Retired Iowa Conference clergy and spouses came to New Hope United Methodist Church for their fall gathering on October 31. The more than 70 worshipped, heard from Bishop Laurie Haller, received a pension update, and, of course, caught up over morning coffee and the mid-day lunch.
Rev. Bill Poland, the current assistant to the bishop for administration, welcomed the group and, along with his spouse, Judy, on the keyboard, led the opening worship. In the shadow of All Saints Day Poland recalled Moses’ leading of the Israelites and how he had been commissioned by God to raise up a new generation of leaders. Poland celebrated the decades of service of the clergy at the gathering and how that represents the same service to communities of faith.
He recalled a late night visit during his early years in ministry and how it shaped who he is and his ministry. Thomas James O’Malley is a leprechaun. He told Bill, after a late night knock on the door, “God sent me to you.” O’Malley was looking for the area shelter. Through a series of interesting turns and twists, “he touched my life, and Judy’s life, in a way that we will never forget,” Poland remembers. “God uses us to touch the lives of others in ways that we know and ways that we don’t. The best thing that we can do is to travel life with our eyes open and our minds aware of what God will lead us to do and for whom God will send to us.”
Click to watch the video of Bishop Laurie's conversation with the retirees and spouses
See images from the day.“That’s what I believe All Saints is about,” Poland noted, “recognizing that God’s spirit is alive and at work in the world and all of those around us. God leads us into a future, inviting us to cherish the past and celebrate the present.”
Bishop Laurie Haller, just recently returned from a trip to South Korea in a group of seven North Central Jurisdiction bishops and some superintendents, expressed her appreciation to the clergy and spouses for their service. Her newly-retired husband, Rev. Gary Haller, affirmed his presence among the retirees. “I’m here under legitimate circumstances...I am now retired. It’s good to be here. I’m looking forward to getting to know you.”
Bishop Laurie spoke about the Conference mission, vision, and wildly important goal and the refreshed website that highlights them...on the homepage there are sections for the vision, with the keywords - "faith, fruit, and fire," the mission - highlighted by "inspire, equip, and connect", and the important goal, identified as "discipleship pathways."
Connected with that will be a key staff change - Rev. Bill Poland will become the Director of New Faith Communities on January 1. “His passion is for new faith communities and new churches,” Bishop Laurie said. Poland began a new church, something that runs in the family as his son, Rev. Jeremy Poland is the founding pastor of Thrive. “One of the most important things that we can do in the Iowa Conference is to focus our energies on new faith communities.”
“We’re taking some time to look at our whole staffing structure,” Bishop Laurie reported. “We’re also looking at a possible position focusing on congregational and clergy excellence. While we haven’t made any final decisions, we’re trying to make sure that our staffing will support where we hope to go.” She also noted, “we’re also looking at the totality of our budget, a declining budget. We understand that there are different reasons why churches may not be paying their apportionments. We want to be responsible, as a conference, in how we use the money that is apportioned. It is a challenging time for all of us. The good news is that we have the very best clergy and lay leaders in our Conference.“
Bishop Laurie also spoke about the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. The Commission’s vision is to “design a way for being church that maximizes the presence of the United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible that allows for as much contextual differentiation as possible and that balances an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality with a desire for as much unity as possible.”
Citing a statement from tri-moderator, Bishop Ken Carter, she observed that there are three groups within the church...one focused on covenant, another on justice, and a third on unity. “Where the three intersect is the place where we can live together,” Bishop Laurie said, “that’s the place where we can be God’s people and continually ask if there’s a way to enlarge that central circle.”
“My stated desire is for us to find a way to be able to live together in the midst of our differences. My prayer is that they will continue to seek God’s will, that we, as United Methodists, will continue to talk with and dialogue with people who are not like us, people who don’t agree with us, and seek to understand one another.” Bishop Laurie stated it plainly, “This is hard...we all may not be in the same place but we are all disciples of Jesus Christ and transform the world so that it looks like God’s reign, here on earth.”
Of course, the annual fall gathering of retired clergy and spouses is always hallmarked by memorable entertainment and this year was no exception. Tom Milligan presented his one-man show about the life of Ding Darling. As Humanities Iowa describes the 45-minute experience, “Jay N. “Ding” Darling visits with the audience, as an old friend, in his 11th office at The Des Moines Register. Beginning with his early years in Sioux City where as a young boy where he became aware of the natural world around him as well as his developing skills as an editorial cartoonist, he recalls his remarkable life journey. His story continues to include two Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoons for The Register and a remarkable career as a nationally known conservationist.” Milligan, an actor, director, producer, and scenic director has been involved with many venues in the Des Moines as well as the Amana Colonies where he now resides.
Joni Mardesen, director of Human Resources, and Mark Ciesla Josie Martinez from Wespath (formerly the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits) updated the Retirees on pension matters.
Great thanks to Rev Jon Gaul and the community of New Hope United Methodist Church for their hospitality and to Diane Brockmeyer, Sara Carlson, and their volunteer team for the warm hospitality of the day.