By: Christa Meland
“You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…”
Since Jim Perry was a teenager, that Bible verse from John 15:16 was one of his favorites. And it was reflective of the way he approached his ministry, which for many years focused on empowering clergy and equipping them to bear fruit within their respective mission fields.
“Jim’s heart was always for clergy,” said Cindy Gregorson, director of ministries for the Minnesota Conference. Gregorson was a district superintendent and later director of congregational development when Perry was director of ministries and succeeded him in that role. “Jim’s passion was to be a pastor to pastors, and he filled that role for many. He was never in a rush, always had time for people. He loved to tell stories, to meet with pastors to offer counsel and be a listening ear.”
Perry died Wednesday at the age of 67 following several months of health-related challenges. He is survived by his wife, Kareen; their two sons, Matthew Karr Perry (Amy) of Burlington, Vermont and William Francis Perry of Minneapolis; three grandchildren; one sister; and numerous other relatives.
Born in 1946 and raised in Vermont, Perry married Kareen in 1968. He was ordained as a deacon in 1969 and as an elder in 1972—and he began his career in the Troy Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, where he served in a variety of local church appointments in both Vermont and New York. (The Troy Annual Conference closed in 2010, with some of its members joining the New England Annual Conference and others joining the Upper New York Annual Conference.)
In 1997, Perry joined the Minnesota Conference as its “steward of appointed leadership,” a position in which he oversaw all processes related to clergy. The role evolved and became “director of ministries” in 2002, although Perry never took the “steward of appointed leadership” out of his title because supporting clergy was what he loved to do.
“Jim Perry provided experienced, steady leadership to the conference as we implemented a new structure of Common Table, ministry teams, and stewards,” said Barb Carroll, longtime director of finance and administration, and treasurer, for the Minnesota Conference. “Jim’s passion was empowering and encouraging clergy in their ministry. Despite the fact that there were many other tasks and issues that needed his attention, this was always foremost in his mind.”
Perry’s most significant contributions within the Minnesota Conference included leading a writing team that in 2002 applied for and received an $868,000 grant from private philanthropic foundation Lilly Endowment, and launching clergy peer groups (“Gateways” and then “Eightways”) funded by that grant. Although the culture of the conference has changed since then, many clergy remain in peer groups to this day and greatly value the experience, said Gregorson.
In addition to mentoring clergy and providing opportunities for them to learn from each other, Perry brought “remarkable people skills” to his roles in the Minnesota Conference, said David Bard, pastor at First United Methodist Church in Duluth and a former district superintendent. Bard worked closely with Perry between 1998 and 2005 when both were on the Minnesota Cabinet and heavily involved with the Board of Ordained Ministry.
“Jim was wonderful in relating to people, even those with whom he disagreed,” said Bard. “He was also interested in new ideas for keeping the church alive and vibrant, and loved to read about leadership and share the ideas he was learning.”
In a 2011 Christmas booklet that included reflections from retired Minnesota clergy, Perry called his 13-and-a-half years in the Minnesota Conference “the most fulfilling of my ministry.”
But Perry’s service in The United Methodist Church extended beyond the two annual conferences of which he was once a part: He was a clergy delegate representing the Troy Conference at the 1996 General Conference, and there, he was elected to the Commission on the General Conference and named its vice-chair. Then in 2000, Perry was elected chair of the Commission and served in that capacity through the 2004 General Conference.
Carolyn Marshall, who’s now a lay person within the Indiana Conference, was secretary of General Conference throughout the eight years Perry spent on the Commission. She recalls that he was well respected by the 15 other members of the Commission and cared for people above all else.
“He had an excellent way of being able to facilitate, to hear different points of view, and to bring them together so everyone was heard and felt they had a part in every decision that had to be made,” said Marshall. Leading the group that plans General Conference is a significant undertaking and an important role, she noted, adding, “He was gentle but firm.”
Perry retired in 2011 and returned to Vermont shortly after that to be closer to family. But his legacy has and will continue to live on within the Minnesota Conference.
“Two words describe my experience of Jim’s personhood and leadership: genuine and generous,” said Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce R. Ough, who met Jim while serving in leadership roles in the Iowa Conference. “Jim was genuine in his love of people; he was generous in sharing his time, expertise, and humor. Jim was genuine in his personal discipleship; he was generous in stewarding the leadership and program systems of the Minnesota Conference. Jim was genuine in all his relationships; he was generous in sharing his power and his faith.”
Bard echoed those sentiments.
“He was kind-hearted, possessed a generous spirit, and had a delightful sense of humor,” said Bard. “I treasure that warm place in my heart that I get in touch with when I think of Jim. He taught us all that relationships matter.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
*Cards can be sent to 63 Bluebird Drive, Colchester, VT 05446. Memorials are preferred to the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the Vermont Foodbank, and the Forward in Faith project at Faith United Methodist Church (899 Dorset St., S. Burlington, Vermont 05403).
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church