The 2020 Iowa Annual Conference’s Laity Session was held virtually through a Zoom Webinar on Sunday, August 2, 2020. Over two-hundred people participated in the gathering and there have been over 700 Facebook visits. The session included a message from Bishop Laurie Haller, a celebration of the graduates of the School for Lay Ministry and newly Certified Lay Ministers, a Mental Health panel with Q&A, a reading of Rev. Bill Cotton’s last essay, “8-minutes, 46 Seconds”, and a recording of Shawn Mullen’s rendition of the hymn “Sanctuary.”
Margaret Borgen, Conference Lay Leader, opened the session and led the day’s transitions. All other active members of the Board of Laity led segments of the Laity session*.
Watch the recording of the entire Laity Session – here
“One of the losses of not having an in-person Annual Conference is not being able to be with friends whom we may see only during those few days each year,” said Borgen. She continued by adding that one of the advantages of this year’s format is that there is more time to hear from Bishop Laurie. (Most years, the concurrent meeting of the Clergy Session limits her time.)
Scripture was presented dramatically by the Board of Laity Readers Theater (Dan Corrow, Duane Kruckenberg, Lorene Dykstra, Jennifer Sullivan) before Bishop Laurie’s presentation.
Introducing Bishop Laurie, Margaret said, “A musician before she was clergy, Mennonite before she was Methodist, from Pennsylvania and Michigan before she became an Iowan, Bishop Haller is a deeply spiritual person who brings that perspective to her entire life. You will hear that today as she talks about her experience trekking in Nepal”
Bishop Laurie’s message was based on her experience trekking high in the mountains of Nepal in 2018 with her daughter Talitha while on renewal leave. This trek inspired Bishop Laurie’s newest book Wandering into Grace
which explores “wandering” as a way of life. Through her examination of the experience of trekking, she came to a deeper understanding of grace and the importance of serving others out of love.
“From the beginning of my renewal leave, I had to learn how to empty myself. Let go of all expectations and live in a continued state of gratitude. I came to realize that other people will enrich my life if I surrender and allow them to become angels of grace for me,” said Bishop Laurie.
Bishop Laurie described all the setbacks and challenges she and Talitha ran into as they traveled to and began their trek. From obstacles such as flight problems, closed trails, rerouting, and finding a new trek they finally arrived at their destination, the Manaslu Circuit in North Central Nepal near the Tibetan border. The trek consisted of 12 days of hiking around the eighth highest mountain in the world, following the violently rushing of the Budhi Gandaki River and culminating in the crossing of the Larka Pass at over 17,000 feet.
“We learned that people around the world over have the same hopes and dreams—to live and serve one another well and take care of one another and our world. And finally, we learned that every day, God invites you and me to wander into grace,” said Bishop Laurie.
She asked God to “invite us all to be wanderers along life's journey” and concluded with prayer saying, “even though the way may be difficult with numerous obstacles on the journey…we wonder whether our eyes and our ears are open to the human need and our hearts are eager to share your love and you will use us as instruments of your peace, hope, and grace.”
The Laity Session continued with an explanation of the roles of the Board of Laity,
Gratitude Statements from Board members, a special thank you to Barb Mann who recently retired from the Iowa Conference for her 14 years of support, and a celebration of the recent School for Lay Ministry graduates and new Certified Lay Ministers.
The learning time at the Laity Session was a discussion with a Mental Health panel that included a time for Q&A. It was titled, Helping Ourselves and Others to be Mentally Healthy in a Time of Stress.
It consisted of four active United Methodists, who are grounded in faith and highly qualified professionally: Andrea Severson (who also served as moderator), Gladys Alvarez, Kim Wadding, and Tricia Williams. See their bio’s here
"As you know, culturally, we are faced with the reality of life in a pandemic. We're feeling grief and loneliness in the midst of the changes of these times. And for most, if not all of us, we're feeling the fatigue of having to make so many decisions and to live in a state of ongoing uncertainty," said Severson as she opened the panel for discussion.
First, the panel shared what they see as challenges and stressors in the midst of the state of the world right now. Gladys Alverez said one of the things that she has realized is the children are looking to their parents or supportive adults in their environment to help them figure out that this is okay. Parents must acknowledge that their children need reassurance. Kim Wadding mentioned that one of his greatest concerns is the isolation that is occurring because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial unrest.
There was much discussion about violence, triggers, advocacy, connecting, grief, boundaries, respect, self-care, support, and how individuals and churches can help navigate resources for those with mental health concerns.
“I think that I would just reiterate patience with yourself and patience with others. Because, as much as I wish I could go out there and change the world right now and get rid of COVID and get rid of racism. I can't. I can only control my own actions and myself. So have patience with yourself. Try, in your daily life, to just embody the change that you want to see in the world, yourself, in your own life, and your own relationships and doing that will do its part to make the world a better place,” Tricia Williams concluded.
After the Mental Health Panel, Chris St. Clair read Rev. Bill Cotton’s last written offering, an essay/letter titled, “8-minutes, 46 seconds
,” that he wrote reacting to George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. Leading into this segment, Borgen said “We want to introduce a subject that is important in our various secular worlds but that is even more important as we think of being an inclusive church, of building the Kingdom of God, of following Jesus. The reality of systemic racism in our culture is being recognized more broadly since the death of George Floyd. For many, his death has been a catalyst for personal introspection and confronting biases. Bishop Laurie has written about it and our conference is forming a task force to begin addressing the sin of racism.” She encouraged listening prayerfully to Chris’s reading of Rev. Cotton’s words.
Rev. Dr. Lanette Plambeck, the BOL’s cabinet liaison, followed the reading with a prayer saying, “Help us to know why working for racial justice to combat racism, prejudice or bigotry is part of the work of those baptized in your name. And challenge and change us if we find ourselves leaning away from this work. Help us to lean into you because part of your ‘Emmanuel - God with us’ story includes the historic truth that your racial-ethnic identity as a Jewish man in a Roman culture placed you in the minority and contributed to the violence of your arrest and your murder on the cross. So…Enlighten Us. Forgive Us. Heal Us. Guide Us. Restore Us. Redeem Us. Help us to examine our own hearts, O Lord. This we pray in the power and presence of Jesus - who grants all of us the privilege of knowing his story and saying his name. Amen."
Borgen closed the Laity Session with appreciation for the participants and a sending out: “Now, go out into the ministry where God has called you, with a heart for inclusion that is God’s will, with the sure knowledge that God will provide the strength to do what needs to be done, with confidence that God’s love will always surround you and that God’s strong hand will hold you tight. Go in Peace. Amen.
*Board of Laity participants were: Jeff Anderson, Karen and Scott Benton, Janice Bolger, Lynn Calvert, Dan Corrow, Marsha Gerot, Angela Hansen-Abbas, Marilyn Lancaster, Cal Nicklay, Colleen Petaros, Michael Petkewec, and Jacob Yochum.