Meet the Minnesota Conference’s new clergy

July 18, 2019
Clergy starting their first appointment in Minnesota spent Thursday, July 18 at an orientation.

By: Christa Meland

In this season of transition, more than a dozen clergy—some newly credentialed, some seasoned—are starting their first appointment in the Minnesota Conference, which is committed to recruiting and raising up effective, Spirit-filled leaders. During an orientation that took place Thursday, July 18, at the Minnesota Church Center in Minneapolis, we asked those present to share a bit about themselves with the rest of the conference. Here’s a look at these incoming clergy—their gifts and passions, what drew them to the Minnesota Conference, what they’re excited about, and what they value most about The United Methodist Church.

Kayla Brunkow
Appointed to: Grey Eagle UMC and Sauk Centre UMC
For Brunkow, a lifelong United Methodist, this appointment provides an opportunity to live into her call. After serving as a physician assistant for nearly 10 years and more recently as a director of children’s ministries, she’s ready and excited to take what she’s learned from her time in medicine about what it means to care for people and combine it with her commitment to reach new people and make disciples who walk with Christ. She especially appreciates The United Methodist Church’s understanding of prevenient grace—and she has a deep desire to help younger generations connect with Christ.

Brian J. Cornell
Appointed to: Norton Park UMC, Duluth and Northwood UMC, Esko
Cornell, who recently moved to Minnesota from North Carolina (with wife and fellow pastor Katherine Cornell), said he’s drawn to the social justice ministries in Minnesota—both inside and outside of the church. He’s looking forward to growing in faith and discipleship with his congregations and communities—and, in his spare time, learning how to operate a snow blower. His primary spiritual gift is engaging the community and congregation in doing things Jesus did, and he appreciates The United Methodist Church’s desire to unite knowledge and piety.

Katherine Cornell
Appointed to: Asbury UMC, Duluth
Cornell, who recently moved to Minnesota from North Carolina (with husband and fellow pastor Brian J. Cornell), said the welcoming attitude of Minnesota churches and the Minnesota Conference and the thoughtful appointment-making process are what attracted her here. In her new appointment, she looks forward to developing spiritual disciplines and serving her community. Her top spiritual gift is hospitality, and she appreciates The United Methodist Church’s emphasis on grace.

Amy Dinkel-VanValkenburg
Appointed to: Joyful Spirit UMC (a merger between what used to be Wadena UMC and Deer Creek UMC)
Dinkel Van-Valkenburg—who describes herself as “a Minnesota farm girl”—discovered her call to become a pastor while worshipping at Clotho UMC. In her appointment, she looks forward to growing her congregation’s capacity for love and generosity and addressing the unique opportunities and challenges specific to rural communities. She said she feels at home wherever she goes, and her key spiritual gift is building relationships. What she appreciates most about The United Methodist Church is its focus on loving your neighbor and its use of the Wesleyan quadrilateral (a methodology for theological reflection that includes scripture, tradition, reason, and experience).

Nancy D. Ellis
Appointed to: Faith UMC, St. Anthony (associate pastor)
Ellis said she was drawn to The United Methodist Church because of its “commitment to dismantling racism and stand for inclusiveness.” She loves both telling and listening to stories, and she looks forward to getting to know the people in her church and community. Grace is a frequent focus of her sermons, and her key spiritual gift is discernment. “God has given me a keen sense of where I should go,” she said. “God helps me lead others and shows me how to enrich the lives of others.”

Jeramy Girard
Appointed to: Mayo Clinic, Rochester
Girard is a lifelong Minnesotan who is in the midst of a year-long chaplain residency at the Mayo Clinic. He said he believes in the Minnesota Conference’s commitment “to serve and minister to all of God’s people in Minnesota and the world.” He’s grateful for the opportunity to serve hospital patients, reflect and embody the love of God in their midst, and walk with them through their times of crisis. He appreciates The United Methodist Church’s Wesleyan theology of grace as well as its connectional system. His top spiritual gift is staying calm in the midst of crisis and being present to hear people’s stories of pain, suffering, and loss.

Laura Hannah
Appointed to: Anoka UMC (director of ministries)
Rev. Bill Eaves recruited Hannah to a staff position at Anoka UMC, and having already earned her master of divinity, she began the licensing process a year later. What she loves about The United Methodist Church is that “it is a global church that strives to live out its mission and is attentive to the contextual realities of ‘being the church’ in different cultures.”

Jennifer Matthees
Assigned to: Immanuel UMC, Winona
Matthees, a lay person who has been assigned to Immanuel UMC, said she looks forward to serving a congregation whose example and witness can speak to the unchurched through the importance of community and story. She describes her top spiritual gift as “understanding or counsel”—unpacking how her strengths can be used and harnessing them to help others recognize their own gifts.

Lao Moua
Appointed to: Wheelock UMC, St. Paul
Moua was raised up as a leader while a lay member of Wheelock UMC and now serves as its pastor. He is bivocational and committed to reaching new people through his congregation, which has already started to grow under his leadership.

Adam Roberts
Appointed to: St. Francis UMC
Roberts, a longtime member of Elk River UMC, said the Minnesota Conference is home to him, and his primary spiritual gift is authentically connecting with people and finding Christ in our midst. “I love Minnesota, love the people, and love the work we are trying to do in helping to heal a broken world through Christ,” he said. He looks forward to discovering what God is already doing in the community he now serves and joining in that work.

Amy J. Strom
Appointed to: Frazee UMC, Dent UMC, and Vergas UMC
Strom, who was born in Bemidji, said God opened doors to help her discover and live into her call to be a pastor—and she is excited to “help people come alive in Christ and reach new people with God’s love.” Her spiritual gifts are preaching, discernment, and leading—and what she most appreciates about The United Methodist Church is its longevity, its commitment to women in leadership, its investment in developing effective leaders, and its strong biblical vision and foundation of grace. She’s a big Vikings fan and loves to kayak.

Kathy C. Wiire
Appointed to: Church of Peace UMC, Fergus Falls
Wiire became a certified lay speaker four years ago and eventually felt called to become a pastor. She looks forward to growing and serving her congregation by making connections in its community. Her primary spiritual gift is evangelism. “I love bringing people to Jesus by telling the stories of the Bible and talking about John 3:16,” said Wiire, whose longtime passions are reading and writing. What she appreciates most about The United Methodist Church is the grace and love she’s experienced firsthand.

Vicheye Young
Appointed to: Hmong Faith Fellowship, Oakdale
Young, who was raised up as a leader while a lay member of Wheelock UMC in St. Paul—said he loves to talk and enjoys connecting with people one-on-one. Earlier this year, two Hmong congregations came together to form the new fellowship that he serves, and it has already grown significantly under his leadership. He appreciates The United Methodist Church’s commitment to “open hearts, open minds, and open hands to all races.” He looks forward to furthering his own education and building his leadership skills while serving his congregation and helping people come to know Jesus.

Leslie Zeek
Appointed to: Cross Roads Community Church, Spicer
Zeek, who recently came to Minnesota from North Carolina, felt God calling her to serve in the Minnesota Conference. She’s looking forward to helping her congregation achieve a deeper reach in its community, and her top spiritual gift is a passion and drive for serving the Lord. “The Lord seems to give me energy to serve that I never realized I had,” she said. She appreciates that The United Methodist Church allows us to “live in and under a big tent called Methodism, and despite our differences, continue to love and be in ministry together.” She’s a Green Bay Packers fan who loves snow.

We are fortunate to have these leaders among us. Thanks be to God for each one of them and their ministry!

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

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