Times of Transition: A word from our Senior Executive for Transition and Conference Culture, Rev. Amy Gearhart

February 15, 2019

Our 6-month Check-Up

One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”
Luke 8:22-25 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

I grew up spending most of my summers in northern Wisconsin, where four generations (and counting) of my maternal family enjoyed the beauty of the Northwoods, time on the lakes, family cookouts and s’mores around bonfires. With every trip on the lake – whether to fish, ski, picnic, or swim – we undoubtedly had an anchor and rope that was never long enough for the depth of the lake. You know what happens next, right?!? A swell of a large wake or a sneaky storm quickly moved that boat where we didn’t want it to be. Anchors are important!  Especially for those “deep” places of transition!

We are living in tremendous times of transition: in our lives, communities, churches, our conference, and in The United Methodist Church. In times of transition, we need to consider some of our anchors:

  • Remembering: Our transition comes from somewhere: a vision, dream, hope, aspiration. It comes from a calling from God. Re-rooting in that vision and calling gives us new energy for the complexity and challenges of transition.
  • Horizoning: In the bumps and bruises of transition, we need to keep our eye on the leveling horizon of purpose: the WHY? The waters are choppy, but the horizon of God’s guidance is steady and sure.
  • Provisioning: Spend time thinking about how God has provided God-sized resources and provisions for this God-sized dream and vision. Keep your eye on the future with a promise of God’s provisions in the wilderness.
  • Resting: Jesus teaches and lives a cadence and rhythm of rest in the midst of the transitions he embodies every day. How are you resting, reflecting, and renewing as you learn more about yourself, others and God through this time of transition?

On June 9, 2018 in Ogden, Utah, we voted to become one annual conference called Mountain Sky. This historic vote was the culmination of nearly two decades of collaboration between the leaders of the legacy Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain annual conferences. This work was organized into a process called “Mission Shaped Future” in which we envisioned and mapped what one annual conference would look like. We are past six months into the new vision called the Mountain Sky Conference. As in any large transition, it is important to focus at first on the WHY?, root in the purposes and dreams set forth in our guiding documents and decisions, and look for those levers of organizational change that can leverage “early wins” to lead into our mission to be a “re-energized peaceful and compassionate movement to claim the life-changing love of Jesus Christ for ALL people.”

Below is a recap of the transitional goals that have been accomplished in these past six months to start our organizational and cultural vision to be the Mountain Sky Conference. These are the results of laity, clergy and staff contributions from around our four-plus one state region.  In the coming months, you will also see a dashboard of indicators of transitional health and outcomes that are driven by benchmarks which your conference leaders have identified around three core purposes of the MSC:

  • Renewing and establishing vital congregations
  • Developing leaders who are gifted at empowering local churches and laity in the Church’s mission
  • Establishing new faith communities to meet the needs of our unique mission field

Transition Goals Accomplished:

  1. Hired seven new Congregational Resource Ministers (CRMs) for the Montana, Wyoming, Peaks/Pikes Peak, Mile High Metro and Trinity districts. We are continuing to develop and train our District Roundtable to resource and further our focus on local churches/circuits/districts
  2. Realigned staff functions, job descriptions and goals with the new Mission Shaped Future  staffing structure in order to be more flexible and nimble to deliver services to our churches and districts, and with no increase to the conference operating budget.
  3. Launched new roundtables for conference leadership: District Roundtable, Bishop’s Roundtable, and Mountain Sky Conference roundtable (An introduction to these roundtables and our conference staff structure will be included in the next conference newsletter).
  4. Relocated the former Billings, MT conference office to Great Falls, MT as the Montana District office and opened the Wyoming District office in Casper, WY.
  5. Prepared a Conference Culture Report with adaptive changes for missional/cultural alignment based on 100-plus hours of interviews with area-wide clergy and lay leaders
  6. Hosted the first Clergy Orders Event last October in Estes Park, CO with more than 200 clergy from both legacy conferences in attendance.
  7. Held LeadershipNow in Bozeman, MT last September for Mountain Sky conference leaders and staff/cabinet.
  8. Established regular internal Communications and Staff Support Services meetings to improve customer service to local churches and districts.
  9. Facilitated the uniting of former legacy conference committees, boards, groups in 2018 and planning for similar gatherings in 2019.
  10. Coordinated and trained district administrators to be the “first point of service” for local churches in given regions/districts.

Transition Goals Ongoing:

  1. Determining the measurable outcomes of living into our MSC mission ie. “What will we see as we live into our mission?” and “How will we know we’ve been living into our mission?”
  2. Continue communication and education about MSC structure, culture, staff and progress of transition through conference, district, circuit, and church communications.
  3. Claiming and communicating District Superintendents as missional strategists for entire states/regions
  4. Organizing and post-producing conference journal from the 2018 Joint Annual Conference.
  5. Exploring new staffing models for a decentralized system that delivers resources more directly to churches/districts.
  6. Safe Sanctuary/Professional Boundaries coordination throughout conference.
  7. Continuing the hiring, and onboarding of new staff into job functions, team identity, and missional identity.
  8. Development of new online Mountain Sky Conference Resource Bank for uploading and downloading best practice resources for 21st Century ministry in our region.

What are some other transitional learning you’re seeing throughout the MSC? What does our six-month check-up look like to you? I invite you to share with me at agearhart@mtnskyumc.org. May we stay anchored in Christ and our common mission, even as we find ourselves sailing on new seas.