“Here is the gospel truth: When our hearts are filled with the fullness of God… they overflow with love,” Bishop Bruce R. Ough said in his Episcopal Address to members of the 163rd session of the Minnesota Annual Conference, which took place June 20-22 in St. Cloud. “That is what happened at Pentecost. This is what gave rise to the Acts 2 church. This is what fueled the Christ movement. When the God-shaped emptiness that only God can fill is filled with the fullness of God, everything is turned upside-down.”
Bishop Ough encouraged Minnesota United Methodists to live expectantly by claiming and putting into practice the dynamics that led to vitality, growth and missional passion in the primitive church. He explored five characteristics of fruitful, Acts 2 congregations — radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith formation, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity — and provided a snapshot of how Minnesota congregations are embracing and living out those practices. A few examples: In 2016, the Minnesota Conference saw a 4 percent increase in the number of people in small groups; a 15 percent increase in the number of people reached through community outreach, justice and mercy ministries; and a 4 percent increase in the amount given to serve others.
The theme of the 2017 conference session was “Encounter the Spirit: Live Expectantly!” Attendees focused on what it means to be an Acts 2 church and to fully claim their identity as people of Pentecost — filled with the Holy Spirit and called out into the world to share their faith and be the presence of Christ to others.
The Rev. Junius B. Dotson, Discipleship Ministries’ top executive, gave a teaching session about the importance of focusing on the “why.” He said many churches have lost focus and mistake activity for accomplishment. Discipleship begins when churches and church leaders reconnect with the “why” of their processes, and as a result develop mature disciples that can repeat the processes with others. “We should always be asking: What role does this activity, event or program have in helping us make disciples?” he said. “Can you clearly articulate your why?” he asked those gathered. “Our why isn’t so that we are able to fill pews. Filling pews might be a result or byproduct, but it has absolutely nothing to do with our why. …When you know your ‘why,’ your ‘what’ has meaning.”
Painting a bold vision for the church
Four individuals shared TED-style Acts 2 Talks — new to conference this year — that painted a bold, provocative vision for the church. The Rev. Cullen Tanner encouraged attendees to embrace failure and celebrate the noble attempts of others, saying, “The life of ministry should be like music in the ears of our world. … We need to offer one another enough grace to hit some wrong notes — maybe even a lot of wrong notes — if we want to create the kind of music that makes the world want to sing along.” And lay person Steve Fredlund talked about wrestling with big questions and deconstructing, then reconstructing, his faith. He said, “People like me are looking for a place … with a grounded perspective of God and faith — but where questions are not only allowed but welcomed and celebrated … where the primary goal is not to convince everyone to think the same way instead to hear and share different perspectives from each person’s own journey.”
Toward the beginning of conference, through a spoken Missional Report, attendees learned about and celebrated a variety of Holy Spirit breakthroughs in our midst — places where God is on the move. A few examples: Four churches have launched public worship within the past year, a Hmong ministry in Robbinsdale baptized 18 people in a single day; there are more than 50 church-school partnerships in the conference; and Fridley United Methodist Church started a new worship service to reach Liberian immigrants in its community.
Later that same day, attendees gathered at Lake George Park to celebrate and enjoy fellowship. They listened to live music by a Liberian choir from Brooklyn United Methodist Church in Brooklyn Center, assembled birthing kits to be distributed around the world, enjoyed food and drinks, and heard a sermon from Dotson, who talked about reordering our priorities and relentlessly focusing on making disciples.
At a Celebration of Life in Ministry worship service Wednesday night, close to 1,000 Minnesota United Methodists gathered to remember 34 friends and colleagues who have died over the past year. They also honored 20 retiring clergy and celebrated seven people being ordained, 10 being commissioned as provisional members, 12 newly licensed local pastors, one person being recognized as an associate member, and one person who completed the course of study for licensed local pastors.
Conference attendees also celebrated having given $73,192 to the 2017 Love Offering — an annual offering that benefits international, national and local missions — as of the time they left annual conference. This year’s Love Offering will go to the United Methodist University of Sierra Leone — School of Applied Health Sciences (60 percent), Emma Norton Services (30 percent), and Volunteers in Mission scholarships (10 percent).
Members of the 2017 conference session voted to approve a 2018 apportioned budget totaling $6,177,090. That amount represents a 1.2 percent increase over the 2017 apportioned budget. With an “uncollectible contingency” of $725,000, the total amount to be apportioned in 2017 is $6,902,090. The uncollectible contingency accommodates anticipated shortfalls in some churches’ apportionment payments.
Additionally, conference session members voted to have 2016 General Conference delegates and alternates represent the Minnesota Conference at the special called session of General Conference that will occur in February 2019. They approved an updated Policy and Procedure Manual. They also approved a resolution that goes on record stating their opposition to any state or federal legislation that seeks to restrict the right to address injustice through boycotts, divestment and sanctions. The resolution joins the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace in calling on elected officials “to resist efforts to stifle the movement toward justice for Palestinians through the current wave of ‘anti-BDS’ legislation.”
The number of professing church members within the Minnesota Conference as of the end of 2016 was 62,264, down 3 percent from the previous year. Average weekly worship attendance stood at 28,200, down 2 percent. Last year, 878 individuals were baptized, and there were 1,540 new professions of faith — representing an 11 percent increase. Sunday church school average weekly attendance stood at 6,535 in 2016.
— Christa Meland, director of communications, Minnesota Conference