This year the Michigan Conference says goodbye to two faithful servants, Anne Soles and John Wharton. We now welcome Annette Erbes to the role of Conference Lay Leader.
Senior Content Editor
The Michigan Annual Conference, meeting virtually July 26-28, witnessed transitions of leadership. Among them was saying goodbye to lay leaders Anne Soles and John Wharton. The conference was blessed to have two faithful servants in that role. Soles, West Michigan Conference Lay Leader since 2012, and Wharton, Detroit Conference Lay Leader starting in 2016, helped shepherd the formation of the new conference.
Annette Erbes is the person nominated to champion the vital role of the laity going into the future. Annette, along with her husband, the Rev. Mark Erbes, has been an active part of the Holt United Methodist church since 2014. Before she was a pastor’s spouse, Annette was a preacher’s kid. She grew up in the parsonage family of the Rev. Lawrence and Blanche Taylor.
Annette was a leader from the start, serving as president of the West Michigan Conference Youth Council. She was a delegate to the 1980 General Conference, one of the youngest persons ever elected from West Michigan. Annette has been making disciples for Jesus Christ and transforming the world ever since.
MIconnect asked Annette to share about her life, ministry, and hopes for The Michigan Conference. Please welcome the new Michigan Conference Lay Leader Annette Erbes and become acquainted through this Q & A.
Please share a little personal background, where you’re from, values formed growing up, and mentors.
“A layperson from the Holt United Methodist Church, I have lived in the Lansing area for the past six years. Living most of my life in Michigan, I have had the opportunity to become a part of more than a dozen United Methodist churches across the conference in approximately six different districts. I have been on this United Methodist journey from my time as a child in the EUB Church to a youth and adult in the West Michigan Conference and now the Michigan Conference. The conference has served as a consistent presence in my life during many moves as both a “preacher’s kid” and now as a clergy spouse. Also, I have been blessed with many friends in ministry who have mentored me in my faith walk. I am grateful for the ministry and leadership of Bill Johnson and Kip and Lynn Grimes, who welcomed, supported, and encouraged me as a youth.”
Let’s talk about your ministry background. What are some ways you have been active in the local church or the connectional church? What lessons of leadership have you learned along the way?
“Loved and nurtured by many congregations, I am especially grateful to Grand Rapids Trinity UMC for encouraging me to become involved in the District Youth Council and then on the Conference Youth Council. I served as president of CYC during my senior year of high school. These formative years helped me to grow in my faith as I explored my gifts for organization and administration. I have been blessed to serve in many areas of the church, for example, as a delegate to General Conference, District Lay Leader, Committee on the District Superintendency, Area Episcopacy Committee, Nominations Committee, Board of Ordained Ministry, and MSU Wesley Foundation Board. I have served as a lay staff person working in Christian education in United Methodist churches in Minnesota, Ohio, and Michigan. I have been blessed by many faith-filled colleagues in ministry who serve with grace, joy, and commitment to Christ and Christ’s church. Lessons of leadership gleaned from wise friends in faith are to actively listen; encourage, enable, and support others to utilize their gifts; seek and offer forgiveness and grace; and pray always.”
“Lessons of leadership gleaned from wise friends in faith are to actively listen; encourage, enable, and support others to utilize their gifts; seek and offer forgiveness and grace; and pray always.”
How would you describe the role of the Conference Lay Leader?
“The 2016 Book of Discipline in part describes the role of Conference Lay Leader as one who ‘will have the responsibility for fostering awareness of the role of the laity both within the congregation and through their ministries in the home, workplace, community, and world in achieving the mission of the Church…’ (¶ 607) With that in mind, I see my role as one who listens, communicates, lifts up, invites, advocates for, and supports the ministry of the laity across our conference. We, as laity, are called by God to serve and use our gifts. As Conference Lay Leader, I simply hope to serve as an encourager and enabler with laity, as together we live out our vision to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
What will some of your first steps as Conference Lay Leader be?
“My first steps in the role as Conference Lay Leader will be to build relationships with lay and clergy colleagues across the conference. As I meet with leaders, I will be listening for and learning about the best practices to encourage and empower laity to be bold and effective leaders in Michigan. As I read and learn, I am recognizing and growing in my understanding of my own white privilege. The journey to dismantle racism calls me to repent, listen, pray, and act. I am taking advantage of the conference’s Coaching Ministry and am excited about how this relationship will keep me focused, challenged, and aware as I prayerfully strive to be a bold and effective leader. I look forward to working with our Associate Director for Lay Leadership Development Laura Witkowski and members of the Board of Laity to envision, engage, and empower effective lay leadership across the conference.”
Where do you see God at work among the laity of The Michigan Conference?
“Laity are in ministry all around us! In the simple act of providing groceries for a neighbor alone during this time of quarantine. Offering virtual Vacation Bible School to neighborhood children. Sharing technical expertise to enhance online worship. Filling flood buckets for our mid-Michigan neighbors. Running the Virtual 5K for Michigan Disaster Response and Recovery. Serving as an ER nurse. Those are just some of the ways laity in Michigan are in ministry actively sharing the love of Christ! I am looking forward to hearing many experiences of laity leading with humility, love, and grace.”
What is it that nurtures, sustains, and guides you in your work?
“I am nurtured and sustained by my relationship with God through prayer, Bible study, music, and worship. Serving in Christian education challenges me to learn and brings me joy through encounters with God’s children of all ages. I am also nurtured and sustained by my relationships with family and friends who encourage me and hold me accountable in my faith journey. I am guided through prayer, learning, and the leadership of others in ministry as together we discern God’s will for our Michigan Conference.”
What excites you the most about the future of The United Methodist Church?
“I am most excited about the future of The United Methodist Church as we live out God’s call to be an inclusive and diverse body. We are all children of God, called to share our gifts and bring about God’s kin-dom here on earth. Change is most possible after times of learning and pain; we are in that time. With God’s guidance, let us open our hearts to each other by listening, learning, repenting, growing, and living out our love for all, here in Michigan and beyond.”
We are living in is a season full of challenges. What is required of the laity “for the facing of this hour?”
“Although our current times might be described as challenging, unknown, and forever fluctuating, our God offers assurance amidst the challenges, a constant presence when the future is unknown, and an infinite wisdom during unstable times. I believe that we as laity are called to ‘act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God’ (Micah 6:8), perhaps now more than ever.”
Is there a hymn that captures the spirit of this moment in The Michigan Conference?
“As the Michigan Conference, the charge of Micah 6:8 is clearly our call, here and now, in this time. Hymn #2172 of The Faith We Sing, “We Are Called,” encourages and challenges us to live out our faith. Especially the words of verse 2 capture the essence of our call for justice, love, and service.”