Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar announced on Tuesday that he has appointed Preeti Pabreja, a lay member of the United Methodist Church of Westford, MA, to serve as Conference Secretary beginning Nov. 1, 2021.
Pabreja will take over for Rev. John Blackadar, who has been serving as Conference Secretary since 2015. Rev. Blackadar also served in the role from 1976 (in the former New Hampshire Conference) until 2005. Read more about him
“I am very honored to be given the opportunity to serve as the Secretary of the New England Annual Conference. Rev. Blackadar
leaves very big shoes to fill, and I am humbled to walk in his footsteps,” Pabreja said.
But Pabreja will also be charting a new path for the New England Conference: She will be the first Asian woman to serve as Conference Secretary.
“I am very proud that this appointment will extend the table and make our Annual Conference leadership more inclusive,” the bishop wrote in announcing the appointment.
According to the Book of Discipline, in the case of a vacancy between sessions, the bishop, in consultation with the district superintendents, appoints a secretary to act until the next session of the annual conference.
Asked what she’s most excited about, Pabreja said: “To be able to facilitate those sessions that guide the future of the Conference, because these are the representative leaders of the Conference.
“To be there and to be able to serve and facilitate sessions that enable them to successfully move our Conference forward is probably the most exciting thing … and being able to just be a small part in the big picture.”
Pabreja and her husband, Joe Wesley, became United Methodists when they moved to Westford in 2000.
“Initially, my involvement in the church was attending weekly worship services, but faith and Wesley’s teaching of ‘Do all the good you can’ inspired me to donate my time and talent,” Pabreja said.
At Westford, Pabreja was co-leader of the worship committee and co-led the development of the library at the church. She has also held leadership roles in Missions, Nominations, Education and with Youth groups. Since 2020, she has been a member of the Connectional Table.
“Over the last year, my focus has been co-chairing the Reconciling Task Force and it was a moment of immense joy when in September this year, UMCW Church Council voted to become a Reconciling Church,” she said.
Pabreja said she believes her work experience will also help her in the role of secretary.
She began her career as a software engineer and over the past 12 years has worked at the director and executive level for various technology companies. She is currently an area vice president, engineering, in charge of building next generation of software products for CareCentrix,” which creates programs to allow people to heal or age at home rather than in a care facility.
“[At work] it’s pretty standard for me to be running large, complex initiatives and facilitating the resolution of complex situations, which prepares me to handle awkward and complex situations in a way that is not just people-facing, but leads toward resolution and moves the path forward,” Pabreja said.
Her personal life provides some preparation for the position as well, she said.
Understanding how to find “fruitful and creative things out of a situation where you have conflicting ideas and thoughts” is something Pabreja’s diverse family background has taught her. She grew up in a Hindu household in northern India. Her husband was raised a Christian in southern India.
“India’s a very diverse country, and northern and southern cultures, traditions, and to some extent, ways of thinking are very different. So, for me, what I really focus on is being able to amalgamate traditions to get the best part out of conflicting items,” she said.
Despite the challenges posed by a virtual Annual Conference session, Pabreja said she still sees the process as one that works — and works well.
“What struck me is the ability of people to speak their mind. That people feel confident that their voice will be heard. And it is heard. … The deliberative body, in the end, is led by the people, which is such a good thing,” she said. “These are grassroots-up decisions. I find it heartening to see that people are making decisions about their churches and about how the whole New England Conference is going to operate.”
“Observing Preeti’s ministry, I can see, very clearly, her passion for justice and her deep love for the church. Thoroughness and attention to detail are among her many gifts, and I am so pleased that she has agreed to accept the role of Conference Secretary,” Bishop Devadhar said in his announcement.
She will need those skills as secretary, which is a demanding and year-round role, and Pabreja said she knows she will have to find a way to balance family life, her career, and her work for the church.
“It’s easy to not take something on,” she said, “but when you take something on, somehow a path forward becomes available to you; I really believe that.”