At this year's Annual Meeting the Executive Board (EB) will introduce a motion calling Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons as our next settled Conference Minister. Breakout sessions to talk with EB members and Dr. Lyons will be held on Friday, May 5. The vote will be held during Saturday's business session (May 6). Leaders of the Southwest Conference call on conference members and our partners in ministry to hold this decision in prayer between now and when the vote is taken.
A letter from Board Chair Rebecca Glenn announcing Lyons's nomination was shared with the conference in March; a copy of that letter is included here:
Dear Members and Friends,
As moderator of the Southwest Conference United Church of Christ, I am pleased to announce that the board of directors unanimously voted Saturday, March 4, to call Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons as our Settled Conference Minister. Bill has served as our Designated Conference Minister since January 1, 2016, and we have had the pleasure of seeing him immerse himself into our beloved SWC and walk with us into our future.
In 2015, the board of directors made a decision to search for a Designated Conference Minister instead of an Interim Conference Minister. The prevailing thinking at that time was that we did not need to spend a lot of energy on interim work. Instead, we would try out a relatively new concept of designated leadership. The designated model leaves the door wide open to transition the leader to a permanent, settled position. This is in contrast to the interim model which prohibits the interim from becoming the settled.
We formed a search team led by the prior-moderator, Dana Bender, and that included Rev. Dr. George Ault, Rev. Andria Davis, Frank Fox, Rev. Sue Joiner, Brendan Mahoney, Phil Ward, myself and acting Conference Minister Rev. Dr. Lee Albertson (in an ex officio role). We reviewed 15 applications, had phone interviews with our top four, brought two candidates into town for face to face interviews and were excited to call Bill Lyons. We were hopeful that we had found the person who would become our Settled Conference Minister after serving as our Designated Conference Minister.
Since the beginning of 2016 we have been journeying down a road of discernment. We have learned things about ourselves, including the fact that there were some in the conference that were not on board with the designated decision, or at a minimum, wished they had been given a voice before this decision was made. We learned that there was some interim work to be done. Whenever changing leaders there is an adjustment period and important listening as we move forward. The various leadership groups for the conference have experimented with ways to adapt to our changing world, to better listen to the voices, and to notice what is happening in our communities so that we do our very best to live out our calling to transformative love.
Bill has mentioned numerous times his learning process, sharing what has been working well and what has been a bumpy road. He has noted the adjustments he is trying in his leadership style and his suggestions for the overall approach. Bill has worked hard to meet our amazing clergy and lay leaders, become connected with some key ecumenical partners, interact with emerging ministries, lead the Mission Planning Board through a re-visioning process, support many churches in their Search and Call process, put new focus on our youth leadership, invest in our Committees on Church and Ministry (COCAM A and B), streamline processes for clarity and efficiency, and engage in key areas of justice and witness. He has reaffirmed to the board his strong sense of call to conference ministry in the Southwest Conference.
Over the past several months, the board gathered groups in each of the conference geographies to listen your views on our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. We are appreciative to hear of our gifts as a conference and ways we can be better. We are currently compiling all this information and it will inform future goals and approaches.
The board also created a team to determine the best way to implement our Southwest Conference process for a conference minister performance review. I led this team which included Rev. Bonnie McNair, Dr. Rev. George Ault, Margaret Douglas (COCAM A), Rev. Liana Rowe, Ron Schilling (chair of Personnel Committee, and Rev. Sue Joiner (COCAM B). We agreed on the questions to ask for an internet survey and who to email the survey to. We also agreed on the folks who would be interviewed by phone which included our UCC General Minister and President, 3 other Conference Ministers, one ecumenical partner, and 6 youth & young adult youth leaders. The internet survey was emailed to active clergy and the specific folks previously identified and communicated within the conference for anyone to complete. Our personnel committee reviewed all the inputs, extracted key themes and compiled the report for Bill. The personnel committed unanimously recommended to the board of directors that we call Bill as our settled pastor.
Before I close, I want to point out challenges with the designated process. The Designated Conference Minister maybe scrutinized in a different way than a Settled Conference Minister (this has been experience in other conferences as well). Imagine being on a yearlong interview process! There is the risk of thinking “let’s see if this works out” instead of “how can we make this work out.” Bill has been “trying out” for a settled role while doing some challenging interim work and leading the conference into the future.
So I hope that we all offer some grace to Bill in the mistakes that he has made. I hope we notice all the good he has done. I hope we recognize what a learner he has been and will be into the future. I invite you to imagine the future gifts he has to share.
I am excited for a future with Bill as our Settled Conference Minister and I hope you are too!
SWC Moderator and live long UCC member