Bishop David Bard has sometimes thought that questions posed by two musicians could be a key to church renewal: The Marvin Gaye question, “What’s Going On?”— What’s happening in your neighborhood? And the Miles Davis question, “So What?”— So, what are you going to do about it, and how are things you’re doing having an impact on the people in your congregation and community?
In a sermon given at a Service of Licensing, Commissioning and Ordination that was part of the 2022 Minnesota Annual Conference Session, Bard noted the significant and lasting impact that Davis had on jazz, and he focused in on the question “so what?” asking: “In a time filled with unkindness, raging conspiracy theories, deep divisiveness, craziness of all kinds … in a world where war rages, diseases flourish, hunger abounds, climate is damaged, what does it matter what we are doing here tonight?”
It matters, he told more than 500 people gathered in-person and those watching online. We trust that God is at work, even when it seems the world is moving away from God’s purposes.
“The world needs the ministry of Jesus Christ through the church because it is the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation and compassion and peace and joy and beauty and justice and building bridges and healing and love … This matters. Tonight matters.”
Drawing on Psalm 23 and John 10:10-11, the theme of the 2022 annual conference was “Jesus: Healer.” During the two-day event, which took place May 24-25 at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota, attendees explored ways in which they have seen or experienced God’s healing, and ways in which we as a conference are providing hope and healing to a hurting world.
Four moving worship services celebrated a variety of milestones in ministry: one person ordained as a deacon, one ordained as an elder, two people commissioned as provisional elders, two licensed local pastors recognized for completing their five-year course of study, 18 retiring pastors, and 22 clergy and spouses who have died over the past year.
Attendees also spent time celebrating some of the things our conference has accomplished over the past year, and attendees shared with each other their own hopes and dreams and which step God is calling them to take in living and offering the abundant life movement to all. Many of their hopes and dreams, which they entered into an app and were shown on-screen, focused on love, connection, unity, being bold, diversity, inclusion and growth.
Additionally, annual conference members overwhelmingly approved four pieces of legislation focused on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). One charges to the conference to contract with an outside auditor that has experience in DEI work to perform an equity audit of human resources at the conference level in order to increase equity in hiring practices, employee compensation and procedures, and employee recruiting and retention.
Another charges the Cabinet to prioritize the recruitment of candidates of color and LGBTQIA+ candidates for open positions in order to create a more diverse conference leadership team.
And a third stipulates that the conference’s part-time racial justice organizer position be made into a full-time, director-level position on the Extended Cabinet by January 2023.
Meanwhile, voting members approved by a margin of 339-36 a piece of legislation that calls for the Minnesota Conference to hold a storytelling space before the 2026 Annual Conference that would allow Minnesota United Methodists to tell stories that resulted from the Book of Discipline policy stating that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.
Also during the legislative session, attendees voted to ratify the terms of disaffiliation agreements made between the conference Board of Trustees and three local churches that have discerned that their path goes a different direction from the Minnesota Annual Conference. In 2019, an amendment was added to the United Methodist Book of Discipline allowing churches to disaffiliate through December 2023 over disagreement about human sexuality. “We have sharp disagreements about the shape of ministry, but we can trust one another to God’s grace,” Bishop David Bard said after the disaffiliation votes. Meanwhile, attendees gave thanks for the ministries and legacies of faith of five churches that have closed over the past year.
Conference members approved (with no discussion) an apportioned budget totaling $5,855,000, which includes an uncollectible contingency of $375,000; this represents a $45,000 reduction from the 2022 approved budget.
Conference members, on behalf of their churches, also gave $27,206 to the 2022 Love Offering, which will address food insecurity by supporting three Minnesota United Methodist food ministries, and assist those in need in our nation and world by supporting Red Bird Missionary Conference in Appalachia and Volunteers in Mission trips.
Professing members within Minnesota United Methodist churches totaled 49,900 at the end of 2021, representing a 5.7 percent decrease from the previous year. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, in-person worship attendance decreased 35 percent to 10,689 in 2021 and online worship attendance decreased 37 percent to 14,040.— Christa Meland, Director of Communications, Minnesota Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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