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Profile in leadership

Bishop Bard spends time with youth at Annual Conference


The Michigan Conference is served by three coordinators of age-level ministries. Meet Bridget Nelson, the leader of youth ministry initiatives .

On July 1, 2017 Bridget Nelson’s role with the Detroit Conference expanded for service to the Michigan Area. Since that time, Bridget has been relating to young people across the entire state and supporting adult workers with youth. 

As Coordinator of Youth Ministry Initiatives, Bridget serves out of the Office of Congregational Vibrancy for The Michigan Conference under the supervision of the Rev. Dirk Elliott. Bridget can be reached at 248-632-2504  or bnelson@michiganumc.org.

In this next feature in our Profile in Leadership series, we learn more about the role and the person helping to call and equip young disciples of Jesus Christ. Meet Bridget Nelson, in her own words …

Jeff and Bridget Nelson
The Rev. Jeff and Bridget Nelson, originally from Wisconsin, now make their home in Michigan with their two sons. Jeff pastors Royal Oak: First UMC and Bridget is the Michigan Conference Coordinator of Youth Ministry Initiatives. ~ photo courtesy of Bridget Nelson

Please share a little personal background. 

I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin in an Irish Catholic family with roots in Chicago. I have one younger sister who still lives there near our parents. I went to college at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire, which is 90 miles east of Minneapolis/St. Paul. I graduated from UWEC with a Bachelors in Social Work. I met my husband, Jeff Nelson, while in college. He is from Rhinelander, Wisconsin which is up in the north woods. We were married in 1996. In 1997, Jeff and I signed up for a one-year volunteer experience in Detroit. We really thought we would go back to Wisconsin after our volunteer year but obviously, that was not to be!

I got my Masters in Social Work at Wayne State in 2000 and then Jeff started seminary. Before working for the Detroit Conference, I worked for a few different non-profits around Detroit and stayed home with our sons, born in 2006 and 2008. Jeff graduated from seminary after we had lived in Detroit for six years, so in 2003 we moved to Birmingham for his first appointment. In 2009 we moved to Redford for Jeff’s appointment to Redford: Aldersgate and then to Royal Oak: First in 2016. 

My parents, who are now retired, were a Social Worker and a teacher so I grew up with a sense of serving others and social justice. I am very fortunate to have grown up in a house full of support and encouragement, with parents that were very intentional about building community. 

Where have you served and what lessons of leadership have you learned along the way? 

Professionally I have been a Social Worker in a variety of non-profit settings including counseling and community organizing. Since 2003, I have volunteered in youth ministry wherever Jeff was appointed, which I really enjoyed. I started working for the Detroit Annual Conference in 2014. 

“Everything we do at the conference should be about helping our local churches build the capacity to engage new people in their community.” ~ Bridget Nelson

Please describe your role on the Conference staff as you understand it. 

My role in The Michigan Conference is youth ministry development. I am here to assist churches seeking to build their capacity to be in ministry with youth. I help local churches with job descriptions, hiring process, training and troubleshooting in their youth programs. I also facilitate the Youth Worker Network, the Youth Worker Facebook group and regular communications with about 150 youth workers around the state. 

What is your vision for The Michigan Conference and how does your ministry fit into the big picture?

I would like to see our conference become completely focused on the local church. Young people and families with children live very full lives and their most likely point of connection with a faith community is the local church. Everything we do at the conference should be about helping our local churches build the capacity to engage new people in their community. The kingdom of God is most evident to me in community, and I believe we should be as inclusive as possible of people, particularly youth and families.

What ministries will you nurture and what issues will you address in 2019?

In 2019, I will be facilitating the Youth Worker Network for the fourth year. This group meets monthly to learn about youth ministry best practices and to encourage one another. 

Also, I am organizing busses to Youth 2019, our denomination’s national gathering for youth that happens every four years. The event takes place this year July 10-14  in Kansas City, Missouri. Churches that would like to get on the bus with us should get in touch with me!

Bridget Nelson with Zach McNees

What is it that nurtures, guides, and excites you in your work? 

The church is uniquely equipped to offer youth a safe, multi-generational, faith-based community. I have been working with teenagers for 15 years and while some things have changed, their desire to connect to something bigger than themselves has not. I have found students to be interested in meaningful experiences where they can grow as individuals and as a group.

What are the challenges you face in your ministry? 

The life of the average teenager looks pretty different now than it did even ten years ago. Technology, academics, and year round sports have changed the way families spend their time. Churches spend a fair amount of time grieving these changes and how they impact church attendance and participation. This is an understandable response. I try to help churches move toward what they can do to support teens and families during this very demanding time of life. 

Where do you see God working in The Michigan Conference and The United Methodist Church? 

We are building something new here in the Michigan Conference. I appreciate the different voices working to shape our ministries to be relevant and practical to the local church. I believe God is present with us whenever we seek to renew ourselves and reach out to our neighbors. 

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