High expectations shared as Upper New York Senior Executive staff named



The Rev. Dr. Marcus Matthews, resident bishop of the New York West Area, and resident bishop of the Upper New York Area this July, expressed high expectations as he announced those named as Senior Executive Staff for the new Annual Conference in Upper New York this week.

“All of these persons have a strong spiritual, disciplined life which they model in a variety of ways,” Bishop Matthews said. “Each person had a great appreciation for the mission and vision of the new conference and expressed excitement to live out the vision in the Upper New York Area.

“I was pleased with their willingness to grow into the position. Even our benefits officer, who has been with the North Central New York Conference for over 25 years, has a clear understanding her role will be significantly different beginning July 1,” Bishop Matthews said.

Sunday, Feb. 21, Bishop Matthews announced appointments of the Rev. William Gottschalk-Fielding as Director of Connectional Ministries and the Rev. Maidstone Mulenga as Director of Communications.

In addition, Bishop Matthews announced Ms. Vicki Putney as Benefits Officer and Ms. Sherri Mackey as Treasurer/Director of Administrative Services for the new annual conference in the Upper New York Area.

Though there will be some transition between now and July 1, the Executive Staff members have current responsibilities and their journey with the new conference until that time is limited. The first gathering of the new Senior Executive Staff is set for March 5.

“There will be planned opportunities for people to meet the new staff persons,” Bishop Matthews said. “In addition, they have agreed to itinerate to the four existing offices to greet and meet the staff persons now serving the annual conferences.

“My greatest hope is that we help the 189,000 card carrying United Methodists to live the gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places,” Bishop Matthews said of the new Conference in Upper New York.

“As the largest Protestant denomination in Upper New York, I suspect God is expecting more of us. We have the potential to make a difference, a significant difference in the lives of all of God’s people in Upper New York,” Bishop Matthews said.

“As a re-energized people, we will be the kind of witness in Upper New York that is a prophetic voice in the State Capital and in every section of our area. I have high expectations for those senior level persons and for all of us that we believe we can fulfill our mission and that we then do it. I believe we can,” he said.

“I believe God is calling us to become not just a new conference, but a new people, eager and able to live the gospel and invite others into a life-changing relationship with God through Christ. I feel called to play a significant role in this work,” the Rev. Gottschalk-Fielding said. “In my work throughout the conference I [will] take responsibility for asking, ‘Whose voice have we not heard around this table and how will we seek to hear this voice?’ These questions are especially important as the new conference seeks to ‘be God’s love to our neighbors in all places.’

“To love others we must listen to their hopes, dreams and needs,” Rev. Gottschalk-Fielding notes.

“My understanding is that the new annual conference is not expected to be simply a combining of elements from the currently existing conferences, but rather a new creation positioned to meet the challenges facing us now and in the future,” Ms. Mackey notes. “I have many assets to bring to the new annual conference of the Upper New York area which, I believe, can help to smooth the transition for the churches and individuals experiencing this important change and which can also provide a supportive foundation of reliable and understandable service to all who will work with the annual conference offices once fully established.”

“I am a firm believer that one should listen twice as much as one speaks. By hearing the concerns, issues, and questions through the words that are being expressed by all and responding with guidance and assurance, I would hope to be able to gain the trust and support needed to do my job as effectively as possible,” Ms. Mackey said.

Ms. Putney is looking forward to supporting the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church through excellent benefits education, interpretation and management, enabling clergy and lay employees to pursue their current ministries in an atmosphere of health and wholeness while confident in their future security.

“I understand that the new conference needs to make key decisions and will be able to provide supportive information during this process,” Ms. Putney notes. She sees herself helping local United Methodist churches and individuals to find their places ‘at the table’ in this new annual conference through truth and transparency.

“While the folk in United Methodist churches of Troy, Western New York and Wyoming Conferences do not know me personally, the folk in North Central New York do. I believe I have built a reputation of trust-worthiness and helpfulness that will become apparent to those I have not yet met,” Ms. Putney said.

“As a professional journalist for nearly 20 years and a minister in the last three years, I believe that I bring a combination of gifts that demonstrates proven professional experience with demonstrated results in journalism, media relations, and online and personal communications,” Rev. Mulenga said. “With local churches and individuals, the Annual Conference Communication can help reach out and bring people into a relationship with each other and Jesus Christ, making disciples that transform the world.”

The process

“I am indebted to the women and men who made up the (Interim Personnel) team,” Bishop Matthews said. “They did an awesome job in such a short period of time. I trusted their work and I affirm the integrity used throughout the process. When the names were forwarded to me, I was confident they had done their work and done it well. I was very pleased with the persons presented. They reflected women and men who will bring to the Upper New York Annual Conference the kind of skill sets which are needed for a new day.”

Created in March of 2009 by the New Area Conference Team (New ACT), the Interim Personnel Committee was entrusted with the search for and screening of applicants for the four senior executive staff positions of the new annual conference within the new Upper New York Area. Bishop Matthews appointed Dr. Ronald Bretsch as chair.

The Committee included laity and clergy persons from each of the four annual conferences that will constitute the new annual conference; men and women; and persons of minority ethnicity. Members were: Ron Bretsch, Wayne Butler, Helen Johnson, Alan Kinney, Bob Lowenthal, Mildred Mason, Teressa Sivers, Greg Threatte, Denise Walling, and Sue Walling (not related to Denise), all of whom agreed to confidentiality of work within the committee. From the beginning they saw themselves as an Upper New York body, not as representative of individual conferences.

They met for daylong meetings in August, September, October and November of 2009 and for a two and one-half day meeting in January and a meeting in February.

All committee decisions were made by utilizing a consensus-building model which resulted in each decision made by the committee having the active and direct support of each committee member or the endorsement of each committee member if not active and direct support. While there was a provision for a voting process if needed, it was never implemented according to Interim Personnel Committee Chairperson Dr. Bretsch.

New ACT provided job descriptions for each of the four positions and a national and ecumenical search was conducted.

Over 92 applications were received, both a gift and a challenge, Dr. Bretsch notes. There were applicants from both within and without the present four annual conferences.

“Many applicants were outstanding,” Dr. Bretsch reported. “A few, it may be said, reflected the uncertainty of present national economic conditions, in that their applications were of an en masse nature.

“It cannot be emphasized too much that the Interim Personnel Committee acted from the assumption and the desire that the new annual conference be ‘a new thing,’ à la in Isaiah 41, 42, and 43.” Dr. Bretsch said. “We were highly committed to a new creation. We were mindful that, if we continue as at present, United Methodism will be spoken of in the past tense in only two decades.”

Persons were sought who demonstrated good leadership abilities of a kind that was not ‘the leader out front informing every one of the way’; Dr. Bretsch said. “They had Gospel-based vision--and did not envision the church mainly as a line-staff chart; had proven abilities that led us to conclude that he or she could and would work as a team member with the other three top executives of the new annual conference and evidenced a vibrant understanding of the dynamism of the Spirit, itself.

Successful applicants were required to live in the greater Syracuse area. “Commuting long distances to Syracuse or ‘working from home’ were deemed inappropriate,” Dr. Bretsch said.

In every step of the screening process the committee sought intentionally to be inclusive in terms of gender, ethnicity, ecumenism, and physical conditions, once competence was determined. They required the Director of Connectional Ministries be a United Methodist with appropriate United Methodist experience.

Present staff were welcome to apply but their current role was not considered an advantage, nor a disadvantage. Each complete application included a letter of application, resume, references and other required information, and complete applications were reviewed. A “long list” of applicants was developed for each position and the committee requested additional information in the form of written responses to a small battery of questions the committee developed.

“We were looking for persons who can help the rest of us dream the dream and help us bring it into reality,” Dr. Bretsch said.

Those responses were reviewed and applicants selected to be invited to face-to-face interviews in January during which additional questions were asked. At least three applicants were interviewed for each of the four positions. On the basis of their written materials and interviews, the committee advanced the names of persons those persons they found competent for the respective position to Bishop Matthews for his consideration.

“The process was exhaustive, intensive, and positive. We are grateful to God for the opportunity to have served in this role of assisting in helping to birth this ‘new creation’ as a part of the Realm in upper New York State. We look forward--and indeed, long for--the greater fulfillment of that Realm.” Dr. Bretsch said.