By: Christa Meland
Rev. Cynthia Williams has been appointed the next River Valley District superintendent—a role she will begin on July 1, 2016. Williams will succeed Rev. Clay Oglesbee, who will have then completed eight years as a district superintendent.
Williams, who grew up Baptist in Tennessee, was ordained as an elder in 2015 and since 2010 has served in a dual appointment as associate pastor at Park Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis and director of congregational life at Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church in St. Paul. Prior to that, she was director of operations for Park Avenue UMC.
Williams’ longstanding passions are coaching and teaching—and she’s always been focused on aligning all functions and activities around a common purpose, vision, and strategy. Those gifts have played a key role in her ministry, and she’s excited to be able to bring them to her new position.
“I look forward to helping churches in the district to reclaim their identity as God’s people called to make disciples of Jesus Christ,” she said. “I’ve been praying for revival…not just for the United Methodist Church. Our nation needs a revival. Part of this call, this new appointment, is I’ve been called to respond in a deeper way to the very prayer I’ve been praying.”
Williams said she’s eager to walk alongside congregations and help them create alignment in all they do.
“I am excited about helping hearts to come alive again, helping people throughout our district be on fire for God and have so much passion that it spreads,” said Williams. “My vision is that we will be a district of faithful, strategic, and courageous leaders, both lay and clergy, who would dare to believe that God has called us to raise up this next generation for Christ.”
Williams spent two decades in the financial services industry prior to attending seminary and lived in major cities across the United States—including Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Chicago. She left the corporate world in 2001 after a spiritual awakening led her to spend time exploring how to live a life of purpose.
“I realized I had been in church for most of my life and was doing church but I really did not understand what it was to have a relationship with God,” said Williams, who also spent several years as a life coach. “I knew God loved you. I didn’t know God loved me. When I finally got it deep in my heart that that’s what it was about, everything changed.”
There are, however, a number of lessons Williams took away from the corporate world that have informed her leadership approach. For example, while at Prudential life insurance company, she learned firsthand about the importance of engaging every person within an organization when it comes to understanding its mission and what it’s seeking to accomplish. “You have to give them enough freedom to imagine themselves in it and name how they will contribute to it,” she said. “Our work as leaders is to encourage everyone to get on board. Every person needs to know that their contributions matter.”
Williams earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Tennessee and a master of divinity from Luther Seminary in 2007. She was commissioned as a provisional deacon in 2010 before discerning that she was instead called to serve as an elder.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough said Williams is well suited for the role of district superintendent.
“I have come to know Cynthia as a bold pastoral leader with a vibrant spirituality and exceptional proclamation and administrative skills,” he said. “In her current appointment and as a business professional prior to entering credentialed ministry, Cynthia has demonstrated experience in financial and human resources management, change implementation, and strategic planning. I look forward to the energy, creativity, and breadth of experience she will bring to the River Valley District and the Minnesota Cabinet.”
Ough also acknowledged the significant role that Oglesbee has played during his eight years as a district superintendent (watch for an article with Oglesbee’s reflections in the spring).
Oglesbee has served “with distinction, providing sensitive pastoral care, thoughtful spiritual leadership, and resourceful creativity,” Ough said. “His passion for the transformative power of the gospel, collaborative leadership style, and heart for the Wesleyan Way will be missed at the Cabinet table and across the River Valley District.”
|Here are some fun facts about incoming River Valley District Superintendent Cynthia Williams:|
|City of residence: St. Louis Park|
|Family: Single and lives with her wiener dog, Samson; brother lives in Houston and the rest of her family lives in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee|
|Favorite scripture: Psalm 143:8|
|Gifts cited by colleagues: Coach, teacher, connector, joyful|
|Favorite book: Has many, but Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer is one and was particularly helpful as she was discerning her call to vocational ministry|
|Hobbies: Gardening, watercolor, spending time with friends, reading, being outdoors, walking, exploring new places, and cooking (mostly traditional Southern food; her signature dishes are peach cobbler and cornbread dressing)|
|Someone she admires: Maya Angelou|
|Something many people don’t know: She was itinerant long before she knew what it meant; she’s lived in seven cities and moved more than 14 times|
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church