By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Staff Correspondent
BOONSBORO, Md.—Bruce Conley, the new director of missions (DOM) for the Blue Ridge Association (BRA) is thrilled with his new position, even though it means driving at least three hours a day and across six counties from his home in Bowie, Md., to the Blue Ridge Association office in Boonsboro.
Conley grew up in Beltsville and began attending First Church, Beltsville, in his teenage years when a friend invited him to Royal Ambassadors. He credits then pastor, Wendell Gross, with continuing to be faithful in preaching the gospel. He made a commitment to Christ when he was 16-years-old at a youth rally.
The young Conley was musically gifted. Gross soon had him leading hymns for Sunday night “Singspiration” weekly at the church.
During his second year at the University of Maryland, College Park, he began working part-time as a music director in a local church. Conley grew frustrated with the difficulties of attempting a double major in college and decided to withdraw and pursue a career in law enforcement. He worked his way up from the position of dispatcher with the Prince George’s County Police, to Chief of Police of a small municipal police department on the Maryland/Washington D.C. line.
After 16 years in law enforcement (working bi-vocationally in local churches all along the way), he went back to school to finish his undergraduate degree in music education in the 1990’s and began taking seminary extension classes as time allowed.
He was ordained while serving as minister of music at Faith Church, Laurel, in the 1980’s, and shortly after that followed God’s call to start a mission church to reach the unchurched, called Northwinds Community Church.
“During that time I used to joke with others, saying, “You know, I used to arrest murderers and drug dealers for a living, but I have never done anything as difficult as starting a mission church from scratch. It really wasn’t a joke. That endeavor was one of the hardest things (and most rewarding) that I ever tried to accomplish in my adult life.”
BRA now has 33 established churches and plants. Conley is seeking to find strategic ways to plant churches in areas of the region that have been experiencing large increases in population growth and new housing starts.
The new DOM wants to encourage churches to network together more and partner with other associations, bringing strong mother churches alongside of mission plants.
Blue Ridge Association borders Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Planting churches across state lines used to raise some eyebrows, Conley said, but no more.
“David Burt (former Blue Ridge DOM) crossed those boundaries before I came here, and planted churches based on regional need, not invisible state boundaries.
Since his teens, Conley has enjoyed being an amateur “ham” radio operator, which he said might come in handy since the BRA has two disaster relief units, one of which is an emergency communications unit.
Conley and his wife, Linda, have been married for 26 years. They have four children, Melanie, Allison, Samuel and Elizabeth, and one grandchild, Sofia. His 86 year-old mother also lives with the family.
“I have known a lot of really excellent DOM’s in my life, and I plan to emulate their examples of how to do effective associational ministry. I have served in my own association when there was a need, and now it’s my turn – to be a pastor to the pastors, a resource for help and assistance to congregations, and to be the principle church-planting strategist for one of the top growth areas in our state. It just doesn’t get much better than this!”