Momentum: Moving forward in equipping vital congregations
By Karen Scanlon*
A colorful crowd of close to 600 participants made their way through the 2018 School of Congregational Development’s registration on Aug. 15 in San Diego. Conference leaders, clergy and laity of The United Methodist Church gathered for plenary sessions, seminars and workshops to gain tips and tools on leading dynamic congregations. This year’s four-day assembly, under the theme “Momentum,” was hosted by the California-Pacific Annual Conference and sponsored by Discipleship Ministries, Path 1 and Global Ministries.
Panelists lead a discussion during the conference. PHOTO: A. Victor Goodpasture
“At a time when many believe the denomination is crashing, I ask you to change your perspective. The church of the past might have been grand, but it wasn’t great,” said the Rev. John Farley, South District superintendent, in opening worship. This was a reminder that The United Methodist Church has not always been inclusive of non-whites, women and the LGBTQ community. The Rev. Allison Mark, senior pastor at Faith United Methodist Church in Torrance, California, added, “There are other waves swelling on the horizon to catch, and we need to ride their momentum.”
Among the highlights of this year’s event were the relevant and varied plenary sessions and workshops.
The Aug. 16 evening plenary speaker was Father Greg Boyle, a Roman Catholic priest of the Jesuit order and founder and director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. Homeboy Industries is the largest gang-intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world. Boyle spoke on the topic of “From Injustice to Justice.”
“I thought I could save gang members. I was wrong,” Boyle admitted. “There is a lethal absence of hope. I discovered that you do not go to the margins to rescue anyone. But if we go there, everyone finds rescue.”
The Rev. Lilia Ramirez of Nashville, Tennessee, said, “I work for the National Plan for Hispanic-Latino Ministries, and I celebrate that some of the workshops were offered in Spanish and were adjusted to the reality of these communities in the U.S.”
Rev. Dr. Nora Colmenares, Global Ministries' senior manager for congregational engagement co-leads a workshop for participants. PHOTO: A. Victor Goodpasture
Global Ministries, in partnership with the Western Jurisdiction and the California-Pacific Conference, offered partial scholarships to participants from various racial-ethnic groups and from small-membership churches. Across the U.S., 370 people applied, but limited funds allowed only 224 scholarships to be granted.
“We wanted to include more racial-ethnic people, and these resources provided a way for some to come who might not otherwise,” said Diane Johnson, Global Ministries SCD scholarship coordinator. “Where else can we gather like this?” Johnson asked. “Pacific Islanders, Latinos, Hispanics, African-Americans, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Caucasians, all of us networking, all vital pieces of one great ministry. People want to come back year after year.”
Johnson said that the scholarships, introduced to SCD in 2011 in St. Louis, “added so much beautiful color to this event.” In 2017, funds for participants from small churches were added for the event in North Georgia. This year, the California-Pacific Conference and the Western Jurisdiction wanted to get involved, and, again, contributions began to flow in for more diverse applicants.
Additional scholarships were also offered to small churches with an average attendance of 150 and fewer through the Networks and Constituencies Work Area of Global Ministries.
One scholarship recipient was the Rev. Andrea Byer-Thomas, a native of Antigua on the Leeward Islands, now residing in North Lauderdale, Florida, and pastor at Village United Methodist Church. “I serve in a small, cross-cultural appointment, and came to SCD for practical tools to recapture hope,” she said. “I preach prophetically; I meet injustice head-on.” The Rev. Mary Scifres, church growth consultant from Laguna Beach, California, also recaptured hope at SCD, specifically, hope “in a world existing in an environment of fear.”
Global Ministries developed an online teaching event through which an additional 200 or more people participated through technology. “Online classes extended the reach of events, particularly the plenary sessions. People participated online in workshops in Spanish or in English,” said the Rev. Russell Pierce, Global Ministries’ director of Mission Engagement and Fundraising.
PHOTO: A. Victor Goodpasture
Attendees left the conference refreshed and ready to implement new ideas. “The conference has, in some cases, exceeded my expectations,” noted the Rev. Doug Dyson of First United Methodist Church, Sharon, Pennsylvania. “The section leaders and plenary speakers were insightful into where the church needs to go.” Another pastor mentioned, “The SCD has excited me so much that I haven’t been able to sleep.”
These types of responses make everything worthwhile – from planning to late nights for people behind the scenes managing countless components. Susan Naslund, South District administrative assistant, said, “It was a joy to provide southern California hospitality to so many people who are passionate about new ways to be in ministry.”
*Scanlon is a lay minister in the South District of the California-Pacific Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.