May 24, 2012 – A Pastoral Letter for the Clergy
I learned recently that the fastest growing time for this movement that we call the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), occurred when people traveled by wagon to places of which they had no knowledge. We thrived during a time when we had neither by-laws nor reasonably tested structures for being church together. All we had was our belief in God, our growing connections with each other and an ever changing landscape in front of us.
I believe that this is where the church is today; balanced between an uneasy chaos and an excitement to rise up as leaders and help create what is already coming into existence. This pastoral letter is an attempt to give some understanding to the landscape that is unfolding in front of us while acknowledging that some answers are not known at this time.
I pray that the following information helps quiet a little of the chaos but not so much that we forget that Disciples’ history is called “A Journey in Faith” or that we let it quiet the spirit that pulls us into something new and exciting in the life of the Church.
As I vision for the future I believe that in the next 1-5 years we should:
Seek to rebuild and strengthen our connection between churches by doing more mission together! . . . Let our identity and relationship with each other be defined by working side by side
Seek to improve the grounds and facilities at the Christian Conference Center to remain an attractive place for new Disciples to be made – both youth and adults. . . . Let us do this in the same way we built CCC in the first place – as churches working together.
Seek to bridge the gaps between us whether they are based on racial, geographical, language, theological, political, rural, city, size, gender or any other way the world attempts to divide us. . . . Let us take seriously our claim that we are a movement for wholeness and all are welcome at the table.
Seek to start more new churches in as many ways as God can put before us. . . . Let us grab hold of the pioneer spirit and believe that more people still need to hear the Good news. It has been said that if we, Disciples of Christ, really knew what a treasure we had we would never stop shouting it from the mountain top.
Seek to continue to change our structures and our practices to empower laity to participate. . . . Let us pay attention to when and where we have meetings and continue to change where needed.
Seek to . . . well the truth be told there are some things that we cannot even see in the present landscape but we must continue to believe that though we cannot see it our God has a future for us. . . . Let us find the courage to rise to the creative challenges as they are placed before us.
May the information below quiet a little of the chaos but let it never quiet the spirit that pulls us into something new and exciting in the life of the Church.
Standing: CEUs and Boundary Training
In 2010, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Upper Midwest enacted a change focused around expectations for standing in the Upper Midwest. In brief, these new expectations for standing include 16 hours of continuing education every year plus boundary training once every 3 years. Although initially planned to go in to effect January 1, 2012, it was postponed to begin this coming January 1, 2013. When you apply for annual standing this coming December/January you will need to have completed 16 CEUs and boundary training.
CEU’s: Though some have asked for a list of approved CEUs it has become clear that the breadth of UMW clergy’s experience and opportunities makes a list very limiting and incomplete. One rule that can help in determining if something would count for a CEU hour is to ask if it is a book, experience or course that is beyond your everyday preparation for ministry, i.e., Reading a commentary for next week’s sermon would not count but attending a course on the Gospel of Mark would. NOTE: In general if something beyond the everyday helps to improve or enhance your ability to minister then it would likely be considered a CEU. If you ever have questions you may want to simply call the Regional Office and ask. Standing forms indicated that most took note of the many things they were already doing for continued education with the average reported CEU’s being around 30 hrs. For those who like to read you can count half your CEUs through reading — 250 pages = 1 hour CEU. For more details go to
Boundary Training: We are offering several opportunities for boundary training around the Region but many other denominations offer these courses for their clergy and it may make sense to take one in your area offered ecumenically. Check the website for an online version of boundary training as well at If you have had Boundary training in the last 3 years from another source or region simply let us know where and when and from whom on the standing form. For more details on the policy go to
Pastoral Care for Clergy
In the new model one of the intentional shifts was to call several Partner Regional Ministers who bring a variety of diverse gifts to the team and live in geographically focused areas of the Region. They, alongside the Regional Minister, are available to serve as a pastor to any clergy. Aside from clergy pastoral care, we also have responsibility for congregational care and areas related to Search and Call in our identified “general” geographical areas (see below).
The hope was that pastoral care for clergy would improve with the closer proximity of Regional ministers, their varied gifts & personalities, and the freedom for local clergy to choose a pastor rather than simply be assigned one. So if you ask “Who is my pastor?” or “Who should I seek out for questions?” the answer is that you have choices and below are possible options for you:
Geographic Area Choice
When seeking answers to your questions, in some cases Geographic proximity or clergy cluster connection will drive the answer. NOTE: The areas listed below are “in general” areas with no strict boundaries. . We have used “in general” because there are situations in which circumstances, particular interest and/or need that can create a reason to adjust outside our “in general” coverage areas.
In some cases you may have the need or desire to choose any of the five of us for pastoral care rather than the one in your geographic proximity. This might be based on personality, common interest, area of skill or gift, gender, age, theological perspective or any other situation that works for you. The 5 of us work in a team and understand that giving you the choice is a good thing. We fully understand that sometimes the particular person assigned to your geographic area may not be the best match to serve as your pastor. So choose!
Bill Spangler-Dunning, Regional Minister
As your Regional Minister I cover the responsibilities in all other areas not covered by the Ppartner RM’s. I also cover the South & North Western Iowa areas. Email: Phone: (515) 577-9050.
Tiff Williams, Associate Regional Minister. Covers all areas of the Region, and oversees the camping program and management of the Christian Conference Center. Email: Phone: (641) 521-3115
Tammy Rottschaefer, Partner Regional Minister
Minnesota area. Email: Phone: (612) 926- 2592. While serving as Partner Regional Minister she also serves as minister at Lake Harriet Christian Church, 5009 Beard Avenue, South Minneapolis, MN 55410.
William Mitchell, Partner Regional Minister
Eastern Iowa area. Email: Phone: (319) 520-5854. Now retired from Congregational ministry he lives in Keokuk, IA.
Understanding the changes to new Order of Ministry:
You can view the new order of ministry document and its supporting documents at In brief however, these are the basics:
1. A change from secular language of “licensed” to “commissioned.” This means that all minsters previously called “licensed” are now referred to as “Commissioned Ministers.” If one is on a path to ministry and accepted under care of the Regional Commission on Ministry a title of “Student Commissioned Minister” may be used but annual standing will still be offered only to those commissioned ministers serving in a particular ministry situation or Ordained ministers.
2. Commission’s on Ministry now have an additional path to choose from when nurturing people into ministry. Previously the two paths have been to seek a Masters in Divinity from an accredited Seminary (if one wished to be ordained) or enter into a regional based training program (if one wished to be commissioned/previously licensed). However, Commissions on Ministry can now offer an alternative track to ordination if a candidates’ situation would best be served by this non-seminary route. In the first meeting with a candidate the commission will listen to a candidate’s call to ministry story with a particular ear for life, culture, economic and other factors that may or may not affect the commission’s choice for a candidate’s path to ministry (ordained or commissioned). However, the new Order of Ministry Document states that the preferred and primary path to ordination is still the seminary route.
Clusters, Geographic Areas, Operations Council
CLERGY CLUSTERS: This is another area where choice has caused some confusion. As we changed our overall structure we chose not to eliminate the Cluster designation as it relates to the groupings for clergy gatherings. It seemed clear that in most if not all situations laity had very little use or knowledge of clusters. However, in some cases, clergy still had a strong bond and purpose for the groups that developed around these clusters. So rather than eliminate them we decided to allow time to discern which ones were working and which ones were not. A guiding principal continues to rest in the direct choice and input from clergy in those clusters. In some clusters the historical lists of churches that belong in a cluster still work but in other areas clergy have stopped meeting together for a variety of reasons. In these latter clusters we have begun to seek the input from clergy as to what might be the best solution. So do the old clergy clusters exist? Yes if they still work! If not then we are seeking new configurations.
NEW GEOGRAPHICAL AREAS: The new designation of Geographic Area (GA) was an attempt to begin to explore possible new and productive areas without the need to just eliminate all cluster designations for the reasons stated in the above paragraph. GA’s are intended to be organic groupings of congregations that have real and purposeful connections for fellowship and mission together. We made an attempt at best guesses of the boundaries for these new groups and then encouraged individuals at the Congregational Gathering last October to adjust the church listings, which they did in a few instances. The criteria for where to draw the line for the GA’s rests in the question: Does this work and make sense for the people who worship in those congregations? These Areas are encouraged to fellowship and discover ministry together.
Each area also elects a lay representative to the OPERATIONS COUNCIL each year. The choice of their representative rests with the people in that Geographical Area and not a nominating committee of the Operations Council. If the people feel represented well they can continue to reelect them. Clergy elect eight additional representatives to the Operations Council at either the annual Minister’s Institute or other appropriate gathering. (This is a growing edge for us as we work through the positives and negatives related to the place and timing of clergy elections) The Operations Council serves as the primary administrative group for the ministry we do together as Region with a strong emphasis on vision. The Operations Council will meet for a vision and planning retreat this June to begin the development of an overall master vision plan for the ministry we do together.
The present members of the Operations Council are listed below and on the website at:
Henry “Clay” Dean
Iowa City Area
Spencer & Sioux City
Regional Minister & President
Frosty Van Voorst
It really was not that long ago that communicating with each other meant a postcard and a newsletter. Now it means everything from print media to twitter plus everything in between and beyond. Communication trends have developed in a parallel fashion to changing worship preferences. We can no longer simply blend everything into one worship and hope to reach every generation and group. As such, there is not one communication arena or method that works for all generations.
As we make the changes to the way we are Region together we are rebuilding some communication pathways and in some cases simply creating brand new ways as the world/generations change how they receive and want their information. We as the whole church, (Ecumenical General, Regional and Local) must continue to seek Pentecost moments with regards to our communication languages. The task is great but we must push forward for the future of the church. We are constantly redesigning the website, joining/connecting with social media such Facebook, Twitter and most recently Pinterest .
We will do whatever it takes to find every way we can to communicate the Good News and ministry we are doing together but we need your creative input. Send us your creative suggestions and nudges to help us move forward. We don’t have a perfect system but we are committed to moving forward every day.
In the midst of all this change there is still one constant question, “How do we get information out to others or stay in the loop ourselves?” – Simply call or email the Region’s office and they will be excited to make sure your information gets out or that you begin receiving information in the way that works best for you. Phone: 515-255-3168 – Email:
If you would like to see a Youtube clip that further illustrates the changing ways that we communicate and why follow this link:
How do ministries arise and how do they get funded?
In the new way of being church together ministries rise up when God calls them into being! However, we collect, discern and evaluate new and previous ministries at our fall Congregational Gathering. During that gathering we provide time for all previous ministries to be stated to the whole and express why we think God is still calling us to continue in that ministry. We also provide time for new ministry ideas to surface and be lifted up to the group. This is a fluid process in that some of the ministries that are lifted up don’t always last or sometimes they evolve together into something new as further discernment happens. This leads to the next way or time that ministries arise – They arise at anytime and anywhere that God speaks to the people of the churches. Throughout the year people are encouraged to look around them and discover needs that are best done together as churches and form a ministry around this calling. Any static list of ministries in this new way of being church will almost surely be out of date and we make no apologies for this movement – in fact we rejoice in the excitement and purpose it creates among us.
The funding process therefore must reflecting this fluid and evolving discernment of ministry. Some ministries do not need funding at all either because they have no need of money to make something happen or are completely self-funding. However, for those ministries that determine that funding is needed representatives from these ministries need simply to apply for one the following ministry grants and the Operations council will meet as needed throughout the year with the specific agenda to bless and vote on the merits of funding these ministries. There is not a specific deadline for grants as ministries arise throughout the year.
To apply for a ministry grant funded by the gifts to the Disciples Mission Fund follow this link:
To apply for a matching grant to fund a new ministry in your congregation or community apply for the Valley View Ministry Grant:
Blessings for now,