Big Waters District to welcome new superintendent

March 26, 2014

By: Christa Meland

“There are faithful people everywhere.”

That’s one of the things Pam Serdar has observed time and again during the three years she’s spent as superintendent of the Minnesota Conference’s Big Waters District.

She’s worked with churches worshipping anywhere from 15 to 450 people, some in rural settings, some in urban settings, and everything in between. “It’s really a blessing to learn how people do ministry that serves the community they’re in,” she says.

Serdar says she has fallen in love with the people and churches within her district, but the past three years also helped her discern that her heart and passion are for local church ministry. She spent 17 years in banking before experiencing her call to ministry, and prior to becoming a district superintendent, she served as pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Mankato for 10 years.

“I love preaching; I love teaching; I love the small groups,” says Serdar. “I love being able to walk beside people through whatever life events are happening. I love walking through the liturgical year with people.”

Bishop Bruce R. Ough recently appointed Serdar to Richfield United Methodist Church, where she will begin Oct. 1—and Serdar affirmed that decision.

“Pam has provided exceptional spiritual and temporal leadership as a district superintendent, particularly as she served as dean of the Cabinet this past year,” Bishop Ough recently said in a letter to Minnesota clergy. “Her wisdom, calm demeanor, collaborative leadership style, and passion for local church vitality will be missed at the Cabinet table and across the Big Waters District.”

Last week, Bishop Ough appointed Susan M. Richey Nienaber to serve as the new Big Waters District superintendent, effective June 1. Since 2004, Nienaber has served under an extension ministry appointment as a senior consultant for the Alban Institute. In that role, she has provided direct intervention and organizational consultation, training, and education to pastors and congregations of all sizes and denominations in the areas of organizational health and vitality, conflict transformation, leadership development, governing structures, congregational growth, personnel issues, and pastoral transitions.

Nienaber says her passion for ministry is in the area of congregational health and vitality, adding “I love to see congregations making a deep impact for Christ.”

When asked what she has learned in her ministry that she’ll carry with her to her new role, Nienaber cited “the importance of listening deeply to congregations.”

“Each of them is unique but they all share similar dynamics,” she says. “Building relationships is critical. Nobody has a magic wand or any prescriptive answers. We’re all learning our way through this time of change.”

Nienaber says she looks forward to getting to know pastors and congregations and coming to know their unique ministries and settings. She’s also thrilled “to have the opportunity to work with a seasoned, successful bishop who has a very clear vision about where he’s going and knows how to get there.”

Nienaber experienced her call to ministry at a young age. When she was 13, her mother died of cancer. Before her mom became sick, Nienaber was “marginally involved” in her church, but she became an active member while going through that difficult experience. At 16, she felt a call to ministry that remained strong during the last part of high school and throughout college.

Nienaber earned a bachelor of arts degree from Central College in Pella, Iowa, and a master of divinity degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. She has completed additional graduate study at Luther Seminary and the University of Minnesota in pastoral care and counseling and family social science, respectively. She is also a licensed marriage and family therapist.

“I have come to know Susan as a person with a deep and growing faith, with an equally deep commitment to the growth and vitality of local congregations,” Bishop Ough said in his letter to clergy. “She has excellent relational and administrative skills and is well known for her non-anxious presence in dealing with difficult or conflicted situations. I am delighted God has called her to join us on our ‘Journey Toward Vitality’ in the Minnesota Conference.”

Both Serdar and Nienaber say the Minnesota Conference is headed in the right direction and that our collective efforts to revitalize churches and reach new people are critical.

Grow in love of God and neighbor, reach new people, and heal a broken world—our Gospel imperatives are lived out in different ways within each ministry setting, and our ways of doing and being church are constantly evolving, but “those three things are who we’re called to be as followers as Christ,” says Serdar. “I know God is with the Minnesota Conference.”


Here are some fun facts about the incoming Big Waters District superintendent:
Favorite scripture: 2 Kings 4: 8-37 (the story of the Shunammite’s son restored to life)
Family: Husband, Jim, and college-aged son, Ethan
City of residence: Coon Rapids
Gifts cited by colleagues: Ability to remain calm when everyone else is highly anxious or highly conflicted
Favorite food: Fresh, organic berries
Favorite book: Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Favorite summertime activity: Gardening
Best trip ever taken: Argentina and St. John’s, Newfoundland
Someone she admires: Maternal grandmother (Susan says: “She survived tough stuff but had an amazing sense of humor” and she “made aging look like so much fun.”)
Something most people don’t know: Since right around the time her golden retriever died about two years ago, she has volunteered at the Animal Humane Society, providing assistance with adoption support and surgeries.

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404

(612) 870-0058