New Free Methodist Church – USA pastors connected with bishops and each other Sept. 8–10 during the Starting Strong Conference in Indianapolis.
“Monday afternoon, there was a real sense of excitement as the pastors arrived. There was a sense of hope to build lasting relationships with each other and the bishops,” Ministerial Credentialing Services Coordinator Douglas Britt said. “Wednesday, when they left, those hopes had come to fruition. The new pastors connected with each other and the bishops in a deep and meaningful way that can serve as a springboard to strong relationships of mutual support as they work for Christ throughout the years.”
The conference included both longtime Free Methodists who are new to pastoral ministry, experienced pastors who are new to Free Methodism, and several spouses of pastors.
“While I am new to the Free Methodist pastorate, I am not new to Free Methodism in general. That being said, I have probably taken the connectional nature of our church for granted,” said Hastings (Michigan) FMC Associate Pastor Oliver Beans, who noted the reaction of participants entering the FMCUSA. “Seeing how overwhelmed — in a positive way — and grateful they were for our connectional system and all the support that is included by it made me more appreciative of what we have as Free Methodists.”
Participants toured the World Ministries Center and learned more about the church’s mission and
“I appreciated the effort everyone took to make connections with the new pastors. By taking an interest in us during the informal portions of the event as well as the formal presentations, it fostered a sense that we were a team in ministry together,” said Newton (Illinois) FMC Pastor Steven Bruns, who previously served 12 years as a United Methodist pastor. “Those who work at the World Ministries Center are now not only faces instead of just names, but also partners instead of just denominational hierarchy.”
The pastors learned more about the church’s leadership structure and worldwide influence.
“We aren’t just a global denomination; we also take seriously the idea that leadership around the world is best done on the local and regional level — as opposed to a handful of Americans telling the rest of the world how to best be the church,” said Katie Sawade, the Bedford (Indiana) FMC’s associate pastor for children’s ministries. “I was truly impressed by the number of annual and general conferences we have around the world.”
Andy Bentz, the pastor of Calvary FMC in Lexington, Kentucky, agreed.
“I like seeing the statistics and hearing where we’re involved and how I can get more involved globally,” said Bentz, who added that Starting Strong was his first opportunity to visit the World Ministries Center.
Sean Allen, the pastor of First FMC in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, appreciated the opportunity to return to the World Ministries Center, which he had last visited as a young teen.
“It was really good to put faces with names because I’ve been communicating with different people at the headquarters,” Allen said. “To actually meet them and find out who they are and why they’re doing this work — it’s been really helpful.”
Caleb Blankenship, a conference ministerial candidate from the Wilmore (Kentucky) FMC, was one of many Starting Strong participants who expressed appreciation for interaction with the denomination’s leadership.
“It was good to get a chance to see all the bishops together and to be able to talk with them,” Blankenship said. “The training sessions they were able to give us were very helpful.”
Bishop David Kendall gave Starting Strong’s closing message, and then participants joined the World Ministries Center staff in Communion.
“The grace that flows to us is much more abundant, much more potent than we will ever know, but what a privilege it is for us to receive,” Kendall said.