The Rev. Debra Brady is looking forward to her new role as superintendent of the Central Valley District of the United Methodist Church. Brady, who is on a one-year sabbatical after serving 11 years as senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church in downtown Modesto, begins her new job July 1.
“My job is to really be a support and a coach to the pastors,” Brady said. “I love the Central Valley and the people in it. I love coaching and things like that. I’m very excited about this.”
Her district goes from Galt at the northern end to the Bakersfield/Tahachipi area in the south, and from Tracy on the west side to foothill communities such as Sutter Creek, Ione, Jackson and Sonora on the east.
“I don’t get any churches with beach views,” she joked.
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In the United Methodist Church, bishops are appointed to serve over a conference, which in this case runs from the Oregon border to Bakersfield and includes about two-thirds of Nevada. Seven superintendents – four district superintendents overseeing regions and three conference superintendents who focus on leadership development, congregational vitality and missions – make up the bishop’s Cabinet and serve for six years.
Her new role, Brady said, “is the right time and place for me.”
It wasn’t what she thought she’d be doing at the end of her year of discernment. “I thought I’d retire or do extension ministry, such as start a spiritual ministry for pastors,” she said. “This kind of works perfectly. ... This means I get to stay in Modesto.”
Although the conference headquarters are in Sacramento, Brady said, she mostly will commute to other churches from her home here. “I’ll be on the road a lot, probably three to four days a week.”
That will include attending different churches most Sundays, she said. But her sabbatical time has prepared her even for that, she noted. In the United Methodist tradition, pastors are not supposed to revisit their previous church for two years, so she has been worshiping at other churches for the past seven months.
About the only thing that will change, she said, is the need for a new car for those extra miles. “My car is 17 years old,” she said. “We’re looking at hybrids and good gas mileage cars.”
Brady still has several months of her sabbatical left. She will shadow the current district superintendent in the meantime, and she and her husband, Steve Veglia, plan to take a 500-mile walking pilgrimage this spring on the El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) in Spain. “It’s an ancient Christian pilgrimage with hostels along the way,” she said in an interview last year. “It’s an act of devotion and opening one’s self up to prayer and God.”
Everything in her life, she said, from her growing-up years in Kern County to her husband’s recent retirement to her year of discernment and the upcoming pilgrimage, has prepared her for her new job.
“I am looking forward to (the job),” she said. I love strategy and I love coaching people. I love the diversity in our district and how many ways the mission gets worked out. I’m excited.”