June 18-20, in St. Cloud, Minnesota
“Are you thirsty again? Are you thirsty again for Jesus? Are you thirsty again for the living water?”
In his Episcopal Address, Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce R. Ough posed these questions to members of the 2019 Minnesota Annual Conference Session, which took place June 18-20 at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Drawing on Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman as told in John 4, he reminded those gathered that to reach new people, we must cross boundaries, remove barriers, and overcome fears to enter into conversations that we or someone else believes should never take place. He reminded us that each of us has a God story, and each of us is God’s intended evangel to at least one other person. “Go to the well; tell everyone you can where they can find the living water,” he said.
Reaching new people and loving boldly
Based on John 4: 1-26, the theme of the 2019 Annual Conference was “Dare to Reach: Love Boldly!” Attendees explored ways in which Jesus calls us to step out of our comfort zone and reach those around us with the love of God in ways beyond our imagination.
In two teaching sessions, the Rev. Dr. Mark Teasdale, the E. Stanley Jones Associate Professor of Evangelism at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and author of the book “Evangelism for Non-Evangelists,” reminded attendees that they have what it takes to be evangelists. Effective evangelism, he said, is about fully formed Christians sharing with others the goodness of God that we have experienced and where we see God at work in our lives. We must be faithful to the teachings of the Christian tradition and at the same time contextually aware — meaning we listen to those around us to find out how God is already at work in their lives and ensure that what we’re sharing is meaningful to them. “You can do the work of evangelism and the Holy Spirit is right there beside you to transform the lives of those God puts before you,” he said.
Each year, a pastor (whose name is randomly drawn the previous year) is designated as the conference preacher and gives a sermon at some point during Annual Conference. This year, the Rev. Bill Eaves, who serves White Bear Lake United Methodist Church, delivered a moving message in which he said the kind of church the world needs today is a “both/and” church. His conviction: We can listen deeply to our scriptures and study them with best tools available to us, and we can work for the liberation of our LGBTQ neighbors. We can put our full trust in Jesus and follow His word, and at the same time stand up against injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
Inclusive vision and other key decisions
After spending much of the second day of the gathering discussing The United Methodist Church’s changing landscape and engaging in a “respectful conversations” process focused on sharing and listening in small groups, Annual Conference members voted 491-86 to adopt a vision for Minnesota that names a commitment to the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in the life of the church. The vision says that “we are called to be faithful to the example of Jesus’ ministry to and with all persons,” expresses a commitment to center marginalized voices, and vows to affirm each clergyperson’s prayerful discernment about whether to officiate same-sex weddings. Separately, members voted 446-108 to adopt a resolution that formally recognizes that the Traditional Plan that the 2019 Special Session of General Conference approved in February “does great harm to the witness of The United Methodist Church.”
Voting members made several other key decisions as well. Annual Conference members elected 12 delegates and alternates to represent them in 2020: the Rev. Carol Zaagsma (clergy) and Dave Nuckols (laity) will serve as delegates at the 2020 General Conference. They will also be delegates at the 2020 North Central Jurisdictional Conference, along with the Rev. Woojae Im (clergy) and Becky Boland (laity). Alternate delegates for both conferences are the Revs. Jeff Ozanne, Susan Mullin, Henry Dolopei and Donna Dempewolf, along with lay people Walker Brault, Cindy Saufferer, Jessica Lanes and Shirley Durr.
Conference members approved a flat 2020 budget, adopted a resolution supporting campus ministry, and decided to send two petitions on to the 2020 General Conference for consideration. One of the petitions would amend The Book of Discipline so that complaints can only be filed against clergy from within their own annual conferences, and the other would allow licensed local pastors who have met minimum requirements to serve as clergy delegates to General and Jurisdictional or Central Conferences.
Annual Conference began by celebrating a variety of Holy Spirit breakthroughs in our midst — ways in which Minnesota United Methodists are daring to reach new people and love boldly. A few examples: The tiny congregation of Lydia Zion United Methodist in Jordan started a new bilingual worship service to welcome Hispanic people in its community, which has resulted in several new professions of faith. Many Minnesota churches are reaching new people through online worship. And Simpson United Methodist in Minneapolis is closing its doors and donating its property for a state-of-the-art facility to serve the homeless.
At a Celebration of Life in Ministry worship service, hundreds of Minnesota United Methodists remembered 28 friends and colleagues who have died over the past year, honored 20 retiring clergy, and celebrated four people being ordained, one person being restored for the work of an elder, 26 newly licensed local pastors, and two licensed local pastors finishing their course of study.
Conference members also celebrated having given more than $80,000 to the 2019 Love Offering, an annual offering that is collected at Annual Conference and benefits international, national and local missions. The recipients of this year’s offering are Lao Samphan Methodist Church in Laos (60%), the Volunteer Lawyers Network, which provides free civil legal services to low-income Minnesotans (20%), and Volunteers in Mission scholarships (20%).
The number of professing church members within the Minnesota Conference as of the end of 2018 was 58,705, down 2.9% from the previous year. In-person and online weekly worship attendance together jumped 1% last year, representing the conference’s first worship attendance increase in decades. In-person average attendance was 25,760, down 4.9% from 2017. Sunday church school average weekly attendance stood at 7,418 in 2018—representing a 5.3% decrease. Young adults participating in Christian formation groups totaled 1,155, up 9.7%, and other adult participants totaled 11,461, down 8%. Last year, there were 1,118 new professions of faith, down 10.8% from the previous year. Worshippers engaged in mission totaled 15,830 last year—up 10.3%.
—Christa Meland, Director of Communications, Minnesota Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church