A Letter from Director of Congregational Excellence
Rev. Dr. Dale White
Dear brothers and sisters,
Last week, the new Staunton District Superintendent and ongoing Roanoke District Superintendent, Rev. Doug Forrester, sent out his first letter to the district. In that letter, he outlined a realistic vision for how to make this arrangement work as half his time will be spent on the Roanoke District. One of the most inspiring lines in his letter, in my humble opinion, referred to the work done during the pandemic and stated “the laity have an opportunity to be present and to birth into being what God is doing next in the church right here in our midst, and the more our lay leadership can model and emphasize a ministry of presence, unity, and teamwork, the better realized the kingdom will be in our midst.” He also referred to the District team here, and stated “the more congregational leaders and clergy can do in their context, the freer we are to do this missional strategist work that will enable us to be as empowering as possible for the people on our Districts.”
I began my letter referencing to the DS’ letter because it sets the tone for why Jay Carey and Doug Forrester developed the position of District Director of Congregational Excellence for a United Methodist Elder, and hired a guy named Dale White. In response to Doug’s letter, some have asked “what is his role” and “who is he?” Let me answer the “who” question first. I am a United Methodist Elder on loan from the New York Annual Conference. I am honored to claim the privilege of being ordained Deacon in 1984 by the first African-American Bishop in the United Methodist Church after the dissolution of the Central Conferences (Bishop Roy Nichols), and ordained Elder by my namesake in 1987, Bishop C. Dale White. I served a student charge for three years from 1982-1985, and two United Methodist Churches from 1985-1992. I attended Drew Theological School for my Master of Divinity, and Wesley Theological Seminary for my Doctor of Ministry. For the last 29 years, I have supported the United Methodist Church as a chaplain in the US Navy, recently retiring as the senior UM chaplain on active duty. My wife Linda, daughter Shannon, and I moved to Churchville in 2015 to make Augusta County our home.
The more important question is “what is my role?” Clearly, I am not the District Superintendent, who has specific roles within the Discipline. Nor is my role the same as Beth Christian’s, who served faithfully and passionately at the District Office in a different ministry. Rather, with many years working at the Pentagon designing strategic plans for implementing ministry in the Navy, I bring to the district a background and resources to help very busy clergy and very dedicated laity strengthen their churches. I plan to “come alongside” our church teams and affirm what is going well, look at their churches from the perspective of a community member, network with United Methodist leaders and other leaders, and help move us from ”good” to “great” and from “surviving” to “thriving,” which are trends in our denomination and other mainline denominations.
As a United Methodist Chaplain working with thousands of Sailors and Marines, I observed that Methodist chaplains were a “magnet” for these young, often unchurched service members. They came to us without hesitation because of our openness and warmth. More theologically, I believe that magnetism rests in our theology of grace. Our open hearts, open minds, open doors position rests on grace, and the unchurched seekers know grace when they see and feel it. It’s what makes us unique. It is our theology. Our communities need to know what makes us unique, and through our ministries they need to feel and receive God’s grace. And in this time of pandemic and soul searching, there is no time like the present!
I am honored to be appointed by Bishop Lewis to serve you, work hard for and with you, brainstorm with you, and dream with you. Together with you (yes, I will get out there with you) let’s implement your dreams and work at making them a reality. Doug, Donna, and I are here to help you thrive. All of this for the Glory of God.
From Rev. Doug Forrester, our District Superintendent ~ The following is a letter from Doug. If you would like to share it, a copy is attached.
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Greetings from the Staunton District Office, where I have been for four days as I begin my role as the District Superintendent of this additional district on July 1. I was recently asked by a district lay leader from another part of the Conference how laity and lay leadership could help make this new arrangement work. My thoughts are below.
This new arrangement will rise and fall on patience, grace, and cooperation between clergy, laity, lay leadership and district superintendents. I have been in the Staunton office since Sunday and I am already noticing how my meeting scheduling has changed. What used to be “Can you meet at the end of the week?” or “Can you meet early next week?” has become “Can you meet two weeks from tomorrow?” This is simply because of my physical location at any given time. Of course, Zoom meetings help meetings happen sooner, but for those who wish for meetings in person, the process will naturally take longer than before.
Ultimately, our present reality is going to reward creativity and teamwork. Not only is it a good idea for congregations to face challenges and work through differences together, it is congruent with the gospel to do so. It is more efficient as well.
The more churches rely upon their DS, the more we can find ourselves as superintendents functioning as the narrow “pinch point” of the hourglass that can potentially slow things down. Of course, we are always willing to help and equip. It is what we are here for. Yet the more congregational leaders and clergy can do in their context, the freer we are to do this missional strategist work that will enable us to be as empowering as possible for the people on our Districts.
If the pandemic showed nothing else, it showed us just how dependent the people of the congregation are in making the church the church. The laity have an opportunity to be present and help birth into being what God is doing next in the church right here in our midst, and the more our lay leadership can model and emphasize a ministry of presence, unity, and teamwork, the better-realized the kingdom will be in our midst.
I recently told a group of lay leaders on the Roanoke District that when I was in the local church, the most important thing that my lay leaders did was to embody the mission of the church that I was preaching and towards which we were leading the congregation, because in so doing, they demonstrated that what the church was straining towards was possible, attainable, and real because God was with us and we were sojourning with Christ in whom all things are possible.
Grace and peace,
Regarding getting in touch with me, always feel free to reach out to Donna. You can also feel free to contact me by email at StauntonDS@vaumc.org. I am requesting that Staunton folks use my Staunton email and Roanoke folks use my Roanoke email, just so I can keep things separate. Regardless of where I am physically, I am checking both email addresses. I will be in each office more or less every other week.