Two long-time Disciples have agreed to share their special gifts of ministry with the Michigan region for up to two years.
Eugene James and Maggie Mills were installed in late May as transitional regional ministers in Michigan, following the retirement of Jon Lacey. Lacey had served as an interim regional minister for four years.
James is pastor of Northwestern Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Detroit. He has been involved in several regional and national aspects of the church, including new church and church growth ministries, as well as serving as past chairperson of the Board of Director of the Division of Overseas Ministries.
Mills is an ordained Disciples minister, who served two United Church of Christ congregations. She also has been a pulpit supply minister for Disciples churches. Although she professionally retired in 2007, Mills worked for the region as a "senior volunteer staff person." She remains highly involved in managing the data management system that helps coordinate the region’s search and call system. She also has been chairperson of Love of Leadership, a one-day educational event for lay leaders that is coordinated with UCC partners.
"Maggie and I work quite well together," said James. "She has expertise in the administrative areas, and my skills are in dealing with congregations in the area of conflict resolution and pastoral support."
Both leaders said improving the region’s financial outlook is paramount on their list of priorities. Michigan’s roiling economy has been tied to the ups and downs of the automobile industry, resulting in high unemployment and people leaving the state for better jobs. Churches in Michigan have been impacted by this trend, with some experiencing membership declines and shrinking budgets. Today, the Michigan region has about 6100 members and 41 congregations, with two congregations in formation.
"One of our priorities is to bring more transparency to our finances," stressed Mills, who holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Eastern Michigan University. "We want people to know that our finances are available and that they can be understood. A lot of work has been done in that area in the past few years, but we want to take it further."
"Much of our work ahead can be summed up in the word ‘financial’, agreed James. "Also we would like to see more of the congregations financially support the region as well as become involved in mission and ministry."
The two veteran pastors are excited about plans to possibly bring Disciples churches together on an urban mission project that involves establishing a garden in the Detroit area. If that is successful, there may be other projects as well, such as repairing houses and cleaning lots.
"We are a small region with mostly small churches," said Mills. "We welcome Disciples groups from around the country to come in and work with us. Someone has said that we’ve had a very slow ‘Katrina’ taking place in Michigan over a long period of time. We are trying to reverse that trend and bring new, positive energy in to our region. Because we’re small, we’re looking at ways to be more creative in how we carry out ministry."
"We are going to spend time on ways to be more collaborative," added James. "We know our constituents can be more involved on the district, regional and national levels."
Although the search for a permanent regional minister is ongoing, James and Mills believe their work and prayerful support of the region will create a framework upon which the next regional leader can build.
By: Wanda Bryant Wills