Executive minister nominees offer experience, vision to challenges ahead

Executive minister nominees offer experience, vision to challenges ahead

May 31, 2009
Written by Daniel Hazard

Synod Delegates set to consider candidates

The Rev. Stephen Sterner, executive minister of Local Church Ministries, and the Rev. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, have been re-nominated to serve additional four-year terms in their posts. General Synod delegates will vote on thier nominations in Grand Rapids.

UCNews spent 10 minutes with each executive to learn a bit more about them and their vision for the UCC. The following conversations are excerpted from the longer interviews.

[Editor's Note: The published transcripts found in the printed edition of United Church News do not reflect several copy changes - including spelling and punctuation corrections - that were relayed to our printer but not changed prior to press time. The transcripts below have been modified to reflect these corrections.]


A chat with Steve Sterner

How did you get into ministry?
There were several streams, I think, that came together that led me to go to seminary. And it was in seminary that I made a decision to seek ordination. I didn't necessarily go to seminary with that in mind.

What experiences led you to seek ordination?
The most formative was a trip to an East Harlem Protestant parish in about 1966, where we were tutoring in storefront academies for two-week periods.

It was an experience of church I had never had before and that got me interested in church … to think that church was engaged in this kind of thing. So I went to seminary to see what it was all about. And here I am.

You've served congregations in Detroit, eastern Pennsylvania, Atlanta and Phoenix, and as a new church pastor in Houston. What was it like planting a new church?
It was the best experience, especially in retrospect. At the time I was frightened that it wasn't going to make it. It always looked so fragile, but the friendships and relationships we formed and built there have endured over 25, 30 years and it was a wonderful experience.

How would you describe the current possibilities and challenges for the UCC?
The exciting parts are also the challenging parts. This is a time of real transition and change for religious communities at every setting. Certainly at the denominational level we're in the process of trying to rethink; what does it mean to be a denomination in all its so called post things: post-Christian, post-modern, post-denominational?

How is the concept of evangelism evolving in the UCC?
I think for a long time evangelism was just another way of saying getting new members. But we've moved away from a getting new members model. I think we are moving away from it, to a model of transforming individuals who'll transform the settings in which they live and proclaim and practice their faith.

What are your top priorities if elected to serve Local Church Ministries for another four year term?
Leadership, leadership, leadership; good pastoral leadership for local congregations. Bringing more and more people of different generations, younger generations into pastoral leadership, into the life of our congregations. Encouraging, nurturing our lay leaders, men, women, youth and young adults.

We have not been as successful at that in recent years as we need to be. So for local church ministries I see really two streams for us: Working on identifying mentoring, nurturing, training, educating and equipping leaders and increasing vitality of local congregations

What do you do when you're not working or travelling for the UCC?
I go to our home in South Carolina and spend time with my wife, usually working outside. I love to garden. We live on a lake but I don't have a boat, yet. I may have to resolve that problem some time soon and learn how to fish or something. The disciples that were fisherman were not very good at it, and so I can probably fit right into that…
Watch more of the Sterner video interview at http://www.ucc.org/news/sterner10-09.

A chat with Linda Jaramillo

How did you get involved in ministry, especially in justice work?
I volunteered at every church setting of the church: the local church, the conference, the region, and national church. I served on three national boards including the committee for racial justice, the coordinating center for woman and the executive counsel. And then I was a co-convener of COREM and served as counsel for Hispanic Ministries as national president for two terms.

Now the ministry that paid me was some work that I did, first of all, in adult education then went all the way to the foundation base, which was Head Start. And that's really where I recognized ministry.

What is the most exciting part of leading the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries?
I would have to say the most exciting parts are actually being out in the church. Being with local church members, in pulpits, conferences and annual meetings. Connecting with people who love doing advocacy on the ground. Their passion and their energy around it.

That's what brings me back home, where I came from. And really that's sort of where the circle is closed for me, or where the circle keeps going. I would have to say that is one of those places where I find a great deal of excitement and great deal of commitment.

What are some of the challenges facing JWM?
I would have to say that the challenges we face are the expectations of a larger church for how much we can do. I just read through all the General Synod resolutions that are proposed and three-quarters of them again, or maybe more, are recommended actions for JWM implementation.

That's a big challenge but I also think that we must be about collaboration and partnerships and doing the work that we do. And nothing we do should be outside of that partnership. So I think solidarity [is key], that partnerships strengthen these relationships.

If re-elected, what do you look forward to in the next four years?
To continue what we have initiated as our campaign for relationships with conferences...the launch of our "Leaders and Engaging Developing" curriculum … and having our professional staff look at how justice issues intersect with all the covenantal ministries.

JWM is the organization in the covenanted ministries that's responsible for naming those issues but it's a whole church issue.

What things do you enjoy doing outside the church?
I like movies, I like hanging out with friends and I love to read. And I don't read every book there is about justice. I read some novels that have absolutely no social justice reading value.

And I travel; I give myself one gift a year around my birthday and go somewhere warm.

Watch more of the Jaramillo video interview at http://www.ucc.org/news/jaramillo10-09

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