We are thrilled to announce that the Rev. Kendy Miller and the Rev. Sarah Rentzel Jones are joining our Ministerial Staff!

Headshot of Associate Conference Minister Rev. Kendy Miller

Rev. Kendy Miller

Rev. Miller currently resides in Urbandale, IA and serves as Pastor at First Congregational UCC in Iowa Falls, IA. She will be joining our staff at the end of June. When asked what she’s looking forward to, Rev. Miller said, “I am most looking forward to meeting the people who make the United Church of Christ’s voice heard in the communities of the Tri-Conference. Our voice – your voice – means something in this world of chaos and ever-present anxiety. I’m excited to see your church buildings and hear your stories and help guide and nurture congregations and pastors in whatever their next faithful steps of ministry and mission might be in the name of Christ.”

“She is particularly skilled in the area of spiritual direction, theological reflection and grounding, and connectional and meaningful discernment work,” shares ECM Rev. Brigit Stevens. “She has a deep care for the beauty and worth of each individual and for the possibilities that exist when we connect with each other well. She loves the church and loves all that it is today and all that it can be in the future. We are excited to be adding her to our team!”

Rev. Sarah Rentzel Jones

Rev. Rentzel Jones started with us on April 6th and has joined our team as a Search and Call specialist with ACM Rev. Samantha Houser. She currently resides in Hawaii, but will be moving with her family to Nebraska.

In speaking of Rev. Rentzel Jones, ECM Rev. Brigit Stevens shares, “She is particularly skilled in the area of adaptive leadership, listening closely for opportunities to lean in and affect change in systems not just technical fixes. She has a passion for social justice in a way that honors the beauty of God’s varied diversity and invites others to join in the celebration of it. She is grounded and faithful and we believe will be a delight to work with!”

Interview Transcript
Aidan Spencer: Hello, everyone, thank you so much for joining us! I am so excited to be talking with the newest addition to our staff, the Rev. Sarah Rentzel Jones. Hi Sarah! Rev. Rentzel Jones: Hi! Aidan Spencer: So we’re all very eager to get to know you and your work and what you’re excited about with our conferences, so just go ahead and start it off and tell us a little bit more about yourself. Rev. Rentzel Jones: Sure. Well, I grew up in central Pennsylvania and I went into ministry at a fairly young age. My dad was a pastor and so I got to watch him do ministry. That was really what called me into ministry myself. He was very pastoral and did a lot of pastoral care visitation, was a great preacher, and so in watching him do all those things, I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Although I resisted that until after college, after only one year working in a different field, I went to seminary. And so I hadn’t left central Pennsylvania until 2014 when my family and I moved to the Island of Lanai in the Hawaii Conference of the United Church of Christ. I pastored a small congregation there and then became a chaplain and am now going to be part of the staff at the Tri-Conference Ministries as an ACM. Rev. Rentzel Jones: I’m really excited about that opportunity. I have a family that I’ll be bringing along with me to the Midwest. I have my husband and three children. I have a son who is 14 and two daughters who are 12 and nine and two dogs and two cats. We’re excited to come and it looks like we’ll be moving to Nebraska. Even now we’re just in the house hunting process and looking forward to having a new adventure in a new region of the United States. So that’s me in a nutshell at the moment. Aidan Spencer: Wonderful. Thank you for sharing that. Is there anything in particular you’re excited about, or to explore in the Midwest? Rev. Rentzel Jones: I really think I’m excited just to learn about the region and some of the unique aspects of it. Before moving to Hawaii, I definitely had more of a view of the Hawaiian islands as a tourist destination and as a vacation spot and kind of quickly, once we knew we were moving and really going to be residing there for some time, then started to do more research on the history of the islands and on the culture and did some reading and some research like that. But then especially was most eager to hear the lived experience of people who lived on the islands and whose families had been there for generations or were native Hawaiian folks. I found that that ended up being a really rich experience of being able to learn and just coming in, trying to be very humble, and learn every day more of the things that I didn’t know. Rev. Rentzel Jones: I imagine the same will be true in coming to the Midwest. I’m excited to learn from my new neighbors and new colleagues and folks in our churches and in the Conferences who want to tell their stories and tell me about their relatives and the generations that have gone before them. That’s one of my favorite ways to communicate is through storytelling and both telling my own story and listening to the stories of others. I find that that way it helps me not to make the incorrect assumptions or to think that I know better than people that have been in an area for such a long time, but to really try to be open to everything that there will be to learn. Aidan Spencer: That’s such a wonderful mindset going into a move, I think, and for me, that’s always one of the most exciting parts about going to a new place, is just responding to what’s around you and being ready to explore and hear what other people have to share. That’s awesome. Well, wherever you land in Nebraska, they will be very lucky to have you in their community. You had talked about your dad being a big inspiration for your ministry. Can you tell me a little bit more about your journey in the UCC as a denomination? Rev. Rentzel Jones: Sure. Well, my dad actually, when he was studying to be a minister, he was part of the United Methodist tradition. Even when I was a small child, he was still, I believe, ordained as a deacon with the United Methodist Church and he was always resistant to the process of being placed in the United Methodist Church. He would often just do pastoral care for people or pulpit supply when ministers were traveling and I would get to go along with him and see all of those things. Rev. Rentzel Jones: But then when I was in middle school, I had an aunt who was a minister of music in a United Church of Christ congregation. So he started to work there part time and long-term, and so I didn’t even know really, honestly, the difference when we first started to attend the UCC congregation. But I ended up being confirmed there and then eventually ordained into United Church of Christ and really feel so grateful to have kind of fallen into it without a lot of intentionality at first, but to be able to be part of this denomination that is so forward thinking and progressive, and is in my opinion, doing the right thing in terms of all of the positions on justice work, whether it’s with human sexuality or racial justice and climate change and environmental justice, just really seeking to be out in front and helping to kind of chart a course for us in a way. Rev. Rentzel Jones: Certainly we aren’t perfect, but I found out the more I learned about the denomination in seminary, I just was so grateful to have been there kind of by default from my family of origin. Then definitely made the choice to stay and not have the need to consider transitioning to any other denomination because it kind of had everything I wanted to offer and to work within, to make change where change needs to happen. Aidan Spencer: That’s awesome. I also grew up in the UCC. Starting in high school, my family switched to attending a UCC congregation, and I think it’s a great church to grow up in. And how cool that you could have that experience and carry it forward into the rest of your ministry. Are there any particular projects or initiatives that you’re excited about? Rev. Rentzel Jones: Yeah, I mean, I’m so excited to come in and join in the work that has already begun. I tend to have a style of kind of coming in and kind of receiving and learning about what’s already happening and then seeing how I can incorporate myself into it. I mean, definitely hitting the ground running, but also wanting to kind of learn the history and the context for things, because sometimes there’re different things that have been tried and haven’t succeeded for whatever reason, it wasn’t the right time or adjustments need to be made. But I’m just really excited to join the conversations around being anti-racist and the brave spaces model has really gotten my attention. I’m so thrilled that the conferences are doing this work. Aidan Spencer: That’s great to hear. I’m already looking forward to more staff meetings together, and I’m excited to have your voice in that project done and process as well. What sorts of things have you learned about your own ministry or about what it means to be church in this past year? Rev. Rentzel Jones: I feel as though it has really helped to let people know that they have the option to engage with congregations that they’re really drawn to. I think that’s been one of the benefits of the experience of being able to go online and meet for worship because you don’t have to be in the geographic area where the worship service is happening to be part of the community. That’s been something that I think can be a challenge for churches if they maybe have members that aren’t as well engaged. Definitely there was a time for me early in the pandemic where I struggled to attend the worship services that had moved online because I was just so used to being in person and all of the attributes of a worship service that are experienced by sitting in the pews. Rev. Rentzel Jones: I do think there’s something that’s challenging about trying to focus on a worship service while your kids are running around. Instead of having that quiet space, where the norms are that you sit quietly and let mom hear what’s being said, there’s just all of this interference or distractions that happen. But then at the same time, it sort of helped to just crystallize what is the most important thing that we’re doing? And to know that sometimes we need to seek that out. Rev. Rentzel Jones: It really unsettled so many of us out of some of our habits that we might have done without being intentional around them and really required us to think about why we do what we do and where we really want to show up and what’s meaningful to us about it. I know I had the chance to engage in some book clubs on Zoom that if they were being held in real life, I might not have gone because of the time of day or the context of it, but was able to really carve that time out to just be home, but be focused on the conversation with the other people in the book club. Rev. Rentzel Jones: So I found that really helpful, but I think it makes us ask some hard questions about why we do what we do. It sort of blew that phrase, “We’ve always done it this way”, straight out of the conversation because we weren’t allowed to do it the way we all have maybe always done it. I think even as we kind of move into the post COVID timeframe, hopefully we have that thoughtfulness about when is it great to continue to use the technology that we’ve learned about over in the last year or when do we really want to be able to be in person and have a gathering. I hope that we can all stay really intentional about asking and answering those questions and not just revert back to some things that maybe don’t seem to make sense anymore. Aidan Spencer: Yeah. There’s definitely been a lot of learning this year. And certainly we’ve all gained a lot of useful skills that we probably didn’t anticipate gaining, but that will be helpful for us in the future. We’re all very excited to have you on our staff and to figure out what your role will be in the Conference and all the wonderful ways that you will serve our congregations in these States, but what do you like to do outside of work? Rev. Rentzel Jones: I love to read, that’s one of my favorite activities to do. I love to have a novel that I’m working through as well as reading other nonfiction things for just for my own interests and exploration. I do enjoy working out. I have done CrossFit classes in the past, and then once the pandemic hit sort of tried to keep up with some fitness in my own home. I find it really helpful to support my mental wellbeing as well as physically. That’s something that I really enjoy. And in the past I’ve done some running and I’m kind of feeling like maybe getting back into that. Rev. Rentzel Jones: But a lot of times I spend with my family, just kind of being with them. We don’t necessarily have certain hobbies that we really love to do, but we’re definitely getting excited about being in a place where there’s a little bit more to do. Being in Hawaii, a lot of times we’ve gone to the beach or done different things outside, but my kids love sports. My son especially is hoping to get back into some football and enjoying that. And my husband also loves to be a spectator with sports. We are kind of looking forward to apparently the football enthusiasm that is part of the culture in Nebraska as I’ve been told. So those are some of the ways that I try to balance out my work with my personal life. Aidan Spencer: Wonderful. Thank you for sharing that. Can you describe yourself in three words? Rev. Rentzel Jones: My three words would be irreverence. Am I allowed to describe why I picked these words? Aidan Spencer: Please do. I was going to ask you if you didn’t! Rev. Rentzel Jones: Okay. I would say irreverent because I really do love to find humor in things. And I think maybe growing up as a pastor’s kid, I always love to hear about those absurd moments that happen maybe upfront in the chancel area of the church that nobody else knew about, but the people that were leading worship that day and just to laugh about them. To me, there’s really a lot of interplay between the sacred and irreverence and it’s not any disrespect to God or to each other, but just to be able to kind of have fun and make light of things. Rev. Rentzel Jones: I think another word I would use to describe myself is seeking. I say that in terms of seeking meaning and seeking depth in conversations and in interactions. Seeking knowledge about people about who they really are and what is really important to them. And then I would say positive which I feel is kind of a weird word sometimes because I definitely do not think that I am aligned with toxic positivity where the difficulty of things is bypassed and go straight to optimism. But I do tend to look for the good in situations and to try to have an upbeat outlook and to seeing how things can be solution oriented. So I would say that I have a pretty positive approach to life. Aidan Spencer: I love that. Thank you so much for sharing those adjectives with us and why you chose them. Well, I’ll let you go then Sarah with the rest of your day. Thanks again. I’m so excited to talk to you again in the future! Rev. Rentzel Jones: Yeah, thank you so much. So nice to meet you!