Northwest Mission Area History Part 4

The Rev. Steve Schaitberger

Northwest Mission Area History Part 4

In 1972 the ministry of the Northwest Mission area underwent a major change. Canon to the Ordinary S. Barry O’Leary authored a reorganization of the Diocese of Minnesota. In short the diocese was divided into 9 regions, which were empowered by the canons of the diocese to elect their own leadership and determine their own representatives to diocesan council and to determine the distribution of funds within the region. This was fully embraced and implemented in Region One, now called the Northwest Mission Area. At the same time we received a generous endowment gift from the Weed Estate, which helped in funding program resources for leadership development on our reservations. The success of this effort to develop leadership on the reservation was led by Rev. George Schulenberg. 

Leadership development became our area focus off the reservation as well. The revival of the diaconate was welcomed in our area and several persons presented themselves for consideration. Rev. Sandi Holmberg and Rev. Stephen Schaitberger were appointed by Bishop Jelinek to develop leadership in the North. They were field deployed to live in the North. Nearly every church in the region responded to the call to develop team ministry from among its membership. Not one congregation in this area could afford a full time seminary trained resident priest. The result of this new tactic was that each congregation underwent a period of gift discovery to nominate to the bishop persons to serve as clergy and lay leadership. These persons were formed locally by qualified persons who traveled to their congregation to help them meet the canonical requirements for ordination or lay commissioning. Each congregation had a seminary trained mentor. Many congregations who had no clergy soon found themselves with more than one. Each team was to receive continuing education. Second generation teams began to be formed as well.

With the arrival of the Revs. Mike and Lisa Smith who lived in the rectory at Naytahwaush, the rectory at White Earth was repurposed into a retreat center named Enmegahbowh House. This was a site for numerous activities. Rev. Juanita Palmerhall was a spiritual director to many persons not only from the Northwest Mission area but also from the whole diocese. Rev. Robert Roy later used this site as a base for providing Sunday service support. In the past few years we have not had a resident retreat leader.

The expansion of leadership formation slowed when the fair share formula was lowered as larger congregations in mostly the metro area sought relief to put more resources into their own congregations. There was some thought that cutting the diocesan budget would be offset by the increase in new members which would generate similar income to the diocese at a lower fair share rate. The decision to do this brought leadership development to a trickle for the Northwest Mission area. The diocese did not have enough funds to provide for field deployed Canon Missioners. The diocese decided to centralize leadership formation, which was not received well in our area. Potential leaders were asked to sacrifice driving several hours for a short period on their day off or vacation time if they were employed, to qualify for a church leadership position that is unpaid. They also knew that others in their congregation were not put under these extreme conditions in the recent past. 

Our future will depend on how the diocese chooses to provide leadership development to congregations who are fragile and whose leaders are reaching a time to retire due to age and health circumstances. We may find hope in technology that can be cost effective and provide local formation of leadership for the next generation. We may need to rely on our ecumenical friends who are undergoing similar dynamics. 

How is God moving us to be the Church in this decade and beyond? Pray for us.