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More clergy reflections from ‘both sides’

Senior editor-writer, Michigan Area

Recently Laurie Haller, in a blog entitled, “Both Sides Now,” noted: I spent the first thirty-one years of my ministry in West Michigan. I served amazing congregations, made close friends among clergy and laity, watched local churches grow into vital centers of ministry and rejoiced over individual lives that were transformed forever. Now, after almost two years in the Detroit Annual Conference, I can say exactly same thing. (see full statement at
Laurie’s reflections prompted MIConnect to reach out to other clergypersons who have served in both the West Michigan and Detroit conferences. Responses were received from six men and women whose reflections are shared here …
Cindy Parsons
Elder, Sebewaing Trinity UMC 1989-2012 WMC / 2012-2015 DC 
  I am a West Michigan pastor serving in the Detroit Annual Conference and I want to say to my colleagues, “Come on in, the water’s fine.” In West Michigan, we’ve always thought the DAC was bigger and we would be swallowed up. But I find that Annual Conference at Adrian is just as warm and friendly as Annual Conference at Calvin. In our last attempt to combine the Conferences, some looked at the printed budget and saw that the line item for camping was reduced and assumed that would be bad for our camping ministry. But plans were underway to fund our camping program differently; there would still be strong support for this important outreach to our youth.    As a pastor, I have served multiple-point charges and wondered, “Why don’t these churches merge?” I think it’s time for us to model that at a higher level.   Molly Turner
Retired Elder
1971-1990; 2003-2012 WMC / Asst to Bishop 1993-2003

Traveling this past 18 months throughout the Michigan Area for Imagine No Malaria, I found that together we could do more. Together we raised more than we ever expected to raise.   District Coordinators met monthly via Adobe Connect and shared ideas statewide. This idea sharing and fellowship meant that all of our churches were better informed of what they might do. Various churches joined together to be able to do more than they could do alone. People attended events across the Area without reference to the conference lines.   I believe that the United Methodist Church of Michigan will be more vital if we unite in one new conference.

Doug Vernon
Retired Elder
1969-1979; 2000-2011 WMC / 1979-2000 DC
Thanks for asking my opinion on this important issue. Having served about equal number of years in each conference, I don’t see any really significant differences. Both have major urban and suburban as well as town and country ministries. I served in all of those settings on both sides and found the biggest difference to be that there is a lot more traffic and it is much faster in Metro Detroit!   Like Laurie Haller, I voted affirmatively twice for merger, once in each conference. I was disappointed both times when it failed. Perhaps the third time will be charmed.   Let’s trust the process, those who lead us, and most of all the Spirit, who still assuredly beckons us…”See, I am making all things new.”  
Jennifer Jue
Elder, Oxford UMC
2007-2013 WMC / 2013-2015 DC
  Mission education and community engagement are two of the greatest strengths of working together with both conferences as the Michigan Area UMC. In past years, as an active lay person and United Methodist Women officer, I worked with Bishop Ott on the Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty. I experienced how all the different districts and regions were engaged in missions and outreach to address children living in poverty across Michigan. A central event at the Lansing Capitol brought all UMC churches together to make a difference for children living on the margins. Collectively we become a stronger voice for advocacy for children and youth in Michigan.   I have also been active as a clergy leader on the Committee on Asian American Ministries, a new Michigan Area UMC initiative. Recently we organized a learning event that highlighted Vietnamese and Korean ministries and outreach, cross-racial and cross-cultural church appointments and ministry needs, and multicultural worship and fellowship. Our Asian American pastors and lay leaders are joining together across conferences to celebrate and to grow ministries with culturally diverse communities. The Spirit is moving across Michigan and the world.   Mark Miller
Elder, Muskegon Central UMC
1984-2013 DC / 2013-2015 WMC

I find that people are people and, no matter where you live in the state, there are challenges to work on and victories to celebrate. The power of God to work through our willingness to serve is equally sufficient to do God’s will no matter where you live.   Are there better leaders on one side or the other? Absolutely not. I’m impressed that God has given us the resources we need to be the “institution” we are created to be. In fact, I can only imagine how much more creative and faithful to God’s purpose we can be if we were to put our hearts and minds together in a united effort in Michigan.   It seems funny to me that there is an imaginary line that some people are hesitant to cross. Other than the challenge of learning new names and faces, I’ve learned there is nothing to fear, and I appreciate the opportunity of making new relationships and learning a new culture. Even if one were to move within their present conference bounds, one would experience a different regional culture. Why is there a feeling that there is some kind of East and West culture shock to overcome?   We must move beyond the misconception that there is something to fear. Sometimes I hear – Oh, my goodness, we are sisters and brothers in Christ. How can there be disrespect between the people of our conferences? Yet we struggle even to maintain respect for one another within our local churches simply because God has created us with our own unique personalities and gifts … that’s just being human.   What was it that Paul wrote again? There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)  Hello, are we forgetting we are one? There’s nothing to fear.   I know that some have argued that bigger is not better. I agree, but smaller is not better either. Being faithful to God’s calling and responsible stewards with our time, talent, and every resource is better. Loving one another and working together for the glory of God in the state where we live is better.   I have voted twice for merger so I do believe we can be more effective and faithful working together and sharing our strengths and our growing areas together. Much like a healthy marriage I believe two parts with the same purpose and mission will become a stronger whole. However, like a marriage, it takes work. We are up for the task of doing the work, caring for people, and faithfully following our Lord into a present, glorious kingdom.    Catherine Christman
Elder, Vassar 1st
2007-2010 WMC / 2010-2015 DC

Both annual conferences are unique and wonderful. A strength of the West Michigan Conference is the support of campus ministries. I am a part of the new Wesley Fellowship at Saginaw Valley State University. As our first year has come to a close, we are beginning to dream about the future. The funding from the Detroit Board of Higher Education is simply not there as compared to that support in West Michigan. This campus ministry, as well as all of our others, supports students from both sides of the state and beyond.

I am also a camper at heart. The Detroit Conference camping program is very strong. From the support of the leadership in resources as well as the scholarship support to our campers, many lives from the local congregation to those sitting around the camp fire are being impacted for Jesus Christ.   Recently I experienced something special in our polity. I sat at a table with some sister colleagues from other denominations, all serving churches here in Michigan. I was the only one at the table that called Michigan home for my entire life. There is something special when one says that they are from Michigan. I do not introduce myself as a pastor from the DAC or the WMAC. I introduce myself as a United Methodist pastor serving in Vassar. 

The perception of “those Methodists over there” is what needs to be overcome. When our young people head off to college, and hopefully seek out a campus ministry, they are not looking for one in each individual conference. When our young ones head off to church camp, they are not looking specifically for one in West Michigan or for one in Detroit. When our families grow, move and change, we do not choose where we will worship based on what conference we are in. Our identities are not that we are from either conference but rather that we are Christ followers. Our identities as United Methodists are in what we learned and loved from Wesley. When we get over this identity challenge, we can then define what it means to be the Church for the Michigan Area.    I believe that the United Methodists of Michigan will move into the future stronger as one conference.  I voted for the merger last time around.  I will do so again. 
For more background and frequently asked questions about the Journey toward a new Michigan Conference, please click here.  


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