By: Christa Meland
Generosity is not simply about money. It is an attitude and a way of life that’s rooted in a deep understanding that life is a gift and it comes from God, who loves us extravagantly and unconditionally.
The 2016 annual conference session, taking place from June 21-23 in St. Cloud, will focus on this idea through the theme “Living Generously—Unleashing God’s Gifts.”
“Eucharist means ‘good gift,’” said Director of Ministries, Rev. Cindy Gregorson. “God in Christ extends to us a good gift—the gift of love and life—and invites us to be a good gift to others. Generosity is being a good gift in all that we do and are. It is how we welcome others, how we bless others, how we speak to others.”
This year at annual conference, we will not only talk about generosity; we will practice being a good gift to one another and to the St. Cloud community.
The three-day conference session is a time for Minnesota United Methodists to worship and enjoy fellowship, learn from teaching sessions, adopt goals and programs, determine budgets, ordain and commission clergy, and receive the bishop’s clergy appointments. Again this year, those who can’t attend in person are invited to watch the key sessions—including the bishop’s episcopal address and the teaching sessions—online via live streaming.
Here’s a look at just a few of the new and exciting things planned for the 2016 Annual Conference:
Opportunities for young adults, youth, and children: Because annual conference is in the summer, it’s been designed so as to engage youth and young adults in new ways. All churches are encouraged to bring young people, either as members or visitors, or to participate in one of several off-site events taking place concurrently with conference session. There will be a Family Camp at Koronis Ministries in Paynesville during the whole week of annual conference, as well as a (service-based) STORM Camp and a day camp from June 21-23 in St. Cloud. Watch for more information about these camps, and start talking with your young people now!
Open-space conversations: On the first day of conference session, attendees will be invited to discuss key social justice issues and reflect on how Minnesota United Methodists can be a good gift to the world through open-space, small-group conversations. The idea is simple: Attendees will chose from a variety of questions (perhaps relating to immigration, climate change, and living in unity, among many other possibilities) ones they most want to discuss and then gather in facilitated small groups to share their ideas with each other and write them down so that they can be compiled for all to see. Ideas that emerge from these discussions will help us discern the ways in which we’re called to work together to fulfill our mission. The hope is that these conversations will be an interactive and multi-generational experience—and that they will take the place of lengthy legislative discussions around social justice issues.
Blessing, engaging with the community: On the first evening of conference session, attendees will be encouraged to have dinner somewhere in the community—and while they are out, to go bless someone they encounter, and get a name and story and bring it back. Later, we’ll gather for a celebration in a local park, where musical group Boiling Point will perform, concessions and games will be available, and people will be invited to pack health kits for the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Additionally, all Minnesota United Methodist youth who have been confirmed within the past year will be invited to this celebration to be blessed.
Guest speaker Sara Miles: Miles is director of ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco and serves as founder and director of The Food Pantry—which operates out of the church, and aims to increase access to food for hungry people and empower them to help each other. In her book Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, Miles—raised as an atheist—talks about how she lived a secular life as a restaurant cook and writer. Then early one morning, for no earthly reason, she wandered into a church. “I was certainly not interested in becoming a Christian,” she wrote. But she ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine, and found herself radically transformed. Miles will lead two 90-minute teaching sessions on the second day of conference.
Reach • Renew • Rejoice ministry fair: On the second day of conference, attendees will be invited to a ministry fair featuring new church starts and churches that have participated in a transformational process (the Healthy Church Initiative, Missional Journey, or the Missional Church Consultation Initiative). Participating faith communities will share their successful outreach efforts through a science fair-type display, and attendees will be able to stop by, get ideas, celebrate their ministries, and ask questions. At the end of conference session, we’ll celebrate the progress we’ve made and the funds we’ve raised for Reach • Renew • Rejoice.
“My prayer is that people will walk away and say that this annual conference was different; it was not business as usual,” said Gregorson. “The Holy Spirit showed up in a big way, and we truly experienced Eucharist—the depth, and breadth, and height of God’s love, and we are fired up to live lives of extravagant generosity because it is the best way to live!”
Annual conference registration will open by March 15. Fees for the 2016 conference session will remain the same as last year. The cost will be $250 for delegates; $75 for retirees, equalization members (individuals designated by each district to create a balance between clergy and lay attendees) and those visiting for the entire event; and $25 for single-day visitors. Those fees include lunches, and scholarships will be available for retirees. All are invited to the celebration in the park on Tuesday and the Celebration of Life in Ministry (commissioning and ordination service) on Wednesday, and there is no cost to attend either.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church