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Greater NW Area Lay Leaders gather to discuss common challenges, opportunities

By Patrick Scriven

Over the weekend, local church, district, and conference lay leaders from the three conferences of the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church gathered at Des Moines United Methodist Church, 30 minutes south of Seattle. 

The 24-hour Lay Leader’s Retreat was initiated by the Conference Lay Leaders with the intent of bringing voices together from across the area to identify common challenges and opportunities to learn and work with one another. The event took place just a week after the Alaska Conference took steps toward becoming a mission district of the Pacific Northwest Conference (PNW).

An open forum encouraging questions and making room for common concerns was led by Directors of Connectional Ministries (DCM) Laurie Day and Rev. David Valera. Two sessions with the DCMs also served as an opportunity for lay leaders to know how to utilize them as resources for mission.

PNW DCM Valera shared that the task of a director of connectional ministry is one of alignment, adding that they strive to be advocates for the work of the laity. Day, a layperson herself, described the role as including “a lot of networking,” as they work to keep people connected to the many ministries across the conferences, area, and global church. Valera described it as one of “telephone operator” facilitating conversations between separate groups which have similar visions and conversations. 

Directors of Connectional Ministries Rev. David Valera (PNW) and Laurie Day (OR-ID) field questions from the lay leaders.

Participants also received a preview of the Greater Northwest Area’s Shared Annual Conference Session being held June 11-14, 2020 in Puyallup, Wash. The DCMs fielded a number of questions about the session while also providing insights into the legislative process and goals. The session will happen a few weeks after the 2020 General Conference takes place in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Developing healthy working relationships with pastors was an undercurrent in several table and group conversations throughout the gathering. Day encouraged the laity saying, “don’t wait for the clergy, they are not the keepers of the church.” Several participants acknowledged that the consumer-model of lay participation, where laity receive a product the clergy deliver, was a self-imposed barrier to lay empowerment.

Multi-generational engagement in lay leadership was a theme that arose on several occasions as well. “How do we help our young people feel that they are called to action,” provoked Teri Tobey who works in the PNW Conference as Program Associate for Ministries with Young People. Laity discussed the importance of training people of all ages so they can be successful, in addition to inviting them into meaningful leadership work.

Lydia Henry spoke on Saturday morning to some of the challenges of the lay speaking/servant program, unearthing a desire for more training and some areas that need development. Along with Emilie Kroen, they shared efforts underway in the Oregon-Idaho Conference to try to envision how to provide coursework and a framework to make lay education more interesting, inspiring, and accessible. 

Lydia Henry sharing conversations underway in the Oregon-Idaho Conference on lay leadership development opportunities.

PNW Lay Leader Nancy Tam Davis and SeaTac District Lay Leader Andy O’Donnell led a session on strengthening relationships between district lay leaders and district superintendents. Davis noted how impressed she was with the collaborative presence O’Donnell had with SeaTac District Superintendent Derek Nakano during district events. Good, bi-directional partnerships were named as a strong gift when present. The need for a shared vision and good communication at each level of the church was essential to missional alignment.

The event concluded with group work at tables facilitated by Davis strategizing on priorities for next steps. During the conversation, PNW United Methodist Women President Ja net’ Crouse offered the anecdote, “we develop leaders, we train dogs” capturing the hunger for meaningful, smart resourcing that laity in the room named as necessary for a vital church moving forward.

Networking, leadership development, and building a culture of gratitude were identified with participants when asked to consider what they would personally consider organizing around. Davis closed the day with words of gratitude and encouragement of Sabbath for all those who attended. She lifted up in thanks Angelina Goldwell, the PNW Associate Conference Lay Leader for her work in providing some of the logistical support that made the event possible.

Patrick Scriven is a husband who married well, a father of three amazing girls, and a seminary educated layperson working professionally in the church. Scriven serves the Pacific Northwest Conference as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries.

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