That’s what Bishop Bruce R. Ough told more than 500 people gathered virtually during his final episcopal address to the Minnesota Conference (watch it here). Drawing on Isaiah 58: 6-10 and Matthew 5: 13-16, he urged Minnesota United Methodists to always say “yes” to being a light to the world, a beacon of hope in the darkness.
In a very different kind of annual conference that took place Aug. 29 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, United Methodists from across Minnesota came together to worship, celebrate what they have accomplished together, enact legislation, and remember what it means to be the light and live hope. While voting members of the 2020 annual conference attended the gathering via Zoom, additional guests and visitors watched a live stream via Facebook.
This year’s annual conference, which centered around the gospel imperative to heal a broken world, took place in two two-hour segments, significantly pared down from the typical three-day event due to the online nature of the meeting.
Still, four brief but moving worship services celebrated a variety of milestones in ministry: five clergy being ordained and five clergy being commissioned, one pastor who was welcomed as an associate member, two licensed local pastors who completed course of study, nine newly licensed local pastors, one new deaconess, one new home missioner, 16 retiring pastors, and 20 clergy and spouses who have died over the past year.
A variety of videos shown throughout the session continued to celebrate Minnesota United Methodists and remind them who they are. For example, a “Did You Know?” video highlighted the multiple ways Minnesota United Methodists are reaching people for Jesus and making a difference. In a “Join Us on the Journey” video, clergy being commissioned and ordained shared their hopes and dreams for the Minnesota Conference and reflected on what God is calling forth from them. And a “Deacons Heal a Broken World” video showed three Minnesota deacons reflecting on their call stories and sharing how they are engaged in ministries of word, service, compassion, and justice.
Meanwhile, awards were presented to six individuals and one church for exceptional contributions over the past year: Revs. Sara and Jim Hein relaunched struggling Vineyard United Methodist Church in Hutchinson and have welcomed many new people since it reopened. Brent and Laura Cottington are lay people leading a church plant in the city of St. Michael while the right pastor is sought. The Rev. Brad Herman, drawing from his own personal journey of addiction and recovery, started a church plant specifically focused on those recovering from addiction. Small, rural Homer United Methodist Church went from no professions of faith last year to five this year and shows an outsized love for its community. And college student Emily Hilderbrand led United Methodist-affiliated Hamline University in St. Paul to become the second “Reconciling University” in the nation.
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 David Bard, resident bishop for the Michigan Area, will additionally serve as interim resident bishop for the Minnesota Conference in 2021 until another bishop is assigned—and he offered a greeting to annual conference attendees.
In the legislative portion of the session, voting members approved a 2021 apportioned budget that represented an 11% reduction from 2020 in recognition of budget constraints at many local churches during this challenging pandemic season. They also authorized the Minnesota Annual Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits to separately incorporate as a subsidiary of the Minnesota conference. And they affirmed several amendments to the articles of incorporation for United Methodist-affiliated Hamline University in St. Paul that give the university authority to elect trustees and determine the location of the university without annual conference approval. (Read more about key legislation.)
A commissioning and ordination worship service is scheduled for Oct. 17 at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. Five clergy will be commissioned and five will be ordained, and Bishop Ough will additionally perform a courtesy ordination for a member of the Northern Illinois Conference who is serving in Minnesota. Attendance will be significantly limited, but the service will be live streamed for all to see.
Delegates who will represent Minnesota at the General and North Central Jurisdictional Conferences next year were elected at the 2019 Annual Conference and have not changed. The Rev. Carol Zaagsma and Dave Nuckols will serve as General Conference delegates. At the North Central Jurisdictional Conference, they will be joined by Rev. Woojae Im and Becky Boland. Alternate delegates 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.
The number of professing church members within the Minnesota conference as of the end of 2019 was 56,632, down 3% from the previous year. While in-person average worship attendance decreased 5% to 24,441, online attendance increased 4% to 3,308. Sunday church school average weekly attendance stood at 7,631 in 2019—representing a 3% increase. The number of children participating in Christian formation groups totaled 6,239, up 1%, but total Christian formation group participants decreased 5% to 21,383. Last year, there were 865 new professions of faith, down 23% from the previous year. The number of community ministries for outreach, justice, and mercy in the Minnesota Conference increased 14% in 2019.
— Christa Meland, Director of Communications, Minnesota Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church