Written by Emily Mullins
Coming to Cleveland from Iowa, Georgia and Colorado, the newest members of the United Church of Christ's Ministerial Excellence, Support & Authorization Ministry Team are finally at home at the UCC's national headquarters, and the newly-formed group just concluded its first event as a cohesive team.
The group (representing UCC Local Church Ministries) was invited to lead the Mid-Atlantic Region Church and Ministry Consultation Oct. 15-16 at the Lancaster (Pa.) Theological Seminary. The event lifted up the theme "Setting the Table: Preparation and Process for Committees on Ministry," and included educational sessions led by the MESA team, hands-on group work, networking and prayer for about 45 ministers.
"Day 1 was a good mix of listening and doing," said the Rev. Holly MillerShank, MESA team leader and the conference's main presenter. "Day 2 was putting a lot of the theory into action with case studies and group discussion."
The annual two-day event seeks to help ministers grow their ability to serve members in discernment, and is designed to offer important information and contact with people from all areas of the UCC. The conference included four educational sessions lead by the MESA team – MillerShank; the Rev. Kathy Clark, minister for members in discernment; the Rev. Elizabeth Dilley, minister for ministers in local churches; the Rev. Malcolm Himschoot, minster for ministerial transition; and the Rev. Stephen Boyd, minister for chaplains and specialized ministers – as well as a session led by Don Clark, special counsel to the UCC, and prayers and special announcements given by seminary staff.
The Lancaster Theological Seminary has been hosting this event for nearly 15 years, according to the Rev. Kathy Harvey Nelson, the seminary's director of continuing education.
One of the main concerns of the attendees was capacity building, said MillerShank, a topic addressed through some of the sessions and group discussions. Other sessions discussed basic training for committees on ministry, an introduction to MESA, ministerial transition, rural ministry, and case studies, among other topics.
Clark, Dilley and Himschoot joined the UCC's MESA team in September 2012. Along with MillerShank, Boyd, and group administrators Karen Koza, Kathleen Satler, and Darrell Ludwig, the Lancaster conference was the new group's first opportunity to really work together as a cohesive unit.
"It was inspiring, as we start our national work with MESA, to be in the room with people who work hard to steward the vocation of ministry for the church," said Himschoot. "We devoted time to the asking of good questions, to the practice of discernment itself. It goes in so many directions at once, but ultimately it is a gift God uses us to give each other. These Mid-Atlantic folks sure take to heart their sacred and ecclesial responsibilities."
"Everyone seems really happy and energized," MillerShank said of the event. "I'm happy with it."
The Ministerial Excellence, Support & Authorization Ministry Team (MESA), part of the Local Church Ministries Covenanted Ministry of the UCC, focuses specifically on supporting authorized UCC ministers. Meaning table in Spanish, the MESA team works to support the tables where authorized ministers serve – be that Christ's table where the Holy Meal is served, the tables in a local shelter where the needs of the community are served, or fellowship hall tables where Committees on Ministry gather to discern new authorized leadership for the UCC.