Bridget Nelson, Coordinator of Youth Ministry, shares plans and goals for months to come.
Senior Editor-Writer, Michigan Area
For years in the State of Michigan, United Methodists have spoken of an “imaginary line” that runs down the middle of the mitten, separating the West Michigan and Detroit conferences. Actions by those bodies have now erased that line altogether as preparations continue toward the birth of The Michigan Conference on January 1, 2019.
And staff are already being hired and deployed on a state-wide basis, the most recent of whom is Bridget Nelson. On June 28 the Design Team and Leadership Team in consultation with the Personnel Committee announced that Bridget’s position as Coordinator of Youth Ministries would expand to serve the entire Area. She had been in a similar role for the Detroit Conference for the past three years.
Rev. Dr. Jerome DeVine, Detroit’s Director of Connectional Ministries (DCM) said, “There has been what I deem to be a movement of the Holy Spirit across the Michigan Area these past several years. I see it in the way in which ministry collaboration has been growing organically, no longer bound by self-imposed boundary lines.” This has meant a new approach to ministry toward connecting and equipping leaders. Jerry continued, “When Bridget was hired in 2014, our intentional focus shifted to equipping dedicated leaders in our congregations who had a passion and a calling to work with youth in their local churches and communities.” A network began to build, of youth seeking to deepen their faith and of adults walking beside them.
“People in local churches in the West Michigan Conference began hearing of the opportunities and started contacting Bridget to see if they could become part of this ministry movement,” Jerry continued. A desire to strengthen and expand ministry with youth emerged from Listening Sessions, Design Team deliberations, and Personnel Committee conversations. DeVine concludes, “Our decision to expand Bridget’s role to all of Michigan is in response to the needs that have been voiced. This is not so much a new hire as it is a refinement based on God’s guidance at this time.”
Bridget began in the expanded role on July 1 and she says she is excited to meet people on the other side of the state and to find out what’s happening in youth ministry in West Michigan. “I want to learn who the leaders are and which churches can use some support,” she said. Her goal is to make some of the programs in the Detroit Conference—monthly communications, youth worker network, THRIVE Academy—statewide. She plans to call every church in the journal to find out who is doing youth ministry and how she might meet them. “Our clergy go to meetings and know each other. Our youth workers are more isolated in their own building,” Bridget noted. “They need to know someone else is out there with similar goals.”
Her role as Coordinator of Youth Ministry will lodge in the new area of Congregational Vibrancy. “That’s a great signal,” she pointed out, “that our goal is to help resource, develop and encourage effective youth ministry in the local church rather than operate a state-wide youth group.” At the same time, Bridget intends to encourage collaboration among congregations. “Groups can often do more together. You might not want a fall retreat for your four kids but you can go with four other churches and help everyone participate in a wider connection.” She sees herself as a “clearing house for information.” She alerts people to stay tuned for a new Michigan Youth website.
In addition to relationship-building, there are programs on the horizon. A state-wide event is coming up in November 2017 to be held in Mt. Pleasant. There will be a state-wide promotion of Youth 2019 to be held in Kansas City, MO. She hopes to send bus-loads of Michigan folks to join thousands of other United Methodists from around the globe. Bridget also envisions more events that are easy to plug into, especially for small member churches. “I want to explore what it means to be part of the Congregational Vibrancy department,” Bridget said. “This includes helping churches feel empowered to reach youth in their communities.”
“I think there are young people out there interested in The United Methodist Church,” Bridget concluded. “And the more we can help congregations reach them, the better we will be as a Conference.”
Rev. Benton Heisler, West Michigan’s DCM, addressed the context in which Bridget Nelson has been hired. “The nature of ministry with youth has changed significantly the past 30 years and even more rapidly in the past ten years with the explosion of social media options and portable communications,” Heisler noted. He observed that local churches need assistance in navigating these change. Heisler also reported that the Conference Leadership Teams and Design Team have acted to provide intentional leadership for ministry with youth and young adults.
“The positive impact Bridget Nelson has had on the coordination and collaboration of youth ministry in the Detroit Conference has been a source of inspiration to us as we take steps forward to strategically share ministry across the state,” Heisler stated. He spoke highly of her capacity to help congregations take positive steps to create youth ministry opportunities now and into the future. However, he injected a note of reality, “We cannot expect a single person or a single step to transform youth ministry to ‘the good old days of the 1970’s.”