More than 1300 members of the 2018 Iowa Annual Conference gathered in downtown Des Moines last week. The Connectional Ministries Council staff were among the many conference staff members who were working behind the scenes to help assure that the event went smoothly. They devoted days both before and after the event moving furniture and equipment from the Conference Center to Hy-Vee Hall to enable them to have remote offices to care for the business of the conference.
Even more important, however, was the impact of their work on the ministries of Difference Makers who were recognized at the Celebration of Ministry on June 9th. The School for Lay Ministry honored 27 new graduates. The Board of Church and Society announced three recipients of Peace with Justice scholarships and recognized Doris Knight with the Beje Clark Restorative Justice Award. The Commission on the Status and Role of Women presented their Ambassador Award posthumously to Eileen McPherson. The Academy for Spiritual Formation announced their four graduates. Sixteen churches were recognized for completing the Healthy Church Initiative process.
The Connectional Ministries team provides administrative support throughout the year for several conference agencies and their related ministries. Their 2018 budget of $937,321 supports the work of the Leadership Development Minister for Camping and Christian Formation plus four administrative staff persons. These funds are made possible through the apportionment gifts of the United Methodist churches of Iowa.
Wesley United Methodist Church in Vinton is supporting about a dozen high school graduates with special needs this year. As participants in the Community Partnership for Protecting Children initiative for Benton and Iowa Counties, they are helping students who are aging out of foster care or living on their own.
The Graduation Celebration, recently featured on KCRG-TV9, is hosting parties for these youth to enjoy their school achievements in ways that are not readily available to them. They arrange for graduation photo packages from volunteer photographers. Dishes, bedding, and other supplies have been donated from the people of their community to help the students set up their own households. The group is also collecting funds with a goal of $1,000 for each student.
Leaders at Wesley UMC have been working on their vision to be “A Church for All God’s Children” this year. They are developing more intentional ways to reach out to children, youth, and their families. The Graduation Celebration is just one example of their ongoing commitment to this vision.
Their visioning process emerged during their studies through the Healthy Church Initiative. HCI is supported this year in part with a $60,000 grant from Parish Development. These funds are made possible through the apportionment gifts of United Methodist churches throughout the state of Iowa.
MissionInsite provides demographic information to local church and conference leaders to help them in their outreach efforts. One way of learning about new people in our communities is to study statistical data provided through the U.S. Census. Demographics assist both established churches and new communities of faith better understand and engage their mission field.
Local church leaders participating in Healthy Church Initiative consultations, for instance, prepare a demographic report provided by MissionInsite to help them assess their outreach potential. The material can identify persons or groups who are not being reached by our churches and offer insights about how we can develop relationships with them.
In addition to HCI and other church revitalization processes, the demographic information is used by superintendents as they consider pastoral appointments and by conference leaders to identify and start new communities of faith. Bruce Wittern, the chair of the Iowa Conference Standing Committee on Parish Development said, “We have seen a great increase in the use of MissionInsite over the past couple of years.”
His committee invests $10,000 annually in a contract with MissionInsite so that this demographic information can be available free of charge to all churches and leaders within the Iowa Conference. These funds are made possible through the apportionment gifts of United Methodist churches across the state.
Forty-three people from a dozen Iowa churches gathered for the Healthy Church Initiative Next: Discipleship Pathways Retreat at the end of January. Led by the Field Outreach Ministers of the Iowa Conference, the event focused on helping pastors and laity understand more clearly what a discipleship pathway is and how to develop and implement one in their local churches.
The Iowa Conference has a Wildly Important Goal for every church to develop a process for intentionally forming disciples of Jesus Christ by the year 2020. We want disciples to know and become more like Jesus.
Retreat participants reviewed how we can help followers of Jesus deepen their relationships with God, no matter their ages or stages of life. A four-step framework was offered for churches to adapt in their context to help people intentionally develop faith.
“The presentations were excellent,” one participant said, “but I would say the encouragement of having action steps” to follow up on what we’ve learned was the most important aspect of the weekend.
The event was held at the Wesley Woods Camp and Retreat Center outside of Indianola. Additional retreats and workshops are being planned throughout the state in the coming months.
The Healthy Church Initiative is supported in 2018 with a Parish Development grant of $70,000. These funds are made possible through the apportionment gifts of United Methodist churches across the state.
“If you have something new you want to try,” says Pam Kranzler, the pastor at the Wapello United Methodist Church, “find two or three other people and let’s talk.”
The church has been cultivating a spirit of ministry experimentation since their involvement in a Healthy Church Initiative study group in 2014. During that time, they learned about a community meal that the neighboring Letts United Methodist Church had started. The Wapello church had recently built a new social hall that was ideal for starting a similar ministry. Now several other groups in town participate as hosts and sponsors of the monthly meals.
Soul Sisters is another example of this spirit of experimentation. A group of working women began meeting out of a need for fellowship. They couldn’t meet during the day with other groups, said Crystal Wiley, so they started meeting on Monday evenings for about an hour to “chat about life.”
The group’s ministry to each other has grown to include a shared devotional life together and community service projects. This experiment in ministry has blossomed. “We’ve become a tight-knit group,” said Katie Walker.
The Iowa Conference is investing $70,000 in the Healthy Church Initiative in 2018. These funds are made possible from the apportionment gifts of United Methodist churches across the state.
St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Iowa City has just completed a series of workshops as participants in the Healthy Church Initiative. They received support for this purpose from the East Central District, which has earmarked funds in their annual budget to purchase books for such studies.
The congregation’s leaders have committed to continuing their monthly studies together as they pursue God’s mission in their community. Now they are offering their gently used books to other potential HCI groups as a way of paying the ministry of their district forward.
The East Central District is pleased to have piloted HCI in the Iowa Conference. They are seeing the fruits of their labors as congregations and individuals are enlivened for Christ and engaging their communities and growing disciples.
District leaders are also working together to strengthen a variety of ethnic communities of faith in their area and to guide new and existing churches towards health and vitality through spiritual leadership and organizational transformation. They are encouraging all clergy and laity to practice healthful leadership through fellowship, spiritual guidance and attention to self-care.
The Iowa Conference has earmarked $19,500 for the ministries of the East Central District in 2017. These funds are made possible through the apportionment gifts of the United Methodist churches across the state.
The Greenfield United Methodist Church launched a new worship service earlier this month. Previously, the church had a service at 9 a.m. followed by a time of fellowship and Sunday school at 10:30. Now they are offering worship at 9 and 11 a.m. with Sunday school in between at 10 o’clock.
Church leaders have been engaged for the last two years in prayer and discernment about their future through the Healthy Church Initiative. First, a team of their leaders studied ministry in the 21st century. A consultation weekend followed to help them determine their future plans based on their gifts and graces as a church. They determined that God was calling them to experiment with ways to connect new people to God.
On the first Sunday the new service was offered, the church netted 17 new people in church attendance. “We welcome with open arms those seeking to understand what Christianity is about,” they say on their website, “as well as those who are yearning to deepen their discipleship and grow into the likeness of Christ.”
The ministries of the Healthy Church Initiative are supported in part with $60,000 from the Parish Development Standing Committee of the Iowa Board of Global Ministries. The funds are made possible through the apportionment gifts of local United Methodist churches throughout the state.