Ministry reports for the January 4th Epiphany Address

Ministry reports for the January 4th Epiphany Address

December 28, 2020

All clergy and laypersons in the Iowa Conference are invited to Bishop Laurie’s Epiphany Address: Watching Over One Another in Love, Livestreamed on Monday evening, January 4, 2021, from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. The address will be recorded for future viewing.
The address is based upon the Gospel Lesson for the Epiphany of Jesus Christ, Matthew 2:1-12. She intends to offer both a word of hope for the New Year and share reports on the formation of Circuit Ministry, church finances, a process for reimagining the Conference Connectional Ministries Council, UM Camping and Retreat Ministries and ways of caring for our clergy. 
Following her address, there will be a time for questions and answers. Please read the reports below and email questions and comments to [email protected]. If all questions cannot be addressed during the Livestream, a team will gather the emails, and a follow-up news report will be available by January 15 with a list of questions and answers.

Circuit Ministry Report

This report comes from Rev. Bill Poland, Director of New Faith Communities, and Rev. Dr. Jaye Johnson, Director of Congregational Excellence. Both are members of the Circuit Ministry Transition Team.

The Iowa Annual Conference’s newest set of Lay and Clergy Circuit Leaders began their first round of training on September 26, 2020. And currently, all nine of the newly formed circuits have started meeting together. The Appointive Cabinet formed the Circuit Transition Team to facilitate the formation and implementation of Circuit Ministry in the Iowa Annual Conference. The team members are Jaye Johnson, Director of Congregational Excellence; Ryan Christenson, Associate Director of Congregational Excellence; Lanette Plambeck, Director of Clergy and Leadership Excellence; Bill Poland, Director of New Communities of Faith; and Paul Wilcox, Conference Superintendent.
The Circuit Transition Team and District Superintendents meet monthly with the Lay and Clergy Circuit Leaders to prepare for the circuit meetings and discern what works well. For success, adjustments will happen frequently. Helpful feedback from the first Circuit Leaders implemented changes and adjustments. 
Among those adjustments is a move from a single-day training followed by the launch of circuits to having monthly district training with potential Lay and Clergy Circuit Leaders, Superintendent, and a coach from the Circuit Transition Team. Then, after a period of training and relationship building, the Circuit Leaders will be identified by their Superintendent and appointed to respective circuits with the Superintendent and the Transition Team coach’s support. These meetings will begin in February 2021. If you feel called and gifted to co-lead a circuit, you are encouraged to consult your Superintendent or a Circuit Transition Team member.
Circuits’ formation is for support and mutual accountability to the missional priorities identified in each pastoral charge. These three to five priorities are identified by the Staff Parish Relations Committee in consultation with the Superintendent and local church leadership. These are the identified priorities that must be accomplished if the local faith community is to achieve its mission to “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.”
Within the Circuits, Pastoral Leaders will be equipped to develop strategies with their congregations to prioritize and form adaptive strategies for implementation in Ministry Action Plans (MAPs). To implement these strategies, each ministry will be encouraged to develop ministry teams of laity working with the pastor to grow in our discipleship and become better leaders for the cause of Christ. 
The pastoral leaders, facilitated by Lay and Clergy Circuit Leaders, will meet for approximately eight hours each month in the process of loving God and each other, learning to become better disciples and more effective leaders, and leading adaptively in today’s rapidly changing context. Fundamental essentials to this process are prayer and worship, spiritual accountability, a shared covenant, reflecting, adjusting, and doing our Ministry Action Plans. While maintaining these critical essentials to the process, circuits will be free to adapt their meetings to their needs and context. 
In addition to support, mutual accountability (spiritually, relationally, vocationally and to the mission of the church), and intentional leadership development; the hope is that, in the sharing of Ministry Action Plans, members of the circuit will discern the Spirit’s leading into collaborative ministry with those outside our churches. Just as Iowa United Methodist churches and faith communities are the primary places of discipleship development, the hope is circuits will become the primary places of connection. Working there, the circuit will develop shared ministry and resources for the Iowa Annual Conference’s mission.
This transition to the way Iowa United Methodists are in relationship and mission is developing at one of the most challenging times and circumstances. It will take nothing less than the Spirit of God to empower and lead us through it.

Members of the IAUMC Circuit Ministry Transition Team:

  • Rev. Bill Poland, Director of New Communities of Faith,
  • Rev. Dr. Jaye Johnson, Director of Congregational Excellence,
  • Rev. Dr. Lanette Plambeck, Director of Clergy and Leadership Excellence,
  • Rev. Paul Wilcox, Transitional Superintendent
  • Rev. Ryan Christenson, Associate for Congregational Excellence.  
If you have questions or comments, please email them to [email protected]

Financial Report

This report comes from Maggie Biggs, Treasurer and Director of Administrative Services and the Conference Council on Finance and Administration.

The financial health of the Iowa Annual Conference is reflected in the financial health of our local congregations and their members. We are very much aware that we are all in this together. Significant highlights of 2020 include:
  • On April 15, the Council on Finance and Administration activated the spending contingency plan. This plan prioritizes our expenditures when the Working Capital Reserve drops below 90 days of cash flow based on our daily operating expenses. 
  • In May, the Conference received a $1.2 million Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) Loan to fund qualifying operating expenses for the Conference, Justice for Our Neighbors, and Women at the Well. The forgiveness application has been submitted. If this loan is forgiven, it will offset some of the shortfalls in 2020 Apportionment giving.  
  • By the end of November:
    • We received 55% ($7.2 million) of the 2020 $13.1 million budgeted Apportionment giving. Based on prior years, our projection is that we will receive $8.9 million or 68% by year’s end.
    • Through designated Apportionment giving from 200 local churches, we received $1.6 million for General Church Apportionments. An additional 90 churches were on track to pay 100% of GC Apportionments. We are thankful for this support. To pay 100% of GC Apportionments, we would have needed to receive another $1.2 million from the remaining 447 churches. Results will be known after the January 8 remittance deadline. 
Our Reserve is currently $2 million. How much of the Reserve will remain at year end is dependent upon:
  1. If the PPP loan is forgiven. 
  2. Savings gained by improving efficiencies, effectiveness, and reduction of staff positions.  
  3. Savings gained by holding the 2020 Iowa Annual Conference Session and the regular meetings of boards, agencies, and committees virtually. 
  4. Apportionment giving received by the deadline of January 8, 2021.
At the Annual Conference Session held last July, the Council of Finance and Administration (CF&A) presented, and the Conference adopted the 2021 Conference Budget. This reduced 2021 Apportionments by 25%, giving financial relief for congregations. 
The 2021 Budget is a result of:
  • Three years of intentional realignment of Conference Staff (including year-round camp staff), thus reducing the number of full-time equivalent staff positions by 40% by the end of 2021.
  • Implementing cost savings and efficiency measures.
  • Transitioning from district office spaces to virtual offices and reduction of districts to 5 and the number of Superintendents to 5.
  • Removing the “safety net” of a budgeted allowance for unpaid Apportionment giving. It will be more important than ever that churches contribute toward the connection in 2021.  
More details will be presented at the Conversations on Local Church and Conference Finances on January 23 and 30. These conversations are for all local church pastors and lay members of local churches, especially for lay members who are key leaders in their churches. 

These conversations will be held at four different times on two Saturday mornings. Please choose the date and time that works best for you:

If you have questions or comments, please email them to [email protected]

Conference Connectional Ministries Council Report

This report comes from Jeff Branstetter and Ian Montgomery from our Bishop’s Operational Team and Duane Daby, chair of our Connectional Ministries Team.

A task team, led by laypersons Jeff Branstetter of the Harlan UMC and assisted by Ian Montgomery of the Cedar Rapids St. Paul’s UMC, and made up of clergy, laity, and Conference staff, has been meeting over the last few months for the purpose of reimaging the Conference Connectional Ministries Council (CCMC). The task team has gained feedback from over 25 CCMC representatives.
This feedback indicates that CCMC needs to be more flexible, adaptive, and relevant to local church needs in today’s context and be aligned with the emerging Circuit Ministry. With CCMC funding significantly reduced due to lower Apportionment giving, some prioritization is needed in order to be “difference makers” around important Conference missions and ministries. 
CCMC can no longer function primarily as a “granting” agency. A reimagined CCMC needs to be able to inspire, equip, and connect local communities to live into the ministries to which God has called them. The following are emerging themes: 
  • Our Conference Camping program provides critical discipleship formation for youth and is worthy of continued investment.
  • Changing demographics in Iowa are creating a strong need for diversity and inclusion of immigrant and ethnic populations while concurrently helping local churches understand different cultures and becoming an antiracist Conference. 
  • The consolidation of similar ministry areas will simplify communications and align diminishing financial and human resources.
  • We need to bring clarity to the ways that CCMC boards, agencies, and committees might walk alongside and resource local churches and circuits.
As for next steps, the task team has begun to assemble and draft criteria for assessing if, how, and where each existing CCMC ministry fits into a reimagined CCMC, such as:
  1. Is there a reasonable, objective, and positive prognosis that the ministry will contribute to the Vision of the Iowa Conference for the foreseeable future?
  2. Is the ministry nimble in its execution? Is the ministry able to move quickly and effectively with changing circumstances and not be bogged down by slow, unresponsive, or unproductive behaviors? This implies that a ministry’s structure is simple and adaptable.
  3. Does the ministry area duplicate another CCMC ministry? Are funding resources available outside of the Iowa Conference? If so, consider consolidation and partnerships where appropriate.  
  4. And, finally, where does the ministry area best fit within the future Iowa Conference structure? Does it reside at the Conference level or within one or more of the new circuits, or with a specific church? This might address start-up or ongoing funding sources. 
The Task Team will continue to work with the CCMC representatives to finalize a new structure, which will be presented to the Bishop’s Operational Team no later than April 1, 2021. 

If you have questions or comments, please email them to [email protected]

Camping Program Report

This report comes from Bryan Johnson, Director of Camping and Christian Formation.

Camping Programs at Okoboji and Wesley Woods United Methodist Camps share the love of Christ as the focus of our ministry by engaging youth, congregations, and individuals. The camps are committed to being places where all are welcome to make new friends, learn about Jesus Christ, and grow in faith.
As apportionment subsidies continue to change across the Iowa Annual Conference, the Board of Camps has embraced the challenge of identifying new partnerships and funding mechanisms. Our camping ministry has tackled fiscal challenges head on rather than simply fold as apportionments change. In February of 2020, the Board of Camps launched its first Annual Campaign. The campaign was supported by over one hundred volunteers and raised $170,000 in gifts and pledges. These funds will be used to ensure that our camps continue to be a place for youth to grow in Christ. The success of the Annual Campaign, along with strategic long-term decisions, means that our camping ministry has decreased its apportionment request by 50% in just five years.
This upcoming February, nearly 125 staff and volunteers have agreed to participate in our second Annual Campaign on behalf of Okoboji and Wesley Woods United Methodist Camps. As one of the primary youth disciple-making programs in the state, youth camping ministry is a critical part of our church’s future by serving over 2,000 young people each summer. In addition to the Annual Campaign, small teams of committed volunteers are currently contacting local churches across the state, seeking monetary support. These initiatives are proving to be successful and have created an even greater sense of connection between the local church and camps.
Finally, campers are registering, and camp staff are preparing for Summer 2021 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. With the hope of continued distribution of the vaccine, the leadership of our camping programs is committed to providing a safe environment onsite this upcoming summer for campers and guests. The Board of Camps is also committed to continue to enroll any young person regardless of financial status.
Thank you to all who continue to invest in the youth of The United Methodist Church. As Christ says to his disciples in Matthew 19:14, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”. 

If you have questions or comments, please email them to [email protected]

Caring for Our Clergy Report

This report comes from Lanette Plambeck, Director of Clergy and Leadership Excellence, and Joni Mardesen, Director of Human Resources and Benefits Officer.

The life of a clergyperson carries with it a number of unique challenges and anxieties. The burden does not just fall on them, but also members of their family who support their ministry. We recognize that the leadership challenges and pressures have been even more complex since the Pandemic began. 
Care for our clergy and their families comes in many forms and from several different sources.  There are resources to address physical, mental, and family health concerns. Other resources provide practical information and guidelines around specific areas of concern in their life, for example: financial health, time management, and vocational discernment. Some of these resources include:
  • Access to a variety of confidential counseling, coaching, and support resources through our employee assistance program provided by Employee & Family Resources
  • Wespath resources to support our clergy in their financial and overall wellbeing
  • Care through the Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM) Orders/Fellowship, care team and mentoring supports
  • Connection to Ministry Coaches, Spiritual Directors, or Continuing Education including on-line retreats and events from across the conference and the
  • Referrals to the Des Moines Pastoral Care and Counseling Center, and other forms of coaching and mentoring.
There are also a number of recently developed care resources available to both clergy and laity:
  • Reflective Supervision - out of partnership with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry - this is a unique hybrid of spiritual direction, ministry coaching and pastoral care.
  •  “Abiding in Exile” and other supports and resources coming out of the Conference Mental Health Task Force - this is a weekly e-letter for clergy and laity both; and,
  • “Redeeming Babel”, which is in partnership with Duke Divinity School and is available to clergy and laity both. This 7-week study on anxiety is an opportunity for spiritual growth.
  • National Alliance of Mental Illness and fantastic lunch-time webinar through the NAMI Iowa connection.
Whether you are experiencing challenges in your ministry, in your call, or within your family, we hope that you will reach out through the many support systems and resources available to our clergy and their families.

If you have questions or comments, please email them to [email protected]

Ezekiel Team

The Ezekiel Team has a three-fold purpose:  
  1. To get through the pandemic together. 
  2. To move toward General Conference together.
  3. To respond to General Conference together. 
Rev. Ron Carlson will be the convener of the Ezekiel Team, and team members will commit to meeting virtually once a week for an hour, beginning in January and lasting until July. They will also be making regular reports to the Conference, which will be published in the Weekly 360. The group includes laity and clergy representing different theological viewpoints.

If you have questions or comments, please email them to [email protected]