By: Christa Meland
United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities has named Bishop David A. Bard as the school’s 2021 Distinguished Alum.
In bestowing this honor, the St. Paul-based seminary said it recognizes and gives gratitude for Bard’s more than 35-year career in ministry with The United Methodist Church, contributing in a variety of leadership roles, committing a lifetime to anti-racism work, and leading with theological grounding, wisdom, and skill.
Bard has been the presiding bishop for the Michigan Area since 2016 and interim bishop for the Minnesota Conference since January. Prior to that, he ministered for many years at First UMC (the Coppertop) in Duluth. He said he is “deeply touched and profoundly honored” to be chosen as this year’s Distinguished Alum.
Bard believes it is the church that can be the means to a new and more just way forward.
“God has put in my heart a burning desire to help people find a faith that is thoughtful, that engages both their minds and hearts, that is compassionate, that cares deeply about a hurting and wounded world,” he said. “My education at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities was instrumental in providing a foundation for this kind of thoughtful, passionate, and compassionate Christian faith, a faith that is personally transformative and socially engaged.”
In the Minnesota Conference, prior to being elected bishop, Bard served as a General and Jurisdictional Conference delegate, member of the Higher Education Ministry Team, member of the Board of Ordained Ministry and Congregational Response Team, and chair of the Episcopacy Committee. He was also the conference parliamentarian. Bard was a district superintendent with the conference for seven years and served three years on the Commission on Religion and Race.
“David has provided outstanding leadership for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, serving churches and as a district superintendent,” said Rev. Kathi Austin Mahle, a retired pastor and former conference trustee who graduated from United in 1978. “His leadership continued in the worldwide UMC leading to his election as bishop in 2016. His intellectual gifts and personal caring have been demonstrated over and over. He is now serving as the interim bishop for Minnesota, and we are glad to welcome him ‘home,’ as his humor and caring were demonstrated at our recent Annual Conference session. He is so deserving of this recognition at such a difficult time in the life of The United Methodist Church.”
Two classmates at United—Arthur Ritter (class of 1985) and Stuart Jamieson (class of 1986)—nominated Bard and spoke of his willingness to listen, as well as his ability to understand those with a different view and opinion.
“Those with whom he has served notice his ability to bring people together in order to achieve a better understanding and to better serve the intention of God,” said Ritter. “He embraces the challenge by lifting up the church as an instrument of God’s power.”
Rev. Dr. Molly T. Marshall, interim president of United, echoed that sentiment.
“David Bard fulfills the New Testament requirements for the noble task of bishop in an exemplary manner (1 Timothy 3:1-7),” she said. “Among these qualities are gentleness and peacefulness, modesty and hospitality, one who exercises good management and is well thought of outside the church.”
Bard said he has many fond memories of his time at United, from the sublime to the ridiculous.
“I remember some of the people I met and with whom I’ve maintained a connection ever since,” he said. “I remember working with professors who challenged and encouraged me. Among the most important things for me about my time at United are the tools I was given to think theologically. I came to seminary with lots of questions about my Christian faith. Seminary did not answer all those questions, but gave me tools to continue to explore such questions over a lifetime.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church