2021 Dakotas Annual Conference

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The 28th session of the Dakotas Annual Conference was held June 11-12, 2021, in a hybrid format. On June 11, people gathered in-person at McCabe United Methodist Church in Bismarck, North Dakota, First United Methodist Church in Fargo, North Dakota, First United Methodist Church in Rapid City, South Dakota, and the Convention Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. June 12, participants joined in-person at the Sioux Falls Convention Center or virtually.  More than 400 United Methodists from North and South Dakota experienced inspiring worship and meaningful learning and conducted business.  
In a time of change, God is calling United Methodists in the Dakotas to remain rooted in Christ. Drawing on the collective values of Jesus, mission and connection, the theme of this year's annual conference session was "Jesus. Way-maker."  Ways of stepping out of our comfort zone were explored, in order to follow the path to live like Jesus. 

“A woman whose young daughter is possessed by an unclean spirit finds out about Jesus and falls at his feet,” Bishop Laurie Haller stated in the 2021 Episcopal Address. Haller invited all those listening to transform their hearts and minds, continuing to share the good news of Jesus, the way-maker. “Keep on innovating. Keep on sharing the good news. And keep on discerning in humility and wisdom how God invites each of us to transform hearts and minds. Wait a minute. Didn’t Jesus just call you “beloved child of God?” 
In two teaching sessions, the Rev. Rachel Billups explored the importance of knowing, claiming and reclaiming our personal God stories and underscored that we need to let Jesus make a way in difficult conversations and open ourselves to — ask anything, listen well, freely disagree and love regardless. “Let’s allow Jesus to be our way through difficult conversations. You have to be willing to get your feelings hurt for Jesus,” Billups said
Even as we seek to follow Jesus closely, the way forward will not be without struggle. As we emerge from a season of disorientation and disconnection, we know that Jesus has continued to be our way-maker, working in and through all of us. The 2020-2021 Missional Report highlights some of the ways we’ve seen this truth revealed in the past year. 
At a Celebration of Life in Ministry worship service June 11, hundreds of United Methodists gathered to remember 16 friends and colleagues who have died over the past year, honor five retiring clergy and celebrate three elders being ordained, four elders being commissioned as provisional members, 11 newly assigned licensed local pastors and five licensed local pastors completing their educational requirements. 
Members affirmed all legislation put before them, including the ratification of a disaffiliation agreement allowing Prairie Winds Church in Dickinson, North Dakota, to leave The United Methodist Church; affirmation of a resolution advocating for the inclusion of all people in the life of the church; and voting yes to a resolution calling for boards and related agencies of the Dakotas Conference to begin planning for a separation of the denomination.

In March of 2021, Prairie Winds voted to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church in compliance with the Dakotas Conference process for disaffiliation. The final step of the disaffiliation process is the ratification of an agreement written in cooperation with the Dakotas Conference treasurer, board of trustees, chancellor, the local pastor and local church board of trustees. The agreement outlines obligations and next steps related to property, financial responsibilities and church records. The agreement was ratified on June 11, 2021, by the Dakotas Annual Conference, with 233 members voting yes and 122 members voting no.

Resolution 1.2 A Vision for a More Just Church, urges the Dakotas Conference to welcome LGBTQ+ persons into leadership, including actions of the Board of Ordained Ministry regarding candidates for ministry, local congregations to welcome and include LGBTQ+ members in full participation and respect clergy's discernment on marrying same-sex couples. Furthermore, it urges the bishop to refrain from conducting clergy trials. The resolution was affirmed by a vote of 179 yes votes and 172 no votes. This resolution is currently under judicial review as to compliance with the 2016 Book of Discipline.  
Resolution 1.3 Resolution to Prepare for a Denominational Separation directs the Dakotas Conference to act in the following manner to prepare for a potential denominational separation: 

• The Common Table recognizes prospective leadership. Board of Pensions and Dakotas United Methodist Foundation prepare to serve multiple Methodist denominations. 

• Conference Council on Finance and Administration prepare a proposal of equitable division of cash and investments. 

• Camp and Retreat Ministry Council prepare a proposal for a shared camping ministry across denominational lines. 
• The Missional Impact Link prepares to independently incorporate Spirit Lake Ministry Center and Solar Oven Partners and transfer land owned in Mission, South Dakota, to Tree of Life Ministries.
• The Human Resources Committee provides direction to guide the personnel needs of the Dakotas Conference. 

These tasks are to be completed by the 2022 session of the Annual Conference. The resolution passed with a vote of 294 yes votes and 40 no votes.

In other matters before the body, a 2022 budget was approved with a slight decrease in spending, four clergy were commissioned as elders, three were ordained as elders, the retirement of five clergy was celebrated and the slate of nominations for all committees, boards and agencies was approved. 

The 2021 Miracle Offering, Feeding the Dakotas is an effort to help feed 150,000 people who face hunger daily in the Dakotas. So far, we've collected close to $40,000. We are over half-way to the finish line. A total of $75,000 is to be shared with the Great Plains Food Bank in North Dakota, Feeding South Dakota and grants to local hunger ministries.  

Membership stands at 36,069 in 2020, down 432 (1.18%) from 2019. Average worship attendance is 11,552 ,down 7,346 (38.8%), although congregations also reported 15,661 persons attending online, up 12,806 or up 448.55%. Church school attendance was not accurately reported in 2020.
The 2022 annual conference will be held June 9-11, 2022, at the Bismarck Civic Center in Bismarck, North Dakota.

— Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas Conference

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