Since he was a boy, Bishop David Bard has been taken with the idea of new places and has loved maps. Drawing on Mark 7: 24-30, his inaugural episcopal address to Minnesota United Methodists explored four lessons that can be interpreted from that text that apply to the work of the Minnesota Conference:
1. Maps are both helpful and limited.
2. Lean into trauma.
3. Embrace new learning and be willing to cross boundaries.
4. Healing space is often created out of broken hearts.
We always need to be prepared to revise our maps, Bard told nearly 400 attendees at the 2021 Minnesota Annual Conference Session, which took place June 22-24. “My vision for the future of the Minnesota Conference is that we are a spacious conference. God has a mission in the world, and love is at the heart of that mission. It is a heart-enlarging mission. It is a world-shaking mission. ... This way Jesus is making, we know, will still have potholes and orange barrels and lane shifts and detours. And yet we go, we go this way together, welcoming any who will walk with us.”
In order to prioritize the safety of all attendees as the nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, two days of annual conference took place virtually via Zoom, and participants spent one day in small groups at local church host sites across Minnesota. Drawing on Matthew 11:30, the theme of the gathering was “Jesus. Waymaker.” United Methodists were reminded that when we have lost our way or there seems to be no way, Jesus invites us to “Come, follow me.”
Four moving worship services celebrated a variety of milestones in ministry: one person ordained as an elder, one person having her ordination in another denomination recognized and being welcomed as a full elder in The United Methodist Church, two people commissioned as provisional elders, one person recognized for completing course of study, 13 retiring pastors and 19 clergy and spouses who have died over the past year.
A variety of videos shown throughout the session lifted up Minnesota United Methodists’ ministries during a most challenging year. Attendees celebrated how Jesus made a way for their congregations over the past year despite the pandemic — from connecting with people in engaging new and socially distanced ways to protesting racial injustice to helping community members access the COVID-19 vaccine. Through a missional report, attendees also learned what their apportioned dollars have made possible and how the Minnesota Conference staff have pivoted and walked alongside churches over the difficult past year — from consulting on technology and providing videos for worship to helping churches apply for Payment Protection Plan loans to becoming more intentional around racial justice.
In a two-part teaching session, the Rev. Rachel Billups — lead pastor at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio — shared some wisdom on how to be peacemakers and bridge the significant divides around us. Ginghamsburg has adopted four key practices for navigating difficult conversations, and Billups encouraged attendees to use them in their own settings:
1. Ask anything.
2. Listen well.
3. Freely disagree.
4. Love regardless.
“Let’s allow Jesus to be our way through hard conversations,” she said, pointing out that Jesus listened well, learned all he could, asked great questions and spoke with the truth that would ultimately set people free.
Billups also talked about how sharing our God stories is the best tool for discipleship and the best way to move our mission forward. “There’s an assumption that with the right programming, people will be discipled,” Billups said. “There’s one problem: Programs don’t make disciples. Disciples make disciples. Jesus gave us a model: People disciple people through a common language of story. When we share our stories, it moves the mission forward.”
In the legislative portion of the session, annual conference members voted to adopt a racial justice resolution. It calls for all congregations in the Minnesota Annual Conference to join in the work of dismantling racism, opposing white supremacy and advocating for racial justice.
“I never thought of myself as racist, but after watching videos, reading books and taking part in seminars, I realized that I wasn’t acting as an anti-racist,” said Gail Chalbi, conference Church and Society Team chair, who introduced the legislation. “Those of us with white privilege need to educate ourselves and others on the racial disparities, the history of racism, systemic racism and what white privilege means. That is what this resolution is endeavoring to do.”
Annual Conference members also approved a 2022 conference apportioned budget of about $5.5 million, which represents a 7% reduction from the 2021 budget.
Delegates who will represent Minnesota at the postponed General and North Central Jurisdictional Conferences now scheduled for 2022 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 the 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 2020 was 53,005, representing a 3% decrease from 2019. Because the COVID-19 pandemic made large gatherings an impossibility for much of 2020, in-person average worship attendance decreased 33 percent to 16,350. But as churches went virtual and thus became accessible to a larger audience than ever before, online attendance skyrocketed 574% to 22,286 last year. Due in part to pandemic-related restrictions, Sunday church school average weekly attendance decreased 30% to 5,360, new professions of faith decreased 33% to 579, the number of adults in small groups was down 17% to 9,633 and the number of worshippers engaged in mission decreased 25% to 11,737.
—Christa Meland, director of communications of the Minnesota Annual Conference
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