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People focus on ministry, despite their differences

Sheila Miranda connects congregations in region.

By Mary Stamp

From her childhood in a small Iowa farming community with Amish and Mennonite neighbors and from her experiences in short- and long-term missions in Japan and the Philippines, the Rev. Sheila Miranda connects ministry leaders and congregations, knowing they can work together to make a difference, even if their beliefs and cultures differ.

Sheila is the Inland and Seven Rivers Missional District associate for connectional ministries, a collaborative ministry with nine geographic, missional cohorts of six to 10 churches.

In cohorts, pastors support each other. They share concerns with the cohort pastor, who offers ideas or talks with the district superintendent. Cohorts try to find ways to partner in ministry.

Sheila said COVID restrictions slowed the process. While some are hesitant to come back together, more churches are coming together now.

"Some have robust online worship communities. Others did less online. Some are seeing growth from their online presence," Sheila said.

Shaped by growing up in Kalona, Iowa—a town of 1,500 that is the largest Amish-Mennonite community west of the Mississippi—she values living side-by-side with people of different religions and cultures, rather than seeing them as a threat.

Her family's farm was next to an Amish farm. Her first best friend was an Amish preacher's granddaughter.

Sheila sang solos and in the choir at the local American Baptist-Disciples of Christ church. She learned piano from the pastor's wife. With no model of a female pastor, she wanted to be a minister of music. Her mother suggested she could earn a living teaching music, so she studied music education at the University of Iowa.

After graduating in 1981, Sheila taught junior high and high school vocal music for five years, while also doing music ministry at churches.

In 1986, she joined a group of 10 American Baptist and Disciples young adults from Iowa and Minnesota on a six-week visit to Himeji, Japan, where American Baptist Churches of Iowa and Minnesota have a partnership with a girls' high school and junior college.

She led English conversations, helped with camps and had a homestay to experience Japanese culture. That affirmed her desire to be a minister because of the church's value system and mission of love.

On a visit home, she told her pastor of her interest in ministry. He called a friend at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Kans., and a few days later she was invited to a church vocations conference.

"It was like God opening a door," said Sheila, who went to Japan again that summer before starting seminary.

In seminary, she met her husband, Daniel Miranda, who now serves with her in a ministry bringing together 70 churches in the Seven Rivers and Inland District in Central and Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

Sheila and Daniel served together in the American Baptist Church before their ministry at a federated church led them into the United Methodist Church.

Right after graduating in 1989, they went for a year to Himeji, Japan, while the missionaries there were on home assignment. They taught English, led music and worked with churches.

Sheila's interactions with students confirmed for her that "people are people around the world."

On returning, she experienced cultural shock as she saw her own culture through new eyes.

Sheila and Daniel then served eight years as co-pastors of an American Baptist Church in Beloit, Wis. Along with pastoral work and music, Sheila coordinated a food pantry and clothing bank. She also helped create a community health center.

Just as the 100-member church was ready to move into a new addition, Daniel and Sheila were called to their "dream job"—four years with the American Baptist International Ministries as missionaries teaching theology and music to rural pastors at the Convention Baptist Bible College in Bacolod City in the Philippines. Their three children were preschool and elementary age.

Sheila was impressed with the Filipino emphasis on family, relationships and doing what is best for the group rather than oneself.

On returning, they spent 2002 visiting American Baptist Churches to share about their mission work.

Next, they served a nearly 100-year-old Federated Church in Waterville, WA, that included American Baptists, Presbyterians, United Methodists and Disciples of Christ.

In their 10 years there, the support and training of the United Methodists led them to transfer to the UMC.

After the Carleton Complex fire in the Okanogan burned down the Pateros parsonage and the UMC pastor left, the district superintendent (DS) asked Daniel to serve as interim there—50 miles from Waterville. Daniel was then appointed to Auburn. A year later, Sheila was appointed to Colby UMC in Port Orchard.

After COVID hit and disrupted lives, the DS asked them to serve the Inland and Seven Rivers Districts. They moved to Spokane in 2021.

While Daniel supervises churches and places pastors, Sheila's emphases are leadership and congregational development, mission and compassion and communication.

She recruits and educates lay servant leaders and mentors five certified lay ministers to serve with ordained elders in larger churches or provide leadership for rural churches that lack funds to support a full-time ordained pastor.

Once pastors were professionally trained in seminaries, salary criteria were set, leaving those in a limited population and some urban areas struggling to pay pastors' salaries. That gave rise to lay leadership.

Sheila mentors, encourages and coaches lay ministers, helping them hone skills to share their wisdom and gifts, and develop new skills.

"What worked one time may not work another," she said. "As a mentor I don't tell people how to do something. I bring people together and offer resources."

Because COVID made church people comfortable with technology, Sheila gathers people from Deer Park, Grangeville and the Okanogan on Zoom to talk about their churches, share ideas and support each other.

Their ministries are about more than the needs of people in a congregation. They are ministries in which mission and compassion connect, she said.

For the 2023 PNC-UMC Annual Conference, Bishop Cedrick Bridgeforth proposed that the theme be from the story of the Good Samaritan, "Go and Do Likewise."

Sheila said with many congregations doing that, she facilitates their sharing how they serve in their communities.

"Sharing stories in our newsletters or on Zoom often sparks something so readers and listeners say, 'I could do that or something like that.' To see one congregation work creatively inspires other congregations," she said.

Sheila gave some examples:

• The United Methodist Committee on Relief and United Methodist Volunteers in Ministry are partnering with Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington, Mennonite Disaster Services, AmeriCorps and the Red Cross to rebuild 45 uninsured homes destroyed in the Carleton Complex fire and a 2021 fire. Others are partnering to rebuild homes lost in the Malden fire.

• A fall conference on homelessness at Spokane Valley UMC sparked conversations on ways to make a dent in Eastern Washington's housing shortage. The pastor of Wesley UMC in Yakima is offering a webinar on working together for housing solutions.

• As part of the UMC Conference's focus on anti-racism, church youth are going for six-day S.L.A.M. Trips with Mending Wings to do service projects on the Yakama reservation and learn about historical and current injustices the Yakama prople have experienced and face.

Bishop Cedrick believes ministries of connection among churches are a way to turn the tide in a time of division in the UMC related to welcoming LGBTQ members.

"Instead of looking at our differences, we need to focus on service and compassion," said Sheila.

"In the past three years, some congregations have been discerning about disaffiliating," Sheila said. "A few are leaving, but most are staying.

"Most decided they can live with differences and focus on ministry," she said. "Differences are within and between churches. We do not need to believe the same to show love and compassion to the world as Jesus did."

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May 2023