By: Christa Meland
Wondering how to condense three full days of worship, celebration, learning, and conference business into a succinct report you can bring back to members of your congregation? Click here for a two-minute wrap-up video you can download and show. Click here for a printable PDF newsletter containing all articles from annual conference. Here are some additional highlights to consider sharing:
· Theme: The theme of this year’s annual conference was “Living Generously: Unleashing God’s Gifts.” We celebrated the ways in which Minnesota United Methodists are reaching new people and sharing God’s love—and we explored new ways we can unleash God’s gifts and make a difference in the world.
· Bishop Ough’s Episcopal Address: It’s time to become more intentional in our manure spreading—metaphorically speaking. That’s what Bishop Bruce R. Ough said in his Episcopal Address on Tuesday, in which he reflected on the plan for living generously set forth by Jesus in Luke 13:6-9. In this parable, a gardener pleads with the owner of a vineyard not to cut down a fig tree that hadn’t produced any fruit for three years. The gardener offers to spread manure on the soil around it in the hopes that in one more year the tree would bear fruit. Bishop Ough said: “The point is clear. The time is short; you have one last chance to put things right before the judgment—one last chance to bear kingdom fruit…You had better get your manure together before it is too late. Be fruitful or perish!” (Click here to see video of Episcopal Address. Click here to read and download full Episcopal Address.)
· Love Offering: As of Thursday afternoon, conference attendees had given $93,767 and donated 13,842 health kits to the 2016 Love Offering for Missions, which this year has a financial component and a hands-on component. Funds from this year’s Love Offering will go to three projects: 40 percent will go to the Minnesota Council of Churches Refugee Services, which welcomes and provides support to refugees from around the world. Ten percent will go to the United Methodist Committee on Relief to ship the prepared health kits where they are needed most. Forty percent will go to International Child Care in the Dominican Republic, a health agency that serves people with disabilities. And the remaining 10 percent will go to Volunteers in Mission scholarships for first-time participants.
· Party in the park: On Tuesday evening, attendees gathered at Lake George Park to celebrate and enjoy fellowship. They listened to live music from Boiling Point band, participated in a fun run/walk, packed health kits for refugees (as part of this year’s Love Offering), played games—including a bean-bag toss, had popcorn and food from food trucks, and listened to a brief program at which they met the 2016 ELI Project interns and blessed those who have been confirmed within the past year. Kids also had fun in a bounce house and at a splash pad at the park.
· Open-space conversations: Conference attendees spent Tuesday afternoon engaged in small-group “open-space” conversations to discuss social justice issues and explore how Minnesota United Methodists can be a good gift to the world. They selected which topics they wanted to discuss, and broad categories included climate care, reaching the next generation, renewing the church, creating a safe and just world, unity in The United Methodist Church, and radical hospitality. Participants wrote down their big ideas and posted them on “sticky walls” in the back of the room. A few of the many ideas they wrote down included going where young people are instead of expecting them to come to church, praying for those with whom we disagree, trying new things even if they don’t always work, engaging in dialogue with refugees rather than fearing them, having meaningful roles for youth in worship, and making LGBTQ people feel welcome and fully included in the church.
· Teaching sessions with Sara Miles: Sara Miles was raised as an atheist, but everything changed the day she entered a church at age 46, ate a piece of bread, and took a sip of wine. The now well-known author was later baptized and started a food pantry at the church, St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco, that serves hundreds each week. She told conference attendees that she’s come to see our own stories like the parables in the Bible—and like Jesus’ parables, they have the power to evangelize, to share the good news. The keys to the kingdom are in the parables of our lives, she said. Each one of us only gets a glimpse of the kingdom from time to time, and we must share these experiences and find meaning in them together.
· Laity session: Minnesota United Methodists are good at healing a broken world. Give us a missional goal, and we exceed it. But ask us to reach new people, and we hope someone else will do it. Even the word “evangelism” makes many of us uncomfortable. Yet, evangelism and reaching new people have been identified as vital elements to the future growth of our churches, our conference, and our denomination. The conference’s co-lay leaders talked about the need for us to put words to our faith and suggested we start by answering these questions, first with people close to us, and then with others: Why God? Why church? Why this church? Where have I seen the Holy Spirit at work in my life? How is God working in the lives of those around me?
· Reach Renew Rejoice tops $3.7M goal: To date, $3,759,055 has been pledged to this congregational development initiative that aimed to raise $3.7 million. The amount was announced to applause, dancing, and clappers flailing in the air. Prior to the announcement, 10 people representing 10 different groups that gave to this campaign came forward with a puzzle piece that was given to three brightly dressed people and thrown into the air, at which time each piece of the puzzle appeared on a big screen and helped illuminate the Reach • Renew • Rejoice logo. Funds given will be used to start seven new churches across Minnesota, enable 140 churches to go through transformational processes to position them for vitality, and expand seven churches to additional sites. Hundreds of churches and individuals made a commitment to this effort, and funds are already being put to good use throughout the state. “We exist because of Reach • Renew • Rejoice,” Shawn Moore, pastor of new church start The Beloved in Maplewood, told attendees.
· Celebrations: During annual conference, attendees celebrated three significant milestones taking place this year: the 160th anniversary of the Minnesota Annual Conference, the 20th anniversary of the order of deacons, and the 60th anniversary of full clergy rights for women
· Recognizing new pastors: On Wednesday evening at a Celebration of Life in Ministry worship service, we remembered United Methodist friends and colleagues who have died over the past year, honored clergy who are retiring, and celebrated licensed local pastors as well as those who were commissioned and ordained. We honored 15 new licensed local pastors—and we celebrated nine clergy who were commissioned and two who were ordained. Thanks be to God for this new group of dedicated leaders!
· Resolution in response to Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando: On Thursday afternoon and after much discussion and several alternate proposals, conference members approved a resolution in response to the recent Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, Florida. The resolution is a commitment to repent for ways that our words and United Methodist Church positions toward LGBTQ people have been used to discriminate, to find timely avenues toward resolution, to practice humility and gentle conversation with those whose convictions differ, and to pray for Bishop Ough in his new role as president of the Council of Bishops.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church