By: Karla Hovde
During the 2020 virtual Annual Conference on Aug. 29, awards were presented to six individuals—some clergy, some laity—and one church for their exceptional contributions over the past year. They were recognized before more than 500 remote attendees for the ways they have made a difference in their congregations and their communities. Watch awards video.
Denman Award for Reaching New People—Clergy: Sara & Jim Hein
When Vineyard UMC in Hutchinson voted to close its doors for a year and relaunch the church, the Heins took on this challenging appointment to help the small and aging church through a relaunch process.
They led the church to shed all internal or non-strategic ministries and instead focus energy externally. For example, the church let go of its annual turkey dinner, which raised funds for the church’s internal work, and hosted a new event aimed at raising funds for childhood cancer awareness and research.
“This event, and others like it, moved the church to see themselves in ministry to and with the community, rather than the community for them,” said Rev. Dr. Fred Vanderwerf, Southern Prairie District superintendent, who nominated the couple for this award. “Sara and Jim Hein…have evangelistic hearts and a deep desire for others to know Christ.”
In October 2019, Vineyard UMC welcomed 120 people at its relaunch service. Since then, it has sustained average weekly worship attendance of 85. About 13 people are preparing to become members of the church.
New attendees are engaged in the ministry of the church. One college student began attending Vineyard UMC after developing unhealthy drinking patterns and has made a complete change in his life. He lost many of his previous friends but has found a new community in the church. He is now starting a young men's group and helps with the worship live stream.
Denman Award for Reaching New People—Laity: Brent & Laura Cottington
The Cottingtons, members at Cross Winds UMC in Maple Grove, moved to St. Michael to help start a church plant while the right pastor is sought. When an initial church planter needed to leave the project for personal reasons, they answered the call to foster this growing congregation.
This included making community connections, coordinating the church’s online presence, organizing Sunday morning small group time, and even leading a youth group and confirmation class.
“Brent and Laura remind us all of the early days of Methodism as it spread across the country,” said Rev. Susan Nienaber, Big Waters District superintendent. “Our beginnings were as a lay-led movement. Our hope and prayer is that the witness of these faithful lay servants will continue to reach new people in St. Michael.”
Multiplication Matters Award for Reaching New People: Rev. Brad Herman
Rev. Brad Herman was a United Methodist pastor for many years until a personal journey of addiction and recovery took him out of pastoral ministry. Eventually, he became part of the community at Church of Peace in Richfield, where he felt called to start a community where people in addiction recovery could discover the love of Jesus Christ.
Herman, who is now a licensed local pastor, started the Recovering Love Church, a new church plant in Richfield that specifically focuses on those recovering from addiction.
The Multiplication Matters Award recognizes and honors those leaders and churches that are doing exceptional work in reaching new people by starting a new service, site, or church.
One Matters Award: Homer UMC
One of the oldest congregations in the Minnesota Conference is Homer UMC, which was established 161 years ago. The church went from zero professions of faith last year to five professions this year. This award recognizes the church’s efforts to reach new people and is a reminder that every person matters to the Lord.
As a small but vital congregation of about 70 members, Homer UMC shows an outsized love for its community, especially when someone is in need. They raise money for the local fire department, donate schools supplies, and broadcast a monthly Gospel Hour radio show. When a struggling family in the town of 181 residents was behind on bills and couldn’t buy any Christmas presents for their kids, the congregation stepped up to pay the overdue bills and provide more than $2,500 of financial support and gifts to the family.
“There is so much love in this congregation,” said one church leader. “Many, many times I have heard wonderful comments from visitors about the atmosphere and the love they feel when they come.”
Rev. Cynthia Williams, River Valley District superintendent, who nominated the church, said, “Homer UMC continually seeks to lift their neighbors and those in need through prayer. They live and value accepting that none are perfect but all are loved. This is a congregation that lives out the gospel by sharing cares and concerns and celebrating victories in Christ.”
Rev. Jeanne Audrey Powers Award for Healing a Broken World: Emily Hilderbrand
The Wesley Center for Spirituality, Service and Social Justice at United Methodist-affiliated Hamline University in St. Paul hired Emily Hilderbrand as the student leader of the campus’ “Love Boldly” initiative to advocate for a progressive and inclusive future for The United Methodist Church. Hilderbrand, who was in her first year at Hamline, set a goal of leading the university to become a Reconciling University—which it did on March 1, 2020.
Hilderbrand developed a step-by-step plan to organize students around this goal. Her work included consulting with staff of the Reconciling Ministries Network and LGBTQ+ leadership across The United Methodist Church. Then she worked with leaders of the Hamline University Student Congress to write and pass a welcoming statement, which she also presented to the Hamline Staff Association, the Hamline Faculty Council, the President’s Council, and the Board of Trustees, all of whom passed the resolution unanimously.
Rev. Nancy Victorin-Vangerud, chaplain and director of Hamline’s Wesley Center, who nominated Hilderbrand for this award, said Hilderbrand wanted Hamline’s Reconciling commitment to serve as a prophetic witness to the larger United Methodist constituencies within and beyond Minnesota She also wanted the opportunity for Hamline students’ voice to make a contribution to the decision-making processes within the denomination.
“Her ecumenical spirit was grounded in faith, in her love of God’s world, and a critically-aware model of social change,” said Victorin-Vangerud. “Working across many constituencies, partnerships, and personal relations, Emily successfully impacted Hamline University in a way which will bring confidence, joy, and integrity in the church-relatedness of the institution.”
Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
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