700 emerging NEJ leaders meet to ‘See Know Love’

Bishop Marcus Matthews offers a prayer during the NEJ Transformational Leadership Conference, “See Know Love.” Photo by Melissa Lauber.

Bishop Marcus Matthews offers a prayer during the NEJ Transformational Leadership Conference, “See Know Love.” Photo by Melissa Lauber.

*by Erik Alsgaard

More than 700 United Methodists from around the Northeastern Jurisdiction gathered in Hershey, Pa., Oct. 2-4, for a first-of-its-kind event focusing on transformational leadership. “See Know Love” sought to target the church’s youngest leaders, both clergy and laity, according to the Rev. Ann Pearson, retired Elder from the New York Conference and chairperson of the design team.

“We were trying to get us to the edginess that this generation is looking for,” she said. “The young practicum leaders here this weekend are able to do their incredible ministry because no one said ‘no’ to them along the way. They’re following their call and their ministry is extraordinary.”
Pearson said that these leaders modeled transformation that the whole church could benefit from, and she’s hoping the church will grow as a result.

Such a conference as “See Know Love” had never happened before in the NEJ, Pearson said. The Northeastern Jurisdiction is made up of nine annual conferences from Maine to West Virginia. In addition to the weekend event, on Thursday, Oct. 1, about 200 bishops, district superintendents and other Cabinet members came together from across the NEJ for a day of learning and conversation.

“This weekend did all that we had hoped to accomplish,” said Bishop Marcus Matthews of the Baltimore-Washington Conference. “We tried to provide an arena where leadership from this Jurisdiction could come together to learn and to study and to be transformed.”

The bishop, chair of the NEJ Vision Table, the group that sponsored “See Know Love,” said one continuous thread throughout the event was the reminder of the need to change. The current reality, Bishop Matthews said, is that the NEJ, because of a decline in membership, stands to lose one of its nine bishops.

“Unless we turn this ship around, we’ll continue” to be in decline, he said. “How can we, then, begin to have a conversation so that we can talk about how not to let that happen.”

The only way to stem the tide, the bishop said, is to work collectively. One of the big pieces of “See Know Love,” he said, was the chance for leaders to come together and learn from one another about what works, what doesn’t work, and how to lead effective transformation.

The Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber speaks at the NEJ Transformational Leadership Conference, “See Know Love,” on Oct. 3. Photo by Melissa Lauber.

The Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber speaks at the NEJ Transformational Leadership Conference, “See Know Love,” on Oct. 3. Photo by Melissa Lauber.

Leaders were challenged on Saturday, Oct. 3, by the Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber, a Lutheran pastor from Denver, Colo., who is perhaps most famous for her many tattoos and the use of profanity during her sermons and speeches.

One of the key elements of transformational leadership, she said, was to be vulnerable and authentic.
Open and honest about being a member of Alcoholics Anonymous for the past 22 years, about her battles with drug addiction and depression, Bolz Weber said that in many of those recovery groups who meet in the church basement during the week, “sometimes, people are speaking more honestly there and connecting to God more there, and developing a life of prayer and connecting to a community there than they are in our sanctuaries.”

Bolz Weber urged the church to increase its emphasis on witnessing to the faith.

“The Gospel is real,” she said. “Testimony has power when it’s based in the truths of our lives and how to Gospel relates to that.”

The Rev. Albert Mosley, president of Gammons Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Ga., offered theological reflections following each keynote presentation. He noted that transformational leaders have to be truth tellers.

“When you are authentic,” he said, “you can equip God’s people to speak truth about issues affecting the community and the world. When we are vulnerable and open to our people, we can start the art of truth-telling.”

Mosley also stressed the need for leaders to have a vision, not only for their ministry but for their life. Aspirations, he said, are not vision and transformational leaders need to be disturbed by God to have that vision.

“Transformational leaders encourage the congregation and themselves to reach out to the community,” Mosely said. “If you do that, what could happen?”

The Rev. Lindsay Flick, a member of the New England Conference, said she was going to find out.
“I’ve learned a lot about how to encourage the people that I minister to who aren’t necessarily in the same place I’m in,” she said. “Instead of wanting to just be about hanging out with each other, reaching out more and doing more work in the community and having that be because of love of God, not just because they want to be nice people.”

Fiona Haworth, former Director of Talent for Southwest Airlines, spoke about “vision” at the event, challenging leaders to always be curious.

“It’s not the vision itself that’s important,” she said, “but what the vision does.”

Also speaking at “See Know Love” were leaders of The Chapel, a United Methodist church in Brunswick, Ga., who offered insights into accountable discipleship making.

“In my 40-plus years of being a part of this Jurisdiction,” Bishop Matthews said, “this is the first (event) to my knowledge where we pull together bishops, district superintendents, treasurers, executive staff persons in to an arena where we have a conversation about how we can take this stuff as leaders and make it happen.”

As the various ministry groups meet beyond the event, the bishop said, it is the hope of the Vision Table that the experience of “See Know Love” continues to shape and grow the church. “The possibilities of what we can do together,” he said, “are unlimited.”

Erik Alsgaard, UMR Correspondent

Erik Alsgaard

UMR Correspondent The Rev. Erik Alsgaard is a member of the Detroit Conference, on loan to the Baltimore-Washington Conference, serving in the Ministry of Communications there as Editor of the UMConnection newspaper.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Paul W.
Paul W.

The only thing that will “turn this ship around”, to use the Bishop’s words, is a renewed emphasis on true Holiness of heart and actions through faith in Christ. We must shed this “pick-and-choose” brand of Christianity that the UMC has become, which allows and often promotes a watered-down swaggering mix of the profane and holy, winking at and even redefining sin as righteousness. It is long past time to return to true Wesleyan doctrine and to our God. Without true holiness, as defined in the Scriptures and enabled through the working of the Holy Spirit, no man will see… Read more »

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