Profile in leadership

Rev. Paul Perez served as Director of Mission and Justice Engagement and Leadership Recruitment for the Detroit Conference from 2013-2018. Shown here participating in a Prayer Vigil in Detroit after the mass-shooting at Pulse Night Club in June 2016. ~ photo courtesy Paul Perez

Meet the Michigan Conference’s Associate Director for Mission and Ministry, the Rev. Paul Perez.


July 1, 2018 marked the day when The Michigan Conference took on new life. Nine new districts began to function, and new staff members began their ministry.

A new collaborative staffing model is now in place. MIconnect has shared profiles of the Directors at the table. Now we begin a series that will introduce their Associate Director colleagues. We begin this week with the Rev. Paul Perez, an ordained deacon with years of service in The Detroit Conference.

His appointments in Michigan include Livonia: Newburg UMC (2008-2013) and Detroit Conference Director of Mission and Justice Engagement and Leadership Recruitment (2013-2018).  

He now takes up the role of Associate Director for Mission and Ministry as a partner in the Office of Connectional Ministry. Paul can be reached at pperez@miumcarchive.org ; 517-347-4030 ext. 4076 (office) or 810-347-6363 (mobile).

Meet Paul Perez, in his own words …

Please share a little personal background.

A life-long Michiganian, I grew up in Westland, MI with my parents, Ray and Jody, and my younger siblings, Andrew and Amy. Both my parents had large extended families with roots in Mexico, Germany, and Ireland. My childhood memories are full of small houses crowded with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The world seemed to be bursting with family relations, entangled in kinship. That is why I deeply believe that “we are all related.” But these relationships can be messy, so that’s why I also believe God’s grace heals, redeems, and transforms these relationships.

The Perez family enjoys time in the U.P. Wife Anne with Joshua (12), Sofia (8), and Charles (4). ~ photo courtesy Paul Perez

Growing up, my family attended Newburg United Methodist Church. Newburg has a special place in my heart. It was there the Rev. Judy Mayo brought the Bible to life for a young, intellectual curious child. Beth Miller and the Rev. Gil Miller helped a shy, middle schooler find his voice with creative drama. And the Rev. Melanie Carey first asked, “have you ever considered the ministry?”

It was on a Newburg youth ministry Appalachia Service Project trip that I, in the words of Wesley, began the life-long journey of ceasing to be an “almost Christian” to becoming an “altogether Christian.” Newburg UMC is committed to ministry with young people and the vulnerable. Over 20 years of my life, these commitments took root in my heart and have become my own.

The summer before I went away to college at Michigan State University, I met a young woman from a big Polish/Slovakian Catholic family named Anne. She was smart, beautiful, possessed a sharp wit, serious about her faith, and committed to becoming a teacher. I fell in love with her instantly. This month we celebrated our 14th anniversary. Anne is an English teacher at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic High School in Allen Park. We live in Livonia with our three children, Joshua (12), Sofia (8), and Charles (4). An ecumenical family, our church homes are Northville: First UMC and St. Edith Catholic Church. The life-changing joys and heart-breaking challenges of being a partner and parent provide the most significant discipleship formations in my life.

Where have you served and what lessons have you learned about leadership along the way?

God’s call to ministries of Word, service, compassion, and justice as a Deacon animates my professional life. This “call” has not been a solid, steady, stabilizing force; instead, God’s calling continues to be an unfolding, on-going process of engaging in ministries of compassion and justice through adapting to challenges, discovering new possibilities, and listening and learning from those affected by systems of injustice and oppression.

Melanie Goldberg (left) and Tori Booker, Justice For Our Neighbors Southeastern Michigan, rallied with the Rev. Paul Perez and others in December 2017 outside Rep. Dave Trott’s office in Troy. ~ photo courtesy Paul Perez

During college, I discerned my call to ordained ministry while serving as a peer minister at The MSU Wesley Foundation and as an intern at Metropolitan UMC in Detroit through the Detroit Conference Mission Intern Program.

A one-year term of service as an AmeriCorps member at the Sinai-Grace Hospital HIV/AIDS Clinic in Detroit clarified my calling and passion to work at the intersection of the “church” and the “world.”

My first years of service as a Deacon were difficult. I worked part-time as a youth minister at Dulin UMC in Falls Church, Virginia while pursuing a PhD in Church History at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I struggled professionally and academically. I was a mediocre youth minister and was completely overwhelmed by doctoral studies.

Returning to Michigan in 2008, I was grateful to be hired part-time as Director of Program Development at Newburg United Methodist Church. There, I worked five years side-by-side with a dynamic staff team, including the Rev. Marsha Woolley, the Rev. Sarah Alexander, and Rachel Benton, and committed church members who helped me rediscover my passion and gifts for ministry.

But, it was serving as founding director of Justice for Our Neighbors – Southeastern Michigan, an immigration legal services program, from 2009-2013, that truly shaped me into the Deacon and the leader I am today. Forming and mobilizing a team to start a non-profit from scratch, embracing my gifts for gracious and responsible administration, and learning, first-hand, from the lives of immigrant clients provided lessons and leadership that continue to inform my work.

Please describe the new role of the Associate Director for Mission and Ministry as you understand it.

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve on the Detroit Conference staff for the past five years. It has been a joy to get to know United Methodists across the state and to work with creative leaders on many mission, social justice, and young adult ministries.

In my new position as Associate Director for Mission and Ministry, I will continue the mission and social justice responsibilities of my former position. Major initiatives include:

  • stewarding our new EngageMI mission giving program with our Board of Global Ministries,
  • administering Flood Recovery-Midland and Mano a Mano Puerto Rico, our two UMCOR funding Disaster Case Management programs, with the Disaster Response Committee,
  • advocating for migrant rights in collaboration with Justice for our Neighbors-Michigan and our Board of Justice. 

What are some hopes and goals that you have as you move ahead in your work?

Over the past five years I focused on growing the Detroit Conference’s young adult ministries, working with congregations and campus ministries to triple the annual number of young adult interns. Michigan became one of the founding Affiliates in the denomination’s new Global Mission Fellows/US-2 program. With these programs now being the responsibility of Lisa Batten, our new Coordinator for Young Adult Initiatives, I am excited for the opportunity to focus my energy on developing and deepening our mission and social justice ministries across the state.

Under Paul’s leadership, The Detroit Conference became a Founding Affiliate in the Global Mission Fellow program of The United Methodist Church. He is joined here by US-2s currently serving in Detroit: Grace Okerson (r) serving at NOAH Project and Lynda Sylvain (Motown Mission). ~ photo courtesy Paul Perez

I am still in the process of forming short-term and long-term goals for my current position. Here are a few themes bubbling up:

  • Leading in ways that support and empower leaders who are directly impacted by systems of injustice and oppression
  • Assisting congregations in engaging their local communities
  • Resourcing and equipping rural and urban ministries
  • Developing strategies that address the pressing social issues of child poverty, racism, and environmentalism in the state of Michigan
  • Cultivating practices that build teams, foster innovation, and develop resiliency and tenacity.

Don’t hold to me all this – it is still very much a work in progress! If any of it resonates with you, challenges you, or excites you, please drop me an email or, better yet, give me a call. I would love your help in clarifying and shaping these goals.

What excites you the most about your participation in the life of the new Michigan Conference?

New possibilities.

When Bishop Kiesey asked me to serve on the new Conference’s Design Team, the first question that went through my mind was, “When was the last time there was one Michigan Conference?” I asked a few colleagues and got blank stares and shrugged shoulders. So, I dug out my two-volume History of Methodism in Michigan for the answer. I discovered that there was only one Michigan Conference for a ten-year period in the late 1800s.

With that discovery, “doing a new thing,” for me, became more than a euphemism for “merger.” Michigan Methodism has been multiple conferences for most of its existence. Creating a new conference really was a new endeavor. Might we even be bold enough to declare it a re-founding of Michigan United Methodism?

The Rev. Paul Perez was present at a press conference for immigration rights in December 2017. In his new role as Associate Director for Mission and Ministry he will continue empowering strong United Methodist voices for justice and engaging individuals and congregations in social action. ~ photo courtesy Paul Perez

My continued hope for all the time, energy, and resources used to create and design a new Conference is to open space for God’s Spirit to generate new possibilities and new ways of being in ministry and mission.

What is it that nurtures, sustains and guides you in your work?

Honestly, science fiction. I geek out on science fiction. Star Trek captured my imagination as a child. I came of age with Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Doctor Who helped me regenerate my way through the difficult early years of parenthood and entering the working world. Presently, I am inspired by the afro-futurism of Octavia Butler.

Science fiction allows us to imagine different worlds, different ways of being human, and different relationships with species on this planet and across the cosmos.

Christianity has become for me a kind of SF. A science fiction, a speculative fabulation that dares to imagine that each and every life is bursting with sacred worth, that time can be rewritten, and nothing is unforgivable. True strength is found in kindness, empathy, and love.

 

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