Pandemic curtails face-to-face meetings, but Conference work continues nonetheless
By Dick Barrett
While these have been difficult times to be able to gather in person because of the coronavirus pandemic, through the use of technology we have been able to gather virtually to continue Ohio Conference work. Regional Pastors Tony Doehrmann and Ralph Reinford have continued to meet with pastors, pastor peer groups, and search committees via the GoToMeeting video platform.
Coordinator of Volunteers Alysa Short and Administrative Assistant Judy King are working on plans for our 2021 Missional Conference and Annual Conference Assembly, which will be held virtually March 4-6. Conference Editor Ann Leaman continues to update our website and send resources out via the Internet.
The Credentialing Ministry Team is making plans for Healthy Boundaries training sessions for our pastors and other credentialed ministers to be held virtually in October and November. The Immigration Resource Team has continued to meet, and the Ministry Development Team just approved four grants to local congregations/ministries with a focus on racial justice.
Two other areas in which Conference continues to work are visioning and leadership development. The Leadership Team and the Conference’s pastoral staff members have met with Howard and Cathy Wagler, leadership coaches from South Hutchinson, Kansas. The Waglers are helping us examine our current identity and mission statements and discern God’s vision for Ohio Conference in the upcoming years.
We have come to realize that our current mission and purpose statements are now 15 years old. While they did speak to who Ohio Conference was back then, do they fit with who we are today? It seems that God has led us to a different place, especially with our Gathered and Sent and Missional Discipleship Group initiatives of recent years. We also believe that God is calling us to develop a more concise, simpler, and biblical mission statement that points to the reality that Ohio Conference exists for our congregations. During August and September we are testing these ideas and asking for feedback from our pastors at the four regional pastor meetings.
Another area in which we are working is leadership development. The reality facing all the conferences of Mennonite Church USA and many other denominations is a shortage of pastoral candidates. There are many and varied reasons for this shortage, but it has become obvious that we need to return to identifying, calling, training and educating both men and women from our own congregations. There was a time when this method was the primary way that pastoral leaders were raised up, whether it was to serve in the church they were called from or somewhere else.
For several months now, a Leadership Development Resource Team has been meeting to work on both short-term and long-term goals for developing leaders from within our churches. Team members include Joel Shenk, Toledo Mennonite Church; Rebecca Kauffman, Bethel Mennonite Church; Regional Pastor Tony Doehrmann; Danae King, Orrville Mennonite Church; Conference Minister Dick Barrett; Miriam Zehr, Oak Grove Mennonite Church (Smithville); and Shawn Hilliard, Martins Mennonite Church.
The team has been able to develop a list of educational institutions and ministry training programs that might meet the different needs of those who are at different stages of their ministry development journeys. The team will be posting those lists on Ohio Conference’s website and making them available in other formats.
Finally, while this pandemic has slowed us down in our church planting initiative, we are continuing to explore ways to plant new churches and missional communities throughout Ohio and the surrounding states. Mennonite Mission Network is starting a new eight-month SENT Network Church Planting cohort beginning Sept. 21. If you or someone you know has an interest in participating, contact Conference Minister Dick Barrett or Regional Pastor Ralph Reinford and/or check out the SENT Network on Mennonite Mission Network’s website: http://bit.ly/SENTNetwork.