Rev. Dr. Denise Smartt Sears Appointed to Serve as NYAC Director of Connectional Ministries

Rev. Dr. Denise Smartt Sears Appointed to Serve as NYAC Director of Connectional Ministries


By Joy Duckett Cain | NYAC Communications

As Rev. Dr. Denise Smartt Sears prepares to step into her new role as Director of Connectional Ministries (DCM) for the New York Annual Conference (NYAC), she brings with her a spirit of passion and compassion, coupled with 24-years of pastoral experience, and the desire to be part of a movement that connects the church to God and one another for the transformation of the world. 

“I’m energized by the possibilities this appointment holds. I have broad working-knowledge of our connectional system and how the parishes can lead in meeting the needs of the people in Catskill Hudson, Connecticut, Long Island and New York City. I’m looking forward to re-imagining what ministry can look like on the other side of COVID and in the midst of our ongoing work to become an anti-racist Annual Conference.”

Rev. Sears will be the first Black woman to be named DCM in the Conference’s history. And she is uniquely qualified for the road ahead as a leader who comes to the position with a wealth of understanding of the NYAC across all levels. As the current District Superintendent of the Metropolitan District, Rev. Sears serves as the missional strategist for 54 diverse churches located in Manhattan, Staten Island, the Bronx, and Westchester County. 
She pastored UMC of Sheepshead Bay, Epworth, St. Luke’s and Christ UMC (St. Luke’s and Christ UMC are now New Rochelle UMC). Rev. Sears is the current Dean of the NYAC Cabinet; has led various initiatives as a clergy coach and a congregational growth facilitator; launched the pilot for the New York Annual Conference’s “Eight-Year Assessment Tool,” and authored the 2019 United Methodist Women Spiritual Growth’s Leaders’ and Participant Guides, The Gospel of Mark: Radical Discipleship.

Her new assignment is closely aligned with spiritual development and nurturing the mission, vision and core values of the Conference for both clergy and laity alike. 
Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, Resident Bishop of the New York Annual Conference, is eager to see how Rev. Sears will lean into her new role. “It is exciting for me to think about the possibilities of working with Denise, especially in these days of great challenge for our church,” Bishop explains.  “I have deeply appreciated her work as the Dean of the Cabinet. I know Denise is well positioned to help us reach new levels of mission and ministry as our DCM.”
Building Authentic Relationships and Sustainable Ministries

Rev. Sears cites adaptability to culture and structure of our churches as one of the core concerns that the church needs to address. She adds that the way to address it is through evangelism. “We’re all ministers of the gospel, and evangelism is a piece of our discipleship that we have kind of put on the back burner,” Rev. Sears says. 
“If we’re going to transform the world, then we’ve got to do something other than what we’ve always done. We’re going to have to change the way we in which we engage in ministry—that means understanding and addressing the needs of youth and young adults, the needs of the elderly, LGBTQIA, and the differently-abled. We’re going to have to push the bar, engage those who we never fully engaged before and ignite a new fire within.” 

Rev. Sears believes that this fire can be stoked through prayer, holy courageous conversations and an open heart. Citing the geographical and cultural expanse of the Conference, she notes that it is incumbent upon the Cooperative Parishes to join the movement and ignite the flame. “Our Cooperative Parishes will really have a key role in advancing the  mission so that we can meet the needs of the local community. They’re the ones that know the needs and souls of those in their local communities, and they’re going to have to help drive the mission of the church as we seek to reinvent ourselves.”

A Fourth Generation United Methodist

She and her brother, Stephen, grew up in Brooklyn as children of NYAC. Her mother, Dorothy, an educator, was active in the life of the church, and their father, the Rev. Dr. William G. Smartt, still serves the church in retired relationship with the historic Salem United Methodist Church in Harlem. 
As a young adult, Rev. Sears was active in Newman Memorial where her father grew up and served as pastor. Yet, she never dreamt of being a pastor.  
Upon graduating from Dillard University, a historically black college related to the United Methodist Church, she earned a masters in math education and, for a time, taught elementary school children. She says that experience of being a teacher, of having to work with and advocate for children from diverse cultures and economic backgrounds, helped prepare her for the ordained ministry. 

Yet in the beginning, she resisted God’s call. 

“I was clear that God was calling me into the ordained ministry, but I had many questions,” she explains adding that as a woman, there was a dearth of black woman role models. Still the call continued—it’s called a faith walk for a reason. Rev. Sears went on to receive her Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry from Drew University, where she was surrounded and supported by women clergy. “Possibilities can’t become realities until you step into them,” she says.
Rev. Sears married her husband, Wendell, who like her is a fourth generation United Methodist. The couple has two sons; Daniel is a freshman in college and William is a sophomore in high school. 
Keeping the Faith, Always…
Rev. Sears describes herself as a self-motivator, a seeker of wisdom who is always open to learning. She enjoys working across cultural, racial, and economic lines. And the word “faith” speaks to the heart of who Rev. Dr. Sears is as a person and a pastoral leader. She confides that she often reminisces on the mantra that the late Bishop F. Herbert Skeete offered: “keep the faith.”
Faith surrounds her like a shield. Her favorite hype song is “Make Room” by Jonathan McReynolds. Her favorite scripture is Lamentations 3: 23:-24 NRSV “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning: great is your faithfulness.” The lord is my portion,” says my soul,” therefore I will hope in him.” 
And we need our faith now more than ever as we walk through these days where there are such great challenges before us. But we know that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. And so, with faith, our new DCM is ready to begin.        

“I know that it’s going to be an exciting challenge moving an agenda for the whole annual conference, but I’m not doing it by myself,” Rev. Sears says. 

“I’m looking forward to collaboration with our Clergy, Laity, District Superintendents, and Cooperative Parish Coordinators to move the mission of the church forward. I’m ready to build on what has already been done.”