River Valley District welcomes new superintendent

January 11, 2023
Photos by Charlie Berg

By: Christa Meland

After more than 30 years in ministry, Rev. Michelle Hargrave stepped into a new role as River Valley District superintendent on Jan. 1. She succeeds Rev. Cynthia Williams, who recently transitioned to superintendent of the Twin Cities District.
Hargrave has spent the past 10 years as lead pastor at Centenary UMC in Mankato, which worships about 140 each week and welcomed 20 new members last year. Under her leadership, Centenary has developed two vibrant signature ministries: Holy Grounds, which serves breakfast to food-insecure neighbors, and Social Justice Theatre, which engages church and community members in theater productions to illuminate social justice, explore spiritual values, and build community.
Hargrave has served in a variety of appointments across four districts—from Winona to Minneapolis/St. Paul to Duluth. Bishop David Bard, who announced her new appointment last month, noted her diverse experience and said she’s well-positioned for the superintendent role.

“She has been deeply engaged in the communities to which she has been appointed,” he said. “Rev. Hargrave loves Jesus Christ, loves the church, and is committed to its flourishing in these complex times. She is also deeply committed to the mission, vision, and values of the Minnesota Conference.”
Serving the River Valley District is somewhat of a return to Hargrave’s roots. She grew up attending Albert Lea UMC, which borders the district. “I have a heart for the region,” she said.

Her call to ministry came when she was 15 and shared a message on Laity Sunday. A woman told her afterward: “You should be a pastor.” At that point, Hargrave had never seen a woman pastor, but that comment got her thinking and helped her discern that she was in fact called to pastoral ministry. Upon earning her undergraduate degree, she attended and later dropped out of Iliff School of Theology in Denver. But she was inspired to re-enroll in seminary after hearing Minnesota’s first female bishop, Sharon Brown Christopher, preach; Hargrave finished her master of divinity at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.
More recently, Hargrave completed the Nonprofit Church Leadership Program and earned an MBA at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota. She describes herself as a strategic thinker whose passion in ministry is being able to participate in the transformation of lives, systems, and churches. She’s excited to journey with congregations seeking to grow in love of God and neighbor, reach new people, and heal a broken world.
“I have never been more clear about an appointment and felt really deep inside me this is what I’m supposed to do,” she said. “I have had such beautiful mentors who paved the way for me. I’ve been feeling pulled the last few years to figure out how I can offer that same gift to clergy coming after me...It’s my turn to support the system.”

Hargrave is encouraged by the hope and passion that Bishop Lanette Plambeck brings to the Minnesota Conference and “the way she’s holding together the work of piety and the work of social witness in the world.” She also noted that it’s been powerful for the conference to closely examine issues of racism in the last few years and she looks forward to continuing that work.
When asked why she is committed to The United Methodist Church at this time of denominational schism, Hargrave said: “It’s my home. I have been deeply formed by that Wesleyan pull between loving God and loving your neighbor. It has shaped my life always. I think the UMC is continuing to wrestle with what that looks like, and I’m here for that journey.”
Hargrave formerly chaired the conference Board of Ordained Ministry and currently serves on the Episcopacy Committee and the Transitional Table—a group that’s helping the conference look at staffing and structure possibilities as we move into the future. She is thrilled to step into in this new role as a district superintendent.
“I’m humbled to have the opportunity to serve the conference and hopefully give back after all the support the conference has given me,” she said. “I hope I’ll be a blessing.”
Family: Husband, Kelly, a musician; young adult children, Zane and Liz
Favorite scripture: 1 Kings 19 (where Elijah experiences God in silence and learns not to go it alone)
Gifts cited by colleagues: Strategic, creative, faithful friend, dedicated to sustaining relationships, says what needs to be said
StrengthsFinder strengths: Strategic, learner, input, intellection, ideation
Favorite book: “Holy the Firm” by Annie Dillard
Favorite movies: “Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” “Harry Potter”
Favorite TV show: “Doctor Who”
Hobbies: Photography, playing clarinet, hand embroidery, needlepoint, sewing, bullet journaling, writing poetry
Favorite food: Pancakes (she also loves tea)
People she admires: Brené Brown; colleagues in ministry who have gone before her and taught her how to be a good, whole person: Kathi Austin Mahle, Lynda Ellis, Bill Mate, Tom Brennan, Ruth Phelps, and Brian Hacklander
Something interesting most people don’t know: She hates clowns (“they’re creepy”)

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

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