Read a Q&A with Karen Munson

February 01, 2016

The Rev. Karen L. Munson has been appointed as the Superintendent of the Mid-Maine District, effective July 1, 2016. Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar announced the appointment on Jan. 31. Rev. Munson is currently serving Brunswick UMC in Maine.
We asked her about her thoughts on and preparations for her new role. Here’s what she had to say:

What makes a good District Superintendent?
A good listener; a good DS, I think, looks for an understanding of the context that ministry’s happening in both for the local church and for the region – and actually for the world. I think a good DS spots the gifts that God is expressing through people and through churches, and encourages them to flourish by resourcing them, by encouraging them, and by connecting them with other folks so that we’re stronger together than we would being alone.

What gifts do you think you bring to being a District Superintendent?
I am a systems thinker, a big-picture thinker, but at the same time I’m delighted by what I see in people and places that make up the big picture. So it’s paying attention to the particular, but seeing how it all fits together, seeing the challenges that are on the larger landscape and the opportunities that are on the horizon, but also how all the particular individuals fit with that.

I think I bring a deep grounded-ness in Scripture and prayer; those are the spiritual disciplines that really sustain me day to day, and that I bring into the churches that I’ve worked with. I highly value cultivating the gifts of the laity, and building teams with a gift-based approach.
I think I bring a broad knowledge of resources that are available for churches and church leaders.

What are you looking forward to most about your new role?
I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues on Cabinet. I’m delighted that Lori Umberhind is the administrative assistant for Mid-Maine; I really value her gifts and person. I’m looking forward to having the churches introduce me to their neighborhoods and seeing their communities through their eyes.
A lot of the churches in Mid-Maine, in the past two years, have been doing the Exploring Possibilities Study, and I’m really looking forward to finding out what they’ve learned about themselves and their communities, and how they’re working with that.

I’m looking forward to being more connected again to the United Methodist Economic Ministry. I’m looking forward to being closer to Mechuwana, so in the summer I can just go down and have lunch and interact with the campers and the staff. Really, having closer access to some of the important ministries.  

Are you from Maine?
No, although I’ve lived here longer than anyplace else in my life. I grew up in the Midwest, and then married a Navy man. So before we moved to Maine, I counted it up once, I think I’ve lived in 27 places, but have been in Maine since 2000 – far longer than anyplace else; I really do think of it as home. So it’s just an incredible gift and privilege to be called to serve in a place that I’ve grown to love so much.

What will you miss most about being a local church pastor?
It’s such a gift to work on a day-to-day basis with the people who are doing the actual on-the-ground work of ministry. When you’re working closely with people in the local church, you can spot those gifts and start fanning the flame. And you’re there to see them start to discover (those gifts) for themselves and cultivate them and put them to work for Christ. That’s always been my call, since before seminary, to work with developing the gifts in each person on the lay leadership teams. So I’ll miss that work.

Is that something you think you’ll be able to do with the pastors in your district?
One of the challenges of Mid-Maine is that we have so many wonderful part-time pastors and so many that are bi-vocational that it’s been a struggle for us to find the ways to connect. So that’s one of the things I really want to work on, is how do we keep connected with the people whose circumstances make it difficult for them to be connected in the traditional ways that we’ve come to rely on.

And I’ll miss leading worship every week. I love designing and leading worship, and preaching so that will be a change.

The bishop’s letter mentioned that you have an art background; talk about that.
When we were moving around as a Navy family, depending on what was available in the community we were in, I either worked with churches – often on staff – or worked as an artist, and sometimes the two were combined. I did a lot of artist-in-residency type of work in churches and in schools. I love doing community projects.

One that I worked on was working with children with different educational and emotional abilities making a quilt that became the HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) poster that year – sometime in the 1990s.
I did a few (community art projects) in downtown Washington, D.C., where we had kids from, what was then, one of the most impoverished neighborhoods working with kids in the Soviet Union to create a quilt across the miles. So they were working in parallel and it became one piece.

I love working with kids or intergenerational groups that find that medium a way to express and have insights in a way that’s different from when you’re working with words. Collaborative work that is vision-invoking and that draws your story and insights out through art process has been really important.

What was your reaction when the bishop told you about the appointment?
I was just incredibly humbled to be asked. And when he invited me to serve in Mid-Maine, I was delighted. I think that knocked any hesitation that I might have had right out of the equation. So I didn’t have any hesitations in responding ‘yes.’ When he said Mid-Maine, it felt like the right fit.

What are you doing to get ready for your new appointment?
Well, I’m going to beef up my yoga practice. I know from working with DSs in the past this work hard on your body; there’s a lot of sitting and a lot driving, so I’m going to pay attention to my core.

Honestly, I’ve been spending more time thinking about what I need to do to settle things in the church that I’m serving in Brunswick, because they’ve gone through such a powerful transformation; that’s been more where my brain has been the past two weeks.

I’m going to take a vacation before I start. My husband teaches robotics, among other things, and he’s going to be at a teaching conference in Pittsburgh right after Annual Conference, so I’ll go out with him and check out some of the art. Pittsburgh is a city that’s really being transformed right now, and then we’ll probably visit family for a week after that.

I’ve just been starting to think about ways that I hope to connect with the pastors and the leaders of the churches. I’m the chairperson of the District Superintendency Committee in Mid-Maine – which we’re trying to transition pretty quickly – but we’ve already been thinking about some ways to introduce the new DS. There’s some planning that the committee has already started to do on that. And they’re a good group to work with, so I’ll rely on them.

Any final thoughts?
I’m looking forward to working with the Cabinet and learning more about the New England Conference as a whole, and about the other districts and how those pieces fit together. I’ll be very interested to see what comes out of General Conference that we’ll need to respond or adapt to.

One of the things I’m really interested in doing is the next steps in exploring what came out of General Conference 2012, which I was at, with the redefining or reshaping of the DS role as missional strategist. Beverly (Stenmark, current Mid-Maine DS) has done such a wonderful job of communicating and supporting the local churches, it feels like the district is in a good place to really say ‘What does it mean to have a missional strategist for the district and how do we work with that?’