currently is working in partnership with the Oregon-Idaho Director of New Faith Community Development to mentor and coach a new faith community start in PNW.
 
Assets of closed churches are offered first to ethnic congregations, then to new church starts, Moe said.
 
A unique new church start in the Rocky Mountain Conference, DCM Walter "Skip" Strickland reported, is AfterHours Denver. AfterHours is a church plant in which Bishop Elaine Stanovsky appointed a pastor to a "space," rather than to a place. The space is downtown Denver, where the Rev. Jerry Herships' charge is to actively pursue persons for whom church is not a part of their life. Each day members of metropolitan Denver churches join with members of AfterHours Denver to hand out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in Denver City Center Civic Park, to folks who need something to eat. The economically-, racially-, and lifestyle-diverse folks of AfterHours also gather in several restaurant/bar locations in the downtown Denver area on Monday nights. "A unique thing is that the restaurants are asking AfterHours to use their space, in most cases for free," Strickland said (jerry@afterhoursdenver.org).
 
Strickland reported, also, that the Conference has "increasing clarity" that it is not possible for every church to be sustained. Yet the Conference desired to create a caring self-determining process to guide a church into that realization. To this end an initiative, called the Legacy Church Initiative, was developed by Stephanie Munoz, working with Strickland, the bishop, and the Cabinet. Through editing assessment questions used by the Desert Southwest Conference and creating new ones, a process was created for entering into conversation with churches that are determined to be less than viable: that determination being made through demographic analysis, Cabinet member recommendation, and/or self-identification.

Yellowstone Cabinet Dean David Burt reported on "Nu Places 4 Nu Faces," a series of 10 lay training sessions throughout a year, including two overnight retreat times, that integrate CLayM studies. Sue King (formerly Director of Volunteers in Mission in the Cal-Nev Conference) designed the program and is under contract to manage it for one year, with the intent of making it self-sustaining. The courses fit within the Advanced Lay Leader training requirements. Participants will discern calls for beginning new faith communities through their local congregations or beyond, or may serve as DS Assignments.
 
In partnership with Rocky Mountain Conference, Yellowstone is working in consultation with Alan Roxburgh of the Missional Network to deepen and extend missional engagement of United Methodists with their neighborhoods. Each district superintendent is coaching 8-10 pastors over an 18-month period. Both superintendents and pastors participate in a 360-leadership assessment and develop their capacity to lead their congregations in listening to God and following God back into their neighborhoods.
 
At the same time, Roxburgh is coaching the Cabinets to re-examine their roles and time commitments, and to experiment with new ways to cultivate experiments in missional adaptation. A key question for the Cabinets is: How can the bishop and Cabinet better use resources – time, attention, authority – to encourage leaders, disciples, and churches to initiate creative mission in their neighborhoods?
 

 
Photo of Bishop Brown is by Cate Monaghan.
All other photos are by Greg Nelson, Director of Communications, Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.
 
(In photo above, Linda Caldwell, at right, participates in a team-building exercise.)