Dr. William McConnell named interim director
by Emily Enders Odom, Mission Engagement & Support | Special to Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Bryce Wiebe, director of Special Offerings and the Presbyterian Giving Catalog for the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) since March 1, 2015, has announced his resignation, which will take effect today, Jan. 21.
Upon Wiebe’s departure, Ruling Elder Dr. William McConnell, a PMA mission engagement advisor assigned to the synods of Living Waters, Mid-America and Lakes and Prairies, will assume the position of interim director while continuing with his current responsibilities.
Wiebe, who began his PMA service in 2013 as a mission associate with the Presbyterian Hunger Program, said that several factors, including COVID-19, figured in his decision to resign.
“It has been such an honor to share in this ministry for six years,” Wiebe said in a Jan. 13 interview. “In this work, I have sought to connect Presbyterians with the impact of our shared ministries and inspire participation, and I believe in taking turns. COVID was definitely also a factor.”
Amid what has been a historic, nationwide rise in workers leaving their jobs because of the pandemic, Wiebe, like many of them, plans to take the time he needs to rest and regroup as well as to discern where God is calling him to serve next.
“The pandemic changed all of our lives and each of our lives, as individuals and in these ‘lives’ we share together in community, congregation, family, or place,” he said. “I drive myself hard, and my core, personal practices are toward isolation. For me, it’s really feeling like I haven’t had a Sabbath rest at all.”
Prior to the onset of COVID-19 — which found travel restrictions repeatedly imposed on members of the U.S. workforce, including PC(USA) employees — Wiebe noted that his position as director of Special Offerings previously required that he be on the road 60-70% of the time. Over the past two years, he, like most workers, has been relegated to serving remotely from his home, which he said has made the work even more challenging.
Yet despite the many obstacles he and the Church have faced during his six-year tenure, revenue for the PC(USA)’s four Special Offerings and the Presbyterian Giving Catalog grew substantially under Wiebe’s leadership, most notably in the years 2018 and 2019, which saw a 9% and 5% revenue increase respectively year over year.
“Bryce’s many gifts for ministry — his creativity, his love of the Church and his business skills — made it possible for him to step into this demanding position,” said the Rev. Rosemary C. Mitchell, senior director of Mission Engagement & Support for the PMA. “He managed a team that increased the participation rate as well as contributions during a time of declining membership. His theological background ensured that the materials for each offering were biblically, theologically and liturgically grounded. His love and knowledge of local congregations and his business skills ensured that the ‘deliverables’ met the needs of a broad spectrum of our congregations and were delivered on time. He has set a high bar for future leadership!”
A graduate of the Presbyterian-related Hastings (Nebraska) College, Wiebe also earned an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. Prior to joining the Presbyterian Hunger Program in 2013, he served for three years as executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters in Hastings.
“As a member of the Hunger Program staff, I had the opportunity to learn with Presbyterians how to better support fair trade and anti-sweatshop efforts,” he said. “I believe in food. I grew up on a farm and in the kitchen, as a child, with my mother and grandmother, and then at the bakery in Hastings, where I learned, as an adult, how to pray by a sourdough starter.”
Wiebe brought those same sensibilities to his work in Special Offerings.
“Bryce is an extraordinarily gifted spiritual leader who has been a blessing for our denomination as director of Special Offerings,” said Linda Badger Becker, a National Response Team volunteer for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, who chaired the Special Offerings Review Task Force from 2019-2021.
“Bryce’s departure will be a great loss for the Presbyterian Mission Agency,” she said. “He has offered consistent and thoughtful support to the Special Offerings Review Task Force in its work. His partnership in this particular ministry was invaluable. I know that all the members of the Task Force wish him the very best in what God is calling him to next.”
Wiebe said that having the four Special Offerings grow, as well as the Giving Catalog, is a highlight of his tenure. “I find it meaningful because of what it means for the Church,” he said.
Among the many congregations and pastors with whom Wiebe nurtured a special bond was the Sherrills Ford (North Carolina) Presbyterian Church, where Ruling Elder Russ Reighley and his wife Marcia serve as co-pastors.
Reighley said that he first had the pleasure of meeting Wiebe — with whom he enjoyed “a marvelous relationship” — when Sherrills Ford made an inquiry about purchasing “garden wells” in the Giving Catalog. Doris Brown, who was then the church’s PW moderator, said the women were interested in buying one or more but wanted more information.
“In the course of one of our discussions, we invited Bryce to visit our church,” Reighley recalled, “and much to our surprise, he took us up on our invitation! What a wonderful day we had. Bryce was all over our little church, taking pictures, speaking to everyone he saw, taking more pictures, and sharing God’s love. We loved him and I think he felt love from us.”
As McConnell assumes the director’s position on an interim basis, he is quick to note that his work in Mission Engagement and Support has been closely aligned with the important work of Special Offerings.
“I am honored to continue building on the solid foundation Bryce and his team have constructed,” he said, “encouraging the Church to participate actively in the vital ministries supported by the four Special Offerings.”
McConnell, a lifelong Presbyterian who holds a doctorate in music from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, most recently served for five years as executive director of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians prior to joining the PMA in December 2016.
“It’s now time for someone else to apply their intelligence, enthusiasm, imagination and love to support and nurture this ministry to which I was called six years ago,” Wiebe continued. “I’d rather leave now, knowing what I know but believing there’s so much yet to discover, than thinking I had figured it all out for someone else to ‘come and do likewise.’ Everything you think is coming next just changes anyway. I’m not alone in thinking this way.”
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Categories: Ministry Engagement & Support 2, Special Offerings
Tags: bryce wiebe, covid-19, doris brown, dr. william mcconnell, hastings college, Linda Badger Becker, mission engagement & support, mission engagement advisor, presbyterian association of musicians, presbyterian giving catalog, presbyterian hunger program, rev. rosemary c. mitchell, russ reighley, Sherrills Ford (North Carolina) Presbyterian Church, Special Offerings, special offerings review task force, synod of lakes and prairies, Synod of Living Waters, synod of mid-america, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, yale divinity school
Ministries: Special Offerings, Mission Engagement and Support