Members of the Dakotas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church gathered in three sessions: a June 11 clergy session, a Sept. 18 session to celebrate and welcome clergy in ministry and an Oct. 10 session to conduct business. The theme, "Be the Light: Live Hope!"centered around the gospel imperative to heal a broken world. Bishop Bruce R. Ough, Dakotas-Minnesota Area, presided at each session.
In a very different kind of annual conference that took place amid the COVID-19 pandemic, held via the Zoom webinar platform, United Methodists from churches across North and South Dakota came together to worship, celebrate what they have accomplished together, enact legislation, and be reminded what it means to be the light and live hope in a world filled with darkness. (Watch the address here.)
Bishop Ough delivered his final Episcopal Address to the Dakotas Conference on Oct. 10, to 500 people gathered virtually. "Our world has changed. Our ministry methods have changed … . Being a leader in the church today requires a new imagination for what the church looks like and acts like. But what has not changed is our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ who are equipped and motivated to change the world," said Ough.
Participants viewed the 2020 Missional Report. The report, framed around the core values of Jesus, Mission, and Connection, highlighted all the ways God is at work across the Dakotas Conference. The conference is creating a culture of call (view called stories), and in the past year welcomed 14 new clergy into ministry.
More than 85 churches and 15,000 United Methodists across the Dakotas have become involved with the Breakthrough Prayer Initiative throughout the past six years. In the past year, Breakthrough Ministry Grants were awarded to start or enhance 27 new ministries. The Higher Ground Initiative, funded by Lilly, is bringing total wellness to clergy. There have been 38 clergy across the Dakotas-Minnesota Area who have successfully completed the Non-Profit Church Leader certificate program. Participants heard about a new $1 million Lilly Grant, Dakotas Connection, that will create rural ministry models. Attendees celebrated the shared ministries across the Dakotas-Minnesota Area for the past eight years (view video).
In the closing worship service, virtual attendees also recognized Bishop and Char Ough for their eight years of leadership in the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area and thanked them for their service as Ough prepares to retire at the end of 2020. Bishop Laurie Haller, resident bishop for the Iowa Area, will serve as interim resident bishop for the Dakotas Conference in 2021 until another bishop is assigned, and she offered a greeting to annual conference attendees.
Several business items came before the body. Because the COVID-19 pandemic didn't allow the planned joint Dakotas-Minnesota Annual Conference Session to take place at the Sanford Event Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in June 2020 as planned, the Sessions Committee recommended shifting the rotation of sites for future annual conferences — and members voted to approve this recommendation.
By a vote of 308 members, the 2021 budget — including apportionments and direct billing, totaling $6,306,086, was approved. This represents a reduction of $835,113, or 11.7%, from the 2020 approved budget. There is a 17.4% decrease to the apportioned budget.
There are several reasons for the substantial decrease. Eight churches have indicated they are withholding apportionments because of the denominational conflict over human sexuality. This is a tough economy in which many churches will likely see a decline in giving, and as churches reach new people during the pandemic, it's unknown what their involvement (financial and otherwise) might be post-COVID-19. Reductions to the apportioned budget will come from decreased travel, a reduction in some grants due to reduced demand for them, a couple of staffing changes that will not significantly impact services offered to the conference, reduced General Church apportionments, and conference savings.
A virtual clergy session was held on June 11. Some of the highlights from the 2020 clergy session agenda included memorializing five clergy members. Bishop Ough honored the memory of Bishop Michael Coyner, who served the Dakotas Conference 1996-2004. Two provisional members were affirmed. One elder was approved as a full member. Twelve retiring clergy were affirmed.
On Sept. 18, the Celebration of Life in Ministry Service was held at First United Methodist Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and live-streamed. Those in attendance were few: the five worship celebrants, two candidates for commissioning, a few family members and a technology team. All wore masks, red in color, to match the night's liturgical celebration. (View the service here.)
The number of professing church members within the Dakotas conference as of the end of 2019 was 36,501, down 1% from the previous year. While in-person average worship attendance decreased 4% to 18,898, online attendance increased 21% or 2,855 people worshiping online each week. Sunday church school average weekly attendance stood at 6,243 in 2019, representing a 2% decrease. The number of children participating in Christian formation groups totaled 15,917, down 3%. Last year, there were 837 new professions of faith, down 788 from the previous year. The number of community ministries for outreach, justice and mercy in the Dakotas Conference increased by 2% in 2019.
— Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas Conference
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