Wednesday, May 03, 2000

Milford man to address Methodists today

By Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        To an audience of 2,000 to 3,000 United Methodists from around the world, Jim Nibbelink will tell them to step outside their comfort zones to work together in new ways to build a better church and community.

        Mr. Nibbelink, 55, of Milford, will deliver the nonclergy keynote address today in Cleveland at the worldwide General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Selected among lay leaders of the 66 conferences nationwide, he speaks on behalf of 8.5 million United Methodists, the country's third-largest denomination behind Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists.

        The General Conference is the ruling body of the Methodist church. It meets every four years to set policy. Nearly 1,000 voting delegates will take up 1,900 pieces of legislation, from financial and organizational matters to questions of theology and practice. The delegates will decide whether to approve same-sex marriages, an issue so divisive that some say it could split the church.

        Mr. Nibbelink will not discuss that issue in his address. Instead, he will focus on ministers and lay people forging new partnerships.

        A Procter & Gamble manager, Mr. Nibbelink and his wife, Judi, attend Armstrong Chapel United Methodist in Indian Hill. For the past few months, Mr. Nibbelink has escaped to an empty room three to four times a week to practice the 22-minute speech. He even rehearsed once with a TelePrompTer.

        To ready himself, Mr. Nibbelink says he visualizes each gesture, position and tone of voice. Still, despite the preparation, he's nervous. He's counting on prayer to pull him through.

        Mr. Nibbelink talked with the Enquirer about the experience. Here are excerpts:

        Question: What are the biggest challenges facing people of faith?

        Answer: I think there's always concerns for achieving a balance between evangelism — spreading the faith — and social ministry — caring for creation. In my expe rience, congregations tend to be better at one or the other. It's rare for congregations to do well at both. With an effective partnership, you're more likely to get close to a balance.

        Q: What should non-Methodists know about the Methodist Church?

        A: It is a very broad-based faith that's open to persons of all Christian perspectives. We have devoted members of all political beliefs and all varieties of Christian theological perspective. I think that means people can find a home in the United Methodist Church. It gives people plenty of room to grow, because there's not a three-step formula, and everybody doesn't have to be exactly the same.

        Q: What message do you hope to deliver at the conference?

        A: The theme is “Partners in Ministry.” To me, “Partners in Ministry” has to do with finding the best ways to leverage the gifts and graces of both lay and clergy and working together in ministry. Each person comes with different talents and capabilities. If we take a pastor in the church and leaders among the laity and form partnerships, then we're going to get a greater number of skills than if it's just a lone-wolf leader.

        Q: What does it take to achieve that goal?

        A: (It will require) breaking some stereotypes of what pastors do and what lay people do. Often we're reluctant to volunteer for some leadership roles. And very often pastors feel they're on a pedestal and have to deliver certain kinds of leadership and have to be omnipresent, instead of delegating to lay people and then holding their feet to the fire.

        Q: What will you do before you give your speech?

        A: Other than sweating? Prayer preparation. I'll try to center myself and understand the purpose of the message I'm giving. I understand there also will be a community praying for me and for the message. That will help.

        AP PHOTO Dancers perform before Tuesday's worship service at the United Methodist Church General Conference in Cleveland.


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