By: Christa Meland
While most United Methodists in Portland have been focused on what’s happening at this General Conference, a group of Minnesota and Dakotas United Methodists is looking ahead.
About a dozen members of the Minneapolis Host Committee, which will be responsible for hosting guests when General Conference comes to Minneapolis in 2020, were at this year’s gathering to observe, volunteer, ask questions, and plan ahead so they can provide the best possible welcome when United Methodists from around the world convene in the Twin Cities four years from now.
“Our task is to provide hospitality,” said Rev. Jim Haun, a retired elder in the Minnesota Conference and chair of the 2020 Host Committee. “Our watch word in Minnesota is ‘sanctuary.’ We want to provide the kind of environment in which people who have been in important meetings can come out of them and be in a place where they feel they’re safe, they’re cared for, and someone is able to assist them with whatever their needs might be.”
Learning in Portland
Haun and his wife, Carol, have been learning the ins and outs from the Portland Host Committee, whose members have shared everything from recommendations and challenges to written materials and instructions that could be helpful for the Minneapolis gathering.
One of the things they’ve seen firsthand is that volunteers are critical to the success of the event—and at least 1,200 will be needed in 2020. Recruiting volunteers is a key responsibility of the Host Committee.
“There’s a huge diversity of skills that are needed to do different kinds of work,” said Carol Haun, who will be responsible for hospitality inside the Minneapolis Convention Center. “We need everything from lift-and-carry folks to people who have a smile on their face and greet people as they walk by.”
Hospitality in Portland started the moment General Conference attendees walked off their planes. People in green vests greeted them at the airport, provided one-day passes for public transportation, and gave detailed directions to hotels. It continued at the Oregon Convention Center.
Sheilah Kyburz, assistant to Bishop Bruce R. Ough, and Gail Johnson, the Minnesota Conference’s event coordinator, both spent time volunteering in order to learn what works well and how to make the Minneapolis gathering successful.
Kyburz spent time assisting interpreters by checking out headsets, monitoring those entering and leaving a youth hospitality lounge, and providing support to the Host Committee.
“I wanted to see how the pieces fit together,” said Kyburz. “Overall hospitality is what will stick in people’s minds long past the conference. You never have a second chance to make a first impression.”
Meanwhile, Gail Johnson greeted people at the airport and spent time at a registration desk in the convention center.
“My duty here was to lurk and learn,” she said. “We talked to hundreds of people about what was working and what they wish they would have known. Because we have experienced it, we’re better prepared to do it. We’re going to build on what went well here so we’re truly connectional.”
One of the ways hospitality was extended to people from Central Conferences, where the climate is much warmer, was by providing them with scarves and hats that local volunteers knitted and crocheted. The Hauns would love to be able to offer something similar when General Conference comes to Minneapolis.
Although anyone is welcome and encouraged to volunteer at the 2020 General Conference, Jim Haun plans to focus recruitment efforts on Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa, and Wisconsin, given their proximity. Volunteer recruitment will likely begin in 2018.
The Minnesota and Dakotas Conferences will be hosting General Conference together, and Rev. Rebecca Trefz—the Dakotas Conference’s director of ministries—looks forward to welcoming people from around the world.
“I am excited to partner with the Minnesota Conference in offering Christian love and Midwestern hospitality to these delegates and representatives from around the world—plus, I truly believe the Spirit is moving in powerful ways in our conferences and I would love for the global UMC to catch some of that Spirit!” said Trefz. “General Conference is a powerful witness of the joys, struggles, challenges, and opportunities we have as a global church. By holding this gathering in our area, it will give more of our people the opportunity to be a part of it. It would hopefully act to spur us on to think beyond our own limited scope and experiences and be inspired by what God might do through all of us.”
Jim Haun pointed out that the last time General Conference was in Minneapolis was in 1956, and it was then that delegates authorized the ordination of women.
“In Minneapolis, let’s provide an environment where General Conference can make a significant decision like that that’s going to impact the future of the church in a positive way,” said Haun. “I’m hoping that we can use this General Conference experience to bring our annual conference together and leverage it to make ourselves a more focused and dynamic organization that’s moving toward a goal. We have the opportunity to unite to do something positive.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church