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AC members learn about leadership

Small child at Annual Conference

Bishop David Bard called the church a "greenhouse" in his opening sermon on May 30. Seeds of leadership continued to be planted throughout the course of the 2019 Annual Conference.

Senior Content Editor

The 2019 Annual Conference theme – Bold and Effective Leaders—was showcased from opening worship on Thursday morning to the Service of Recognition, Commissioning, and Ordination on Sunday afternoon.

Seeds of leadership

The 2019 Michigan Annual Conference opened on Thursday morning, May 30, in high spirit. The past was present during the Memorial Service as saints gone on to glory were named and remembered. Hymns long-cherished were sung – And Are We Yet Alive? and The Church’s One Foundation –reminding members of their spiritual roots. All “a vision glorious” in the words of the song just mentioned.

But the “right here, right now” and the future of The United Methodist Church were very much in focus in the words of Bishop David Bard. The leadership focus for the worship was WISDOM. The bishop started on a humorous note, leading the gathering in the Scarecrow’s song – If I only had a brain -- from the Wizard of Oz. He continued, “How dare I be funny! Don’t I know what’s going on in the world? … Maybe you are thinking, if we only had a better time in which to be the church!”

The bishop acknowledged that, “The church is kind of a mess. The world is kind of a mess.” He asserted that reaction is not the appropriate response to the situation we are in today. “We are where we are, and in this time, we need leaders.” Building on the 2019 Conference theme of Bold and Effective Leaders, Bard then encouraged local churches to be “greenhouses” providing light, water, and warmth.

Bishop Bard preaching at Annual Conference
Bishop David Bard began his third Annual Conference in Michigan going down the Yellow Brick Road to Oz singing, “If I only had a brain.” His sermon during Opening Worship on May 30, 2019 elaborated on the leadership trait of wisdom. “If we only had a better time in which to be the church,” he said. His conclusion, “This is going to be our finest hour.” ~ mic photo/Jonathan Trites

“If this is something of what leadership of wisdom, heart and courage looks like, and our church and world need this kind of leadership … We need to be places that plant seeds that are skills necessary for such leadership – skills in listening well, skills to tolerate ambiguity and not knowing, skills that help people grow in their self-knowledge in light of knowing that they are loved by God, skills in working with difference and conflict, skills in reading and learning together.”

The Bishop encouraged his listeners to not wait in this effort. “Be leaders of wisdom, heart and courage right here, right now so we can be about the mission of God to be disciples of Jesus Christ so that the world can be different because the world needs to be different.” Click here to read Bishop Bard’s sermon.

The Opening Worship Service also memorialized those saints -- clergy and laity -- who died since the 2018 Michigan Annual Conference

Inviting leadership

The aspects of Bold and Effective Leadership continued on Friday with the focus on COURAGE. The preacher for morning worship was Laura Witkowski, the Michigan Conference Assoc. Director of Lay Leadership Development. She talked about ordinary courage and vulnerability, using three examples: Global Mission Fellow, Grace Okerson, serving NOAH Project in Detroit; the disciple Peter getting out of the boat when he saw Jesus as told in Matthew 14:22-33; and wives of sanitation workers on strike in Memphis, TN in 1968.

Laura Witkowski preaching about leadership.
On Friday morning Laura Witkowski spoke of the importance of ordinary courage in her message based on Matthew 14:22-33. She encouraged her listeners, "Ask Jesus to invite you out on the water. Have conversations with those who have stepped out of the boat. Take the step!” ~ mic photo/Jonathan Trites

Laura encouraged members to claim their courage. “If you’re hanging out in your boat and aren’t sure how to take that first step. #1: Ask Jesus to invite you out on the water. # 2: have conversations with those who have stepped out of the boat. # 3: Take the step!” She concluded, “The water is where Jesus is; the water is a task too big for us to do alone. Be ridiculous like Peter. Be more like Jesus. Find your ordinary courage. Get out of the boat.” Click here to read Laura Witkowski’s sermon.

Another bold and effective preacher shared the word on Saturday morning, June 1, when the leadership focus was HEART. The Rev. Jennie Browne, Conference Director of Clergy Excellence, began with a spirited retelling of the story of Esther. Children at her feet and the members in the seats supplied sounds that brought characters to life. She related how Esther – stomach muscles tightening and breath going short -- “went to the heart of an empire to save her people.”

Jennie Browne preaching Saturday morning
The Rev. Jennie Browne, Director of Clergy Excellence for The Michigan Conference, shared Esther's story on Saturday morning asking, “What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?” ~ mic photo/Jonathan Trites

Browne described how God “shows up in the gaps” then offered a challenge to God’s people in Governors’ Hall, “Esther did not have everything, but she had enough. So do you. She used what she had – courage, spiritual discipline, patience, strategy, community. So can you. … God needs you. Christ needs you. The church needs you.” In a series of “maybes”, Browne invited all to assume the spirit of Esther. “Maybe you’re a Provisional Member thinking, ‘I’ll wait ‘til I get my Full Membership’ … Maybe you’re a Local Pastor thinking ‘I don’t have any power’ … Maybe you’re young and sharp and ready to rock and roll, and you’re thinking, ‘There’s got to be an easier denomination to be part of.’” She concluded, “Maybe. Or maybe God has called you to this place for just such a moment as this.” Click here to read the Rev. Jennie Browne’s sermon.

Nurturing leadership

The 2019 Annual Conference teachers were both bold and effective Preacher’s Kids come home to share how growing up in Michigan prepared them for leadership. Friday afternoon, the spotlight remained on courage as members welcomed a daughter of the conference, Becca Farnum. A peacebuilder and educator, who has taught in 20 countries, Farnum is currently based at Syracuse University in London. Her lessons in courageous leadership offered perspectives from her experiences from Scandinavia to Morocco and places between.

These are her points about what effective leaders do. They: Collaborate, Open minds and doors, Understand own privilege and bias, Respect other journeys, Act in abundance, Give generously, Evangelize. What does it spell … COURAGE.

Becca Farum teaching about leadership
Becca Farnum concluded her remarks giving credit and a challenge. “I am a product of the leadership greenhouse Bishop Bard talked about yesterday ... Thank you for being the greenhouse I needed … You raised me in love and you opened doors for me, but it’s not the Beccas in the world you need to be investing in. Some people need a different kind of greenhouse.” ~ mic photo/Jonathan Trites

Becca thanked Michigan United Methodists for their nurture. “I am a product of the leadership greenhouse that Bishop Bard talked about.” However, she reminded her listeners, “You cannot expect every plant to thrive in the same greenhouse … Plant different kinds of seeds. See the beauty in other kinds of plants.” Click here for Becca Farnum’s presentation.

On Saturday afternoon, June 1, Kristen Grauer, a woman who also grew up in the Michigan Area, came to the stage. Making clear that she was speaking as the daughter of the Rev. Charles and Pat Grauer, and not as a foreign service officer of the U.S. Department of State, Grauer recalled cherished moments in her life in the parsonage … baptism, CROP walks, VIM trips, and summer camp.

Kristen Grauer teaching at Annual Conference 2019
Kristen Grauer told her listeners that growing up as a PK (Preacher's Kid) "was not all rainbows and unicorns" but "there were wonderful moments, too ... that built resiliency essential in my current lifestyle." ~ mic photo/Jonathan Trites

She shared a quick trip around her tours of service, starting in Benin as a 23-year-old to her future assignment in France. She then listed, “Six reasons why being a PK in small-town Michigan gave me skills to succeed anywhere on earth.” 1) It’s a Calling. 2) Internal Community is our strength 3) External Connections. 4) Communications must be Continuous. 5) Coping with Crisis and Conflict. 6) Character is everything. Grauer concluded, “You, the church, taught me these things. Join a cause bigger than yourself. Find your moral compass. Challenge convention. Be a champion. In other words, ‘Let your little light shine.’” (Due to government protocol, Kristen Grauer’s presentation is not able to be shared online.)

Celebrating leadership

Celebrating the Journey of Ministry was hosted by the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry on Saturday afternoon. The Conference rejoiced in the gifts of those retiring and being ordained, the newly licensed and commissioned, Course of Study graduates, Extension Ministers, and laity. Click here and reference pages 66-84 to join in the celebration.

A special feature of this time together was tributes paid to the assembled ministers by several slam poets from around The Michigan Conference. The poems stirred up a variety of emotions … joy, irony, fear, hope, humility, bravery, and more. At this time these poets have made their work available to inspire and challenge all:

Dillon Burns shares a slam poem
Dillon Burns, pastor of Manchester: First UMC, shared a slam poem honoring new leaders during Celebrating the Journey of Ministry on Saturday afternoon. ~ mic photo/Jonathan Trites

On Sunday, June 2, Bishop Bard transported those assembled for the Service of Recognition, Commission, and Ordination from Acme to Oz. Picking up a theme he started during Opening Worship on Thursday, he said: “The overall direction of the ministry is the same, but the yellow brick roads we tread, the dark forests we wander, the strange meadows we traverse, the ominous mountains we climb are different. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The bishop noted the world is different today. “The United Methodist Church is different just since the February General Conference,” he began. “This 50-year iteration of the Christian Church in the Wesleyan tradition may be coming to an end, or at the very least is on the verge of significant change.” In addition, the surrounding culture is changing. “We live in a liquid culture where individualism thrives … and we find it difficult not only to agree about basic answers to questions but about the nature of the basic questions.”

Sarah Nadeau Alexander ordained at 2019 Conference
Newly ordained Deacon, Sarah Nadeau Alexander, is surrounded by mentors and conference leaders celebrating this milestone in her life and ministry. L-r: Rev. Anita Hahn, Anne Soles, Rev. Paul Perez, Sarah Alexander, Rev. Marsha Woolley, Rev. Dr. Margie Crawford, and John Wharton. ~ mic photo/Jonathan Trites

The bishop expressed his conviction that these new leaders are up to facing such challenges. “Yes, I am using the Wizard of Oz hermeneutic again. I want to re-emphasize that leadership in our day needs to be leadership rooted in personhood … If our congregations are going to be greenhouses of such leadership, you need to lead with mind, heart and courage.” Click here to read Bishop David Bard’s message to the 2019 ordinands.

Two Deacons were ordained -- Sarah Nadeau Alexander and Cora Glass. Six Elders were ordained: Joel Fitzgerald, Jeremiah Mannschreck, Eun Sik Poy, Jonathan Reynolds, Scott Sherrill, and Devin Smith.

Those commissioned for the work of Deacon are: LuAnne Hook and Alex Plum. Those commissioned for the work of Elder are: Nicholas Bonsky, Kimberly Bos, Leslee Fritz, Julie Humenik, Elizabeth Hurd, Kayla Roosa, Amy Triebwasser, Ruth VanderSande, and Joan VanDessel.

Last Updated on December 27, 2022

The Michigan Conference