Bishop Sally Dyck is passionate about reaching out with the love of Christ. I learned this first hand when she came as the guest preacher to a session of the Tennessee Annual Conference at the invitation of Bishop Dick Wills. Earlier that year she had been in the news for her participation at the “Hearts on Fire” Reconciling Ministries event at Lake Junaluska and there were rumors that folks were planning to walk out during her sermon in protest of some of her positions. But then, she began to preach, and not a single person moved from their seats and she challenged all of us to be a part of the “church of GO!” “Jesus wasn’t a fly fisherman,” she reminded all of us. “No, Jesus’s disciples are to cast their nets wide and bring as many as we can haul in to the household of Christ.”
Bishop Dyck, ordained in 1981, was consecrated a bishop in 2004 and assigned to lead the Minnesota Area of the Church beginning in September of that year. She was reassigned to the Northern Illinois Conference beginning September 1, 2012. Before entering the episcopacy, Bishop Dyck served as an elder in the East Ohio Conference, where she was a pastor and a district superintendent. She has served on the board of directors for the General Board of Global Ministries, was elected to the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches in 2006 and became president of the United Methodist Commission on Communications in 2008.
Bishop Dyck has been married to the Rev. Kenneth Ehrman, a United Methodist elder, since 1976. The two have traveled the globe together by plane, bicycle, and on foot.
Bishop Sally Dyck took some time to answer 10 Questions for Church Leaders:
What is your story of faith? How did you come to faith in Jesus and participation in the UMC?
I had the good fortunate to be born and raised in a Mennonite family and community. My upbringing was centered not only on the Christian faith but also on developing one’s own personal relationship with God as well as a strong justice ethic as well as a deep sense of mission. I read through the New Testament when I was a teenager. I went on my first mission trip which was also my first commercial airplane ride (by myself) when I was 14. I had many opportunities as a youth to express my faith to my community of faith and they accepted my (and my cohorts’) growing maturity of faith. I was given many opportunities to grow in my leadership skills as a youth. But while my home church instilled in me a strong sense of call to ministry, the Mennonite church was not open to the full participation of women in leadership (it is marginally so now). I joined the United Methodist Church after I started seminary at Boston University School of Theology and married my husband, Rev. Ken Ehrman, who was United Methodist.
By the way, baptism was probably the biggest hurdle for me but over the years I have become fully converted to the doctrine of grace, especially as it is lived out in baptism in the UMC. Connectionalism in the Mennonite church was based on relationships, like Judaism, mostly people were born into it. But I long for the UMC to have that sense of connectionalism through relationships rather than structure alone. As a Mennonite I had a strong sense of identity and community as a Christian and I have sought to instill a strong sense of identity and community in all my contexts of ministry.
What are some of the ways that you work at maintaining and deepening your relationship with God?
I live my life between 5 and 8 a.m. During that period of time, I read the Bible (I read through it every year and journal on a passage that I have read each day), pray, eat breakfast which is sometimes the only meal I have with my husband, run outside and work out at the fitness center. After that, I am ready to give my life away to others.
Who have been the greatest influences on your life and ministry? Why?
My Mennonite upbringing (as described above) was probably the greatest influence in making me who I am and shaping my faith. However, after seminary Ken and I were students at the Ecumenical Institute which is connected to the World Council of Churches and the University of Geneva outside Geneva, Switzerland. There we studied and lived in community with 60 other Christians from about 40 other countries. This experience shaped our sense of calling in ministry, beginning with the request for urban ministry when we returned. My experience in urban ministry literally changed my life.
What is the greatest challenge facing the United Methodist Church today and what is your vision for addressing that challenge?
Most United Methodists don’t know their own history and uniqueness. We have made our worldview that of our culture instead of making our worldview that of the gospel. We are shaped more by our culture than our identity as a baptized child of God. Therefore, we have lost our identity as Christians in the midst of our culture. United Methodism has a particular way of helping us be followers of Jesus with its emphasis on both personal and social holiness. If only we would claim that identity and history. It seems as if others recognize our uniqueness better than we do.
Where do you find hope for the future of the UMC?
I believe we are healthier now than we were as a denomination when I began ministry in a local church in 1979. Then we didn’t think about who we were, our identity and purpose. We were inclined to drift along with competing preferences as to what the church should do as opposed to discerning what God would have us do in our context for ministry. I believe our hope is in asking and wrestling with the questions of identity, purpose and what it means to be church, especially the United Methodist Church. But I also believe that we need to be aware that it’s not us against the rest of the churches.
What do you think John Wesley would think about today’s world, and what would he say to our current culture?
Sometimes I think John Wesley would be surprised how much we invoke his name and his Wesleyan way! I believe that he would want us to strengthen the witness of Christ and the church through our uniquely Wesleyan ways but work toward a stronger Christian/ecumenical witness at the same time. True ecumenism these days requires that we help strengthen the brand, if you will, of Christianity, not just Methodism, in culture, recognizing how all denominations have disappointed people looking for Christ and the church, and seek to truly be church in the spirit of Jesus.
Kenda Dean’s book “Almost Christian” has suggested that we’ve been guilty of promoting a vision of Christianity that has little to do with the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. How do we encourage and empower both our clergy and laity to engage in timely and relevant theological conversation?
While I fully support the Four Areas of Focus, I believe that we miss the boat if we don’t strengthen and equip the family as the center of spiritual formation. Also, too often within the United Methodist Church, we certify, license, ordain, and recognize clergy (which is important) but we have neglected the importance of the ministry of all Christians (couldn’t John Wesley have used the phrase, “priesthood of all believers,” just once?). We need to pay more attention to how we equip and empower laity to be Christians in their everyday world, work and lives.
What are you passionate about–both in your ministry and personal life?
My passion in ministry is to empower and equip congregations to change their communities to reflect the values of Jesus. In my personal life, I am passionate about being in nature, the relationship between our faith and science, and living/promoting a more ecologically sustainable life and culture.
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
It seems that some people are surprised how much I like Jesus!
What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Moose Tracks; maybe my Minnesota years inspired that!