Monday, January 31, 2011

What Alaska Could Learn from our Big Sister Conference

The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference includes Washington and the northern part of Idaho.  They engaged in an assessment of their churches called the District Planning and Strategy (DPAS).  This is the same process our Director of Connectional Ministries, Leila Disburg, has been using with Alaska churches.  The actual assessment instrument can be found at:

For PNW 140 churches have completed the assessment and this is one of the initial results.  This is from Kristina Gonzalez, associate director of connectional ministries.

Generally, we United Methodists engage well and effectively in charity work.  We provide food, clothing and shelter to those in need.  We care for the least in society through direct service or through donations.  We are a caring people.  What we do less well is to link our programs to our Christian faith in a way that invites – not mandates or manipulates, but invites - engagement of those receiving service through ministry into relationship with Jesus Christ through the United Methodist Church. 
We also seem less clear as to how to understand the changing communities in which our churches are located.  While we can cite the demographics around our churches, we generally do not know the needs, life stresses or hopes of the people outside of the walls of church.  We generally do not ask for advice as to the place of the United Methodist Church in serving people who do not worship with us currently.  In other words, generally, we do not engage our mission field effectively. 

I recently completed my visit of all of our Alaska churches and find a striking similarity to Kristina's comments about PNW.  We are an amazing church when it comes to caring ministries.  But I wonder if we would say the same thing as the PNW conclusion, that we are not very effective in linking our programs “in a way that invites engagement of those receiving service through ministry into relationship with Jesus Christ through the United Methodist Church.”  In other words we United Methodists need to have a conversation in our churches, our pulpits, our leadership meetings, our study classes about what it means to be a WITNESS for Jesus Christ.  

What is working in your church to make this vital connection between CARING and WITNESS?  Is it time for some holy boldness?  Is it time for the leaders of the Alaska Conference to step forward and help our church figure out how we can be witnesses to the resurrection story of Christ in ways that lead to discipleship and transformation?

My hope is to stir prayer and conversation in our conference on this vital subject.  What do you think?

Grace Always,

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

First, Anchorage and Jewel Lake Parish

2 and half week road trip!  That was a long one.  Five charge conferences in Southeast Alaska.  Completed Interim Minister training.  Weekend touring San Francisco with Kim.  Western Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee.  I even skipped another committee to come home early.

Last Sunday I experienced charge conference at First, Anchorage.  This is a church in transition.  Interim pastor  Ruth Ward led them in a history sharing time complete with large time line and photos.  Here is a clip of that sharing.

  At the end of the conference I invited them to share with me their hopes and dreams for their new pastor.

Sunday evening was spent at Jewel Lake Parish where Tom Holslag serves as Interim Pastor.  Dr. Curt Karns, executive presbyter of the Yukon Presbytery, led the annual meeting of this union church.  This video clip is of the people greeting their newest member.  Sophie is a newborn baby who had just entered this world the day before!

Grace and peace,

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ketchikan and Sitka

 After the constant rain in Juneau it was a wonderful surprise to see Ketchikan and Sitka bathed in winter sunlight.  Pastors Teri and Ev Erbele drove me around to see more of this island's beauty and history.  I felt badly that the church had to have their charge conference on a Saturday morning.  This church is forging a new identity from that of helping with the city's blueberry festival to that of the church providing a day shelter for people without homes.  They are also reaching out to the residents of a nearby tenement house.  Lots to celebrate at First UMC! 
This is a clip of our visit to the dock area.

Sitka is a short flight north from Ketchikan.  Rev. Oconer and family were permitted to visit their home in the Philippines at the last minute so I stayed in the empty parsonage.  Sitka was the last of the churches for me to be in worship.  I told the congregation that morning that if they could pretend just for the morning that I was their pastor that it would make me feel good.  So I got to preach about Jesus' baptism.  This church is a vital part of the community and is one of the few churches without a financial struggle.  The clip is of Julia Smith's (Conference UMW President) granddaughter, Zia, dancing during choir rehearsal.

I always enjoy my travels to southeast Alaska.  Did I mention to you all that all five of our southeast churches gave 100% of their apportionments in 2010?  They understand how important it is to keep our connection strong. 

The last three are Jewel Lake, First, Anchorage, and Turnagain.

Grace and peace,

Monday, January 10, 2011

Juneau Churches

My visit with the southeast UM churches was filled with learning about the many ministries of these vibrant churches.  This week I will feature the three Juneau churches and share about the southern most churches next Tuesday.

First up was Northern Light United Church with new pastor, Dr. Phil Campbell.  Phil and Teresa graciously hosted me for the three days in Juneau.  They don't have a charge conference but an annual meeting.  Rev. David Dobler, my counterpart from the Presbyterian Church was present.  Northern Light has a strong witness in downtown Juneau with advocacy on several social justice fronts.  They will receive their new youth director this month.  The video clip is of Phil giving part of his pastor's report.

Aldersgate UMC is out in the Mendenhall valley.  Led by Rev. Judy Shook this church has a story I have been telling across the conference.  After three families with leadership roles moved out of state they were hit hard financially.  They made the decision to pay their apportionments before the light bill!  Their faith was rewarded and they are a 100% church this year!  In fact all of the southeast churches are 100%!!  This photo is of their brand new sign.

Douglas UMC was next.  Rev. Cindy Roberts is their new pastor.  Cindy is bringing some new and fresh ideas for worship.  This church continues serving 50-70 school children in a high need area EVERY day of the school week!  This clip is of an opening song before the charge conference.  Notice the visual arts in the chancel.

Grace and peace,


Monday, January 3, 2011

Interpreting Congregational Feedback for Clergy

Let’s be honest.  Pastors are in the people business and at some level in our hearts we need and want to be liked and loved.  When it comes to receiving feedback from our congregations there is still a part of us that wants to hear, “Nice sermon, Pastor.”    

            While comments like these stroke pastors’ egos and they do have their place, pastors need feedback that will help them become better pastors.  So when it is time for the annual pastoral evaluation SPR Committee’s need to be focused on helping the congregation interpret comments such as “need better sermons” or “pastor needs to lead the church.”  SPR Committees need to ask questions such as “What do you mean?”  or “Tell me more.” 

            We need to move beyond whether or not people like the pastor.  Whether or not someone “likes” the pastor’s sermons or his/her mannerisms is not the issue.  The issue is whether or not the pastor is leading the church towards its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  When an individual church member gives feedback to SPRC during a pastoral evaluation it is also a time for the member to evaluate the effectiveness of his or her own discipleship.  In other words when feedback is solicited let’s remember that it is not just about the pastor, but about how we ALL are doing with the mission of the Church.  I have created a Clergy/Church Covenant located on our web site at which can assist congregations in evaluating not just the pastor, but the ministry of the entire church.

            This is a call for SPRC chairpersons to lead their committees to help their congregations discover ways to give feedback that will truly help their pastor become a better pastor.  Remember that pastors come with various depths of ego strength.  There are seasons that need to be noticed.  It will help to be aware of times when your pastor may be more open to receiving feedback.  You may not want to conduct a full evaluation during dark winter months or times of loss when your pastor is fragile and vulnerable.  Most in your church will not be able to notice such times.  This is to say that the pastor needs SPRC to be a safe, trusting, and confidential environment to hear constructive feedback.  The pastor also needs to be willing to ask for and receive such feedback.  Again, it is about the mission of the church that needs to be the primary focus.

            SPR Committees are the eyes and ears of the church.  They should be listening to the congregation throughout the year.  They should be interpreting the feedback with their pastor in ways that will truly improve ministry.  Not everything SPRC hears should be shared with the pastor.  Some feedback will need further exploration.  Some will require discerning the right time to share feedback with the pastor.  Identifying an SPRC member with whom the pastor feels a connection and safety is strongly suggested as a liason. 

SPRC’s role in interpreting feedback is a learned skill and an important part of creating a healthy church system.

Grace Always,